Bastrop ISD unlocks social media sites for students, teachers


by JESSICA VESS and Photojournalist SCOTT GUEST

KVUE News Austin

Posted on May 5, 2014 at 5:26 PM

BASTROP, Texas -- Before the first school bell rings in the morning, as students catch up with friends, the glow of phone screens flicker across the hallways at Cedar Creek High School in the Bastrop Independent School District.

There's no teacher telling them to put their phones away. There's no security block keeping them off Facebook or Twitter.

"You have to be careful, because you want students to be doing things that are appropriate in school, but within reason," said Bastrop ISD Superintendent Steve Murray.

Murray said the district is in the middle of a pilot program: testing to see if opening up access to social media is a good idea.

"I think that's just going to enhance what they're trying to do in the classroom. You know, we're not just teaching from a textbook anymore. There's so much information out there. We have to open it up," Murray said.

Science teacher Kara Cheney is embracing the challenge.

"Embracing using their phones comes natural to them," she said. "They're learning. This is a work-in-progress."

Cheney incorporates an interactive lesson in class. She uses an online program called Kahoot! A question plays out in front of the class. Students then log their answers through a corresponding program on their cell phone. Some students share a phone and partner together to answer the questions.

The type of interactive lesson isn't happening in every classroom, though -- at least not yet.

"There's definitely some apprehension from the teachers [and] a little bit of friction from the more old-fashioned teachers," said senior Russell Cole.

Cole is hoping that it will quickly catch on and open the door to more opportunities that link the type of technology that students use outside of school into the classroom.

"We no longer have technological footprints. We have technological tattoos. These can't be erased," he said. "The more that teachers embrace this and engage students in the classroom level, the more they can help monitor."

The district also unlocked educational content on YouTube. It gives teachers a chance to log in, find a video that matches their lesson, and play it out for students.

"Like the phrase goes, 'There's an app for that,' for anything that you want to do in the classroom, for any type of utility you need, you can find it in there," Cole said. "That's just part of the technology, but then bringing in the social media, you can go very far."

The pilot program will wrap at the end of the school year. The district will then pull feedback from teachers and students to create a new social media policy for when students return in the fall.