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"Fort Knox" comic strip author Paul Boscacci and me at SIPA.

Yesterday, I went down to Columbia, S.C. for the annual Southern Interscholastic Press Association regional conference. More than 400 students came from all over the Southeastern United States to hear speakers on everything from video editing to basic reporting.

It was great seeing old friends like Mark Murray, Leslie Dennis, Beth Dickey, Jake Palenske, Karen Flowers, Frank LoMonte, Chris Floore, Buck Ryan and all the others. It was great working with such talented students as T.J. Maynes who shot most of the photos in the gallery already online. And it was great teaching classes on how schools can move online efficiently and practically — now — as we went through using Facebook, Twitter, SmugMug, Flickr and other tools. Of course I always enjoy teaching my introductory photojournalism classes. Fun.

There were some frustrating moments as well, every single one of them around phrases such as “I can’t…” or “The administration won’t let us….” Schools that can’t use Facebook because some administrators don’t see the value in modern social networking. Or schools that can’t use Twitter  because they don’t see how it can be used in the classroom. Or, can’t use Flickr because of what students ‘might’ be able to find.

The rationale: Some folks said they were blocked because students would waste too much time (and bandwidth) online. The students who sat in the back of my classes ‘Facebooking’ were evidence that this is a real concern. But the students who sat in class sending out Tweets (#sipa11) to share educational moments with the rest of the world quickly countered that problem. It seems evident that schools are well acquainted with the pathway to success for using social media. First, train the students how to use the various tools at their disposal, ensuring that such training is flexible and adaptable enough to change with the times. Second, set high expectations for how and when to use this two-way communication. Educators do this every day with other tools. That’s why we have schools.

Schools that are blocked from using this new technology are blocked from sharing these new ideas, viewing photos of their students at work, entering local, regional and national contests. They’re blocked from learning.

Administrators in secondary schools, colleges and universities need to get past their fear of this new technology and start embracing it. If you want to see some schools that are doing it right, check out:

  •, University of Minnesota (Minneapolis, Minn.); Devin Henry, adviser
  • HiLite Online, Carmel (Ind.) High School; Jim Streisel, adviser
  •, University of Kansas (Lawrence, Kan.); Malcolm Gibson, adviser
  • The Harbinger Online, Shawnee Mission East High school (Prairie Village, Kan.); C. Dow Tate, adviser
  • The Ithacan Online, Ithaca College (Ithaca, N.Y.); Michael Serino, adviser
  • Blue and Gold Today, Findlay (Ohio) High School; Jim McGonnell, adviser
  • eCorsair, Pensacola (Fla.) State College; Christina Drain, adviser
  •, Francis Howell North High School (St. Charles, Mo.); Aaron Manfull, adviser

Look how they incorporate social media, video, staff applications, calendars, various ways to buy photos and reprints and much more. They use the Web like it’s different from print media, more than just social media. It’s a way to converge video, audio, still photography and words. They know, it’s another way for us to communicate, and they take advantage of its strengths as they teach students how to function in a modern mass media society.

Regardless of whether the staff members are future engineers, poets, doctors, lawyers, police officers or teachers, these schools are doing their staff members a favor by teaching them teamwork, leadership skills and time management as they take the latest and greatest technology and use it to its fullest extent. Schools have been doing that for hundreds of years now. Why administrators are afraid of this new change in the way we communicate is beyond me. They need to find the strengths in what’s new and embrace it rather than hiding from it.