Thanks to sites such as facebook, myspace, youtube, and twitter, the lines between educational and personal networking are becoming more blurred. These social networking sites were once only popular within the teenage – early 20’s demographic. Facebook, which is now a networking giant accessible to everyone, used to only be accessible to students who attended certain colleges. Now, it is utilized by millions. To put the impact in perspective, as of September 2010, Facebook reports it has more than 500 million active users. Fifty percent of its active users log on to Facebook in any given day, and users spend more than 700 billion minutes per month on the site. With numbers like that, you could see why teachers may feel the need to reach students via social networking; however, does this cross the line from professional to personal?
Here are some ways (and reasons) that school systems and individual teachers have utilized these sites:
•communicate with parents and students by publishing a school newsletter or by providing “tweets” to parents about scheduling, weather closures and classroom updates;
•recruit and evaluate prospective employees;
•communicate with alumni and facilitate fundraising;
•enhance student learning because it enables students to connect and form virtual communities.
The possibilities can seem endless because these sites allow you to access and update your “friends” or “followers” 24/7. Obviously, using these types of websites would garner having to put into place clear cut guidelines in order to be effective. An article on EducationWorld.com suggested guidelines such as these to be put in place by the school system with any usage of online social networking within the classroom:
•Establish a social networking policy that specifically addresses confidential and proprietary information, and make sure no-harassment policies (employee and student) specifically address social networking.
•Tell employees to use judgment. If they use the school’s e-mail address or name they must act in accordance with the school’s professional standards, including respecting the school, its employees, parents, and students.
•Schools that check candidates’ public social networking sites should avoid “fake” friend requests and should be consistent in how they implement and enforce social media policies.
•Regularly remind employees of the risks of unequal relationships when dealing with students. Train employees to ensure they understand that information posted on social networking sites may be public and to understand the school’s policies.
•Remind all employees — including administrators, faculty, and staff — of their heightened obligation not to reveal confidential information online. Educate them about the risks of becoming online “friends” with parents, students, and/or subordinates.
•Consistently enforce such policies and carefully investigate suspected misconduct before taking any disciplinary action.
I think that social networking can be beneficial within the classroom; especially if it helps reach students who normally would not be engaged. Teachers should always proceed with caution in this arena because the issues that often arise are usually not black and white, but found in the gray areas. For example, what one parent may see as an appropriate interaction with their child, another may see as being inappropriate. It would also be important to only use these sites as supplemental, not as the core component or an only mean to transfer information. Accessibility becomes an issue, as well as parental beliefs. (I know more than a few parents who do not allow their children to use these sites.) It would probably also be more beneficial if teachers did not add their students to their personal profile, which can contain pictures and information you may not want your students to see. It would be more responsible to create a classroom or “professional” profile with limited access and outside information for dealing with your classroom matters.
What do you think? Is using social networking sites an appropriate way to interact with your classroom community? How would you integrate these sites if you felt that was the only way to reach some of your students?
( If you’re interested, here is another link from EducationWorld.com that has some great tips for teachers using social networking: http://www.educationworld.com/a_tech/tech/tech256.shtml )