To promote student learning through the use of mobile learning devices and social media in instruction that further prepares students to be active, constructive participants in the highly connected world in which they already live and will soon work.

The rapid growth in the use of social media and mobile devices has created both a crisis and an opportunity for school leaders. Unfortunately, many principals first became aware of social technologies under unpleasant circumstances, such as conflicts stemming from social media exchanges. And school leaders would often be paralyzed by cyberbullying and sexting incidents for which guidance was often inadequate and contradictory. It’s no wonder that school leaders responded by attempting to eliminate the use of mobile and social media in schools.

Yet as mobile and social technologies become ubiquitous, attempts to block them are increasingly ineffective. For example, in schools that prohibit cell phones, 54% of students still report sending texts during the school day (Lenhart, 2010). And it’s the rare student who can’t do an end run around Internet filters with a simple proxy server. More importantly, as mobile devices become more powerful and more affordable, their potential for enhancing student learning has come into clearer focus. Social networking sites provide platforms for student creativity by enabling them to design projects using words, music, photos, and videos. In recent years, there has been explosive growth in students creating, manipulating, and sharing content online (National School Boards Association, 2007). Recognizing the educational value of encouraging such behaviors, many school leaders have shifted their energies from limiting the use of these technologies to limiting their abuse. As with any other behavior, when schools teach and set expectations for appropriate technology use, students rise to meet the expectations. Such conditions allow educators to focus on, in the words of social technology guru Howard Rheingold (n.d.), educating “children about the necessity for critical thinking and \[encouraging\] them to exercise their own knowledge of how to make moral choices.” One process for creating the necessary conditions is reported in From Fear to Facebook, the first-person account of one California principal who endured a series of false starts to finally arrive at a place where students in his school were maximizing their use of laptops and participatory technologies without the constant distractions of misuse (Levinson, 2010). Other similar processes and programs are emerging, and they all share a common theme: an education that fails to account for the use of social media tools prepares students well for the past, but not for their future.

Nowhere is the vision for the use of mobile and social technologies more clearly articulated than in the National Educational Technology Plan (U.S. Department of Education, 2010). The plan describes new models of teaching and learning in which students and teachers are virtually connected to one another, to colleagues, to fellow students, and to a variety of resources that maximize opportunities for anytime-anywhere learning. With a 2015 deadline for realizing this model, the mandate for school leaders is clear: we must overcome our fears and other obstacles to get students connected in school. Fundamentally, this means ensuring that each student has a connectible device—a tablet, a netbook, a laptop, or a smartphone—and further engaging students in the creation of responsible-use policies so that they can access social technologies without unreasonable obstacles.

Guiding Principles

  • Education should prepare students to be active, constructive participants in a global society.
  • Technology-enhanced instruction has the capacity to engage students deeply in their work, connect them with countless resources, and allow them to collaborate across time and space.
  • Schools should provide a student-centered, personalized, and customized experience for all students—a fundamental tenet of the Breaking Ranks school improvement framework.
  • Schools should advocate and model values that are essential in a civil and democratic society.
  • Learning can take place only when students feel free from violence and harassment.
  • Schools should offer meaningful roles in decision making to students to promote student learning and an atmosphere of participation, responsibility, and ownership.


School leaders should:

  • Encourage and model the appropriate and responsible use of mobile and social technologies to maximize students’ opportunities to create and share content..
  • Lead the conversation around connectivity and involve students in the creation of policies.
  • Incorporate the responsible use of mobile and social technologies into acceptable-use policies.
  • Promote one-to-one access to connectible devices, including students’ own devices, to allow for anytime-anywhere learning.
  • Incorporate cyberbullying and sexting prevention guidelines into the student code of conduct.
  • Participate in and provide teachers professional development on the effective use of mobile devices and networking in schools.

District leaders should:

  • Articulate clear technology policies that have sufficient latitude for schools to connect electronically without fear of retribution or undue consequences.
  • Provide technical and financial support to schools that aspire to connect students and adopt one-to-one programs.
  • Reduce Internet filtering to maximize student access to online learning tools and to provide opportunities to exercise judgment in the selection of those tools.

Policymakers should:

  • Provide a funding stream to ensure broadband infrastructure and mobile learning devices for all students.
  • Enact reasonable, enforceable policies on cyberbullying, sexting, and other forms of electronic harassment that clarify the legal liability of school officials.
  • Engage school leaders in the conversations that inform policies that are designed to curtail and punish online harassment.


Lenhart, A., Ling, A., Campbell, S., & Purcell, K. (2010). Teens and mobile phones. Retrieved from the Pew Internet and American Life Web site.

Levinson, M. (2010). From fear to Facebook: One school’s journey. Washington, DC: International Society for Technology in Education.

National School Boards Association. (2007). Creating and connecting: Research and guidelines on online social—and educational—networking.

Rheingold, H. (n.d.). New media literacy—Lesson 1: Vision of the future—Part 1. Retrieved from the MasterNewMedia Web site.

U.S Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology. (2010). Transforming American education: Learning powered by technology: National educational technology plan 2010. Retrieved from