Social Media Policies and Schools


At the start of the 21st century when social media first started to become a common thing, I was asked to help write a social media policy for a university. This was new ground. Very few schools had policies and few schools were actually using social media themselves.

The question of having a policy in place came from three different directions. There was a desire to have a policy for what students could do. There was also a desire to formalize what faculty and staff could do in their capacity as employees. Communications departments at the school wanted to formalize how they would handle “official” social media accounts and content.

About a year after I worked on the university policies, I was asked to help a K-12 school district to create a social media policy. Some things were similar, including the three groups to be addressed, but K-12 has unique concerns and restrictions.

The K-12 district was actually more concerned at first with the district’s use and not teachers or students who I thought needed the information the most. Their focus was not surprising since social media policies, like most school policies, are meant to mitigate the risk and liability of institutions rather than guide and support sound pedagogy and learning.

The format was a three-ring faculty handbook. Three-ring because they knew that policies would change and pages would be added and subtracted. Social media changes fast. It was the place where faculty already had their policies on assessment, parent communication, etc.

A few things that come up in discussion and were included:
Parent permission and opt-out forms. and information sheets for teachers, students, and parents on what platforms are being used, where, when, and how.
Baseline guidelines for protecting and respecting student privacy., such as not sharing student faces or using student names as identifiers. This was true for most cases, but there had been policies earlier for media, such as using a student’s image and name in the local paper for an award.
Restrict location sharing
Minimize information shared in teacher social media profiles
For teachers, social media should have clearly articulated goals for student learning. For the school, district and administration, those goals will differ and so should the policies.

I doubt that the policies I worked on in 2000-2003 still exist in the form we wrote them. I would hope in the past 20 years that al of them have been expanded and revised.

Technical Writers

Technical Writers are often the link between engineers, marketing associates, developers and external users of a product or service.

When I have taught undergraduate classes in technical writing, something I have to address with students right away is their definition of technical writing. In many people’s minds, writing that is “technical” is complicated, full of jargon and difficult to read. But in fact, the goal of the technical writer is exactly the opposite. It is usually to make technical subject matter less complicated and easier to understand and use.

In my undergraduate technical writing classes (which are considered advanced writing courses) we combines current theory with actual practice to prepare students as technical writers. They analyze complex communication situations and then design appropriate responses through tasks that involve problem solving, rhetorical theory, document design, oral presentations, writing teams, audience awareness, ethical considerations and ethical issues.

When I teach at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), my students are engineers, computer scientists, architects and scientists who often dislike writing and are used to only academic writing. Unfortunately, much academic writing is students demonstrating their learning to a professor who already knows the subject. In most real technical communication, the writer is the expert and the readers are the learners. In professional life, you may be writing for supervisors, colleagues or customers. You might be explaining a problem, a product, an experiment, or a project, and the format may be a proposal, abstract, report, email or manual.

When I teach technical writing at a more comprehensive university, such as Montclair State University, the students are more comfortable with writing, but less comfortable with the technical part.  That is because they don’t think of technical writing as being a part of every field. For education, biology, art, music, and other science and liberal arts students, they need to rethink the technical aspects of their studies. For example, I have had art history majors who wrote technical documentation on art restoration.

My graduate students in professional technical communication are often dealing with social media, documentation, video presentations and a variety of real world tasks. NJIT offers a Technical Communications Certificate that attracts primarily professionals who intend to learn/expand their careers as technical writers, editors, trainers, website designers, and documentation specialists.

I don’t know that being a technical writer at Google is typical of that job, but this video gives you a little taste of technical writing and life at Google.

This post first appeared on Serendipity35