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Texting with Teachers: Cell Phones and Social Media in Virginia Schools

More and more educators are using cell phones, social networking and gaming within the curriculum to increase student engagement. But even as technology becomes more popular in classrooms, its uses may be severely limited in Virginia schools by a new proposal.

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A New Era in Education

Texts. Tweets. Facebook posts. Welcome to the millennial classroom. . . Innovative educators across the country are incorporating the use of smartphones, social networking sites, online games and other digital tools into instruction. Classrooms are maintaining wikis. Students are giving multimedia presentations. Teachers are assigning projects that rely on the use of Web 2.0 tools.

Advocates of technology in the classroom suggest that it not only increases learner engagement - students love to use gadgets at school - but that lessons incorporating digital media are important toward preparing a 21st century workforce.

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Broad Applications for Technology

Some teachers are also using technology to aid students in domains that lie beyond the standard curriculum. In a recent interview with The Roanoke Times, educator Janet Espelange explained how she uses texting to check in with students who are tardy or absent. A student support specialist, she also exchanges texts with individuals on other topics ranging from semester exams to events at home. 'Students do open up more through texting,' Espelange says.

This informal communication, however, has become a source of concern for some. In January, Virginia's state board of education drafted a model policy that proposes to drastically limit the types of electronic communication that can occur between student and teacher. Under the proposal, teachers would not be allowed to text with students or have one-on-one communications at social networking sites. (Email was exempt.) Online gaming would also be forbidden outside of school-sanctioned learning projects.

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A Knee-Jerk Reaction?

The proposed ban concerns Janet Espelange and other educators who view electronic communication as a vital way to connect with tech-savvy students. The state board counters that the proposal has resulted from a failure on the part of schools to draft their own policies regarding appropriate conduct for texting and social networking with students. The state had asked schools to implement such guidelines in response to incidents of inappropriate electronic communications on the part of select educators.

Many teachers, meanwhile, emphasize that electronic messages are not inherently harmful, but that they must be utilized responsibly. Educators suggest that the state board's propopsal to ban these communications is a knee-jerk reaction that doesn't ultimately benefit students. Critics of the plan go further, pointing out that banning technologies is not going to stop misconduct. And with texts and online communications, they argue, there is always an electronic record - which can actually help stop those who engage in inappropriate behaviors with students.

The proposed Virginia ban has captured attention nationwide. Many schools and states across the U.S. are also working to come up with policies that allow classrooms to utilize digital technologies while limiting the potential liability of educators misusing media. No doubt many educators will be watching when the issue is again taken up by the Virginia state board next month.

Learn how Apple's iPad has become an important learning tool in classrooms throughout the country.