Search this site
Other stuff

All banner artwork by Brady Johnson, college student and (semi-) starving artist.

My latest books:


        Available now

       Available Now

Available now 

My book Machines are the easy part; people are the hard part is now available as a free download at Lulu.

 The Blue Skunk Page on Facebook


EdTech Update




« Could you live in the cloud? | Main | Vote early and often - ISTE Board election is on »

Don't confuse social networking with educational networking

Facebook Now Growing By Over 700,000 Users A Day - AllFacebook, Feb 27, 2009

I will be the first to admit that I don't really understand the attraction of Facebook and its ilk. Yes, I have a Facebook page and have some professional colleagues and family members as "friends," but the site is not something I check or use on a regular basis.

I mentioned Facebook today in a workshop I gave here in SC during a "Tool Talk." (!0 web 2.0 tools in about 20 minutes.) When I introduce Facebook, I basically say the same thing I said in the first paragraph - I don't see the fascination, and more over, I don't see its educational usefulness. Other Web 2.0 tools, yes; Facebook no. But I do believe educators need to have a familiarity with Facebook and even use it personally, just to know what kids (and a rapidly growing number of parents) are up to.

A question was raised I had not before considered: Should a teacher "friend" his/her students on Facebook? My off the cuff response was absolutely not. I thought it violated the teacher/student relationship and could lead to actual or perceived inappropriate interactions.

So it was a relief to see Nancy Willard's strongly worded email to WWWedu today second my opinion. She writes:

Any teacher who links to a student on MySpace or Facebook is an ABSOLUTE FOOL!!!!! I strongly support and advise district policies against this for 2 reasons:

  1. There is a vast amount of flirting that goes on on these sites. Student get crushes on teachers. When a teacher gets a flirtatious message from a student, that teacher is already in trouble. Respond back with warmth and you are an online predator. Respond critically and the student could exact revenge. The teachers who are most likely to get into major trouble are the younger ones – who have not had to deal with student crushes before and who may still be in the flirting online mode. The risks include arrest and life as a registered sex offender.
  2. People on these sites send friendship requests to friends of people they have linked to. A teacher would become the “guarantor” of all of his or her online friends – including all of the material these friends post and the friend’s interactions with students.

This being said, it is exceptionally important for teachers and student to be communicating in these interactive environments. Which means schools must set up carefully managed and monitored interactive environments.

Are we confusing social and educational networking? Again, Nancy warns:

There is – and should remain – a vast difference between “social media” and “educational media.” When educators blur the distinctions, this causes significant problems.

Are schools making this distinction in policy-making?

Image from

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments (27)

"I thought it violated the teacher/student relationship"

I don't see how making contact with students through this technology violates the "student/teacher" relationship. Is it not how you then use the technology that matters?

Nancy says:

"The risks include arrest and life as a registered sex offender."

I repeat, is it not how you use the technology that matters?

March 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPeter

You often ask us to avoid blaming the technology. I think this might be an example of that. If a teacher gets a phone call at home and a students name is on caller ID, should he answer it? A lot of flirting happens on the phone.

March 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBrandt Schneider

I use Facebook to keep in touch with old friends I don't get to see as much as I'd like. For example, my Facebook friends include an Australian I met while running rickshaws in Ireland when I was nineteen. He and I traveled to Spain and ran with the bulls together. I left Ireland to go to college and he and I didn't communicated (save a couple of post cards from time to time) until I found him on Facebook. As superficial as it might be, it's great to see pictures of him, his wife, and kids now that we're older.

I could go on and on about the relationships I'm happy to have reformed thanks to Facebook.

On that note, though, I don't accept students as friends. At one time, I accepted them without question until a number of them went away to college and started uploading pictures of themselves doing keg stands, playing beer pong, or something similar. I just don't care that a past 19-year-old student of mine "is really hung over on a Sunday morning."

I know this only represents a small percentage of my students, I just don't want the hassle.

March 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPatrick Malley

I recently attended a workshop presented by Vicki Davis where she talked about the importance of calling this "educational networking" instead of social networking when you use educational networking for student projects and student learning. I think this is an important distinction. However, there is a time and place to use Educational Networking tools such as Facebook or Ning with students. Vicki talked about using these tools in a walled garden first where students learn how to use the tools in a closed and safe environment before doing so with the whole world. I remember years ago when email first began, we thought that students should not have email accounts, then we thought a teacher should not email with a student. The idea of emailing or text messaging a student information about a homework assignment has now become a norm in many places - especially at the high school level. I think we will find that, with time, educational networking will become a norm as well (recent research shows that students are no longer use email for communicating - see Tapscott, Grown Up Digital). Or should we just ignore it and pretend it is not happening and make rules against it for students?

March 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRob Darrow

Another issue that may be at play here -
Facebook terms of use require that if a student is between 13 and 18 years of age, they must be a high school or college student. I have had a couple of students find my facebook account and request to be my friend who are either not yet 13 or not yet in high school - I can only assume that they have an account by "misstating" their age. Do I want to condone that behavior?

I also feel that maintaining a certain social distance between teacher and student is important . "I'm your teacher first - I can and should be concerned about your social needs, but I am and should not be your best friend"

March 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTim Staal

I have a Facebook page and I feed it to my Netvibes so I don't have to 'go in' very often but still see friend's updates. I find I have tried to create different kinds of networks using different platforms. I use Twitter as a professional networking tool. I befriend educators, writers, teacher librarians. On Facebook, I am friends with only a few around 30 people, strictly family and friends. I used to have more old school mates and remotely connected individuals. I decided I didn't need to know what was going on in their lives in this way. I let them know that they were free to contact me any time and then trimmed them from my friend's list. As for students, most of mine aren't asking to be my friends. I work in an elementary school. Some of them have accounts, how that works out with the age restriction I'm not sure. I would give them the same message, message me any time but I save my 'friends' for a very small group of people.

March 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSusan

People aren't good at weighing the cost of unlikely but potentially catastrophic events. If "friending" students causes some kind of major professional or personal hassle one in a thousand times, is it worth it? The potential upside to me seems minor, the potential downside unlikely, but it could be very severe.

OTOH, district policies against it seem weird -- a result of a mindset that everything has to be explicitly allowed or disallowed. If you grant that is the case, I guess you should disallow it, but the system that leads to needing a rule one way or the other is the problem, not the ruling itself.

March 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTom Hoffman

Err on the side of safety--since so few educators that are in the powerful positions and make decisions about my employment understand these networking sites (I refuse to call it social networking since many of them I do not use socially, but instead professionally) I say err on the side of safety, particularly if you like your job and know there are people in position to misunderstand.

March 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCathy Nelson

I began using facebook as a tool to communicate with students who were leading book discussion groups for the summer reading program at my high school. As a library media teacher, I am not in a "power" position in that I don't grade students. I do not ask students to "friend" me, but if they ask me to friend them I do. But I maintain my "Ms F. voice" at all times. I don't post anything that I wouldn't want the superintendent to read and the one time an adult friend posted something slightly questionable on my wall (language-wise) I took it down immediatly.

Patrick makes an excellent point about students going off to college and I think that that offers a good opportunity for us, as caring adults, to say "I'm glad you are having fun at college but I need to unfriend you because I don't want to give the impression that I approve of underage drinking." or what-have-you. This also gives us a chance to point out that potential employers may check your facebook, and that schools have suspended kids for photos on facebook. And thanks, Micheal Phelps, for the cautionary tale you have become!

March 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBarb

I like Barb's use of Facebook with students--it sounds like she uses Facebook exclusively for education purposes, which I think changes the game. This seems like a great instance of effectively defining how to use a tool.

For those of us who use Facebook socially, I wholeheartedly agree in not requesting "friend" status with students, but am on the fence about accepting their requests. I think the responder who mentioned that they welcomed their students to contact them in other ways w/o using Facebook offers a good compromise.

March 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLibby

I have to agree with Doug. Facebook is a social network, not an educational tool. I would never befriend one of my students.

Plus, the district I work in does not allow access to Facebook from school. Are there districts that allow access to Facebook?

March 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterEarl

I also have a Facebook account and have made sure that the only people under 18 listed as "friends" are my cousins. I understand all of the points about communicating with students and using new technology, but when most administrators take the position of "Facebook is evil" and hold seminars on correct online behavior, it's best to stay away from friending students. Your "student/teacher relationship" boundaries might be different than mine, but I can assure you that your average principal/superintendent's are WAY different, especially when an angry parent is involved. CYA.

March 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTom

As others have said, I think that it is important for teachers and administrators to have Facebook accounts so they understand the technology and its implications. And, eventually, I think schools will come to leverage social media technology in many of their instructional and collaborative processes. But I think that it will be in "walled garden" environments that we do this. We will begin to see more and more social networking features grafted onto learning management systems and other software already in use in schools. It is in those safe, controlled, and monitored spaces where teachers, students, administrators, and parents will be interacting and connecting.

March 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMike

I am an older teacher & love technology & have a Facebook. I would not consider 'friending' any of my students, although I friend the friends of my teen daughters, who request it. I am wondering why you would not have a Ms. S's class Facebook where you could respond to questions, etc. Or perhaps a Facebook group? I do not teach in the district where my own kids go to school & they do not know each other. I have completely separate lives.

On the other hand, our school subscribed to this last year, where the students would email a teacher & IM students at other schools. I know some of the other teachers used it quite a bit, but I didn't in my class. My own kids email their teachers when they are sick or if they need to let them know something. They attend a large high school & email is the easiest way to contact any teacher. They also text their coaches for information about practice times, etc. Life would be much more difficult without that capability. It seems to me that it all goes back to the intent, not the use.

March 15, 2009 | Unregistered Commentergjo

My apologies Doug, for cross-posting from LM-Net, but you raise interesting questions. I have some of my own for you...

When it comes to social networking sites such as Facebook, I wonder how students are going to learn responsible use, without engaged adults providing feedback and advice. I think about the research done by Dr. Meg Moreno at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, regarding students at risk. She contacted teens with explicit content on their myspace sites with messages such as: "You seemed to be quite open about sexual issues or other behaviors such as drinking or smoking. Are you sure that's a good idea? ... You might consider revising your page to better protect your privacy. -Dr. Meg". 3 months later, a significant number of teens contacted had revised their privacy settings or removed personal content from their sites. More here on her research:

If we block access to Facebook and Myspace during the school day, and create policies ( and legislate limits about who can contact students (proposed legislation in Missouri), how on earth can we expect kids to learn responsible use? Who do we think will teach them? Too many of our students have parents who are unaware of the risks. Schools, by federal law, are responsible for teaching internet safety. Can this really be done effectively froma walled garden?

Here's another take on teachers using social networking from CNN Technology: "Online student teacher friendships can be tricky" available at: I like how the teacher interviewed, Randy Turner, addresses how the tool is used, "Facebook and MySpace aren't the evils that regulators should be after... Instead the focus [should] remain on vetting the teachers being put in charge of the nation's youth." Teachers must be responsible for behaving professionally when interacting with students, wherever and however.

As a teacher librarian, I do think it's important to demonstrate ethical and appropriate use of tools. I work in an elementary school- and wouldn't consider friending my students, but I would consider friending parents/guardians with a professional FB page if I thought this would be an effective way to get the message out about new books, and school events. I run a Twitter feed for parent communication at school, too; only a few parents use it, but it's another way of getting the word out about what we do. I keep this separate from my personal twitter account for my PLN.

Unfortunately, complying with Terms of Service does limit which tools are available to me in my elementary library classroom. (Okay, let's not talk about downloading YouTube videos for classroom use...). To simulate popular social networking, and give students an opportunity to practice the safe internet use we're trying to teach, I originally built nings for book discussion groups; Ning TOS indicate clearly that the platform is for age 13+, so I moved the discussion groups to Moodle:much more clunky to navigate, much less cool to use. (Hey, Steve Hargadon: how about an ed ning for kids?) Is this frustrating, when I don't believe that federal legislation (COPPA: prevents students at risk from engaging in risky behavior online? Yes. But I comply and model acceptable use for my students. Thank goodness for tools like Voicethread Ed accounts, where I can explicitly teach students the use of personalized, but non-personally-identifying avatars and screen names, with use of a powerful teaching tool that gets students engaged.

We need smarter legislation and policies, that actually protect kids. We need to teach about the power of educational networking- our kids, our administrators, and our legislators need to know. All this talk about 21st Century's our job now.

I hope my own children will have teachers who are willing to use all the tools available to guide their learning-professionally and responsibly. And I'll be asking to join their groups, too.


March 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterShannon Walters

BTW- I need one of those great t-shirts!

March 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterShannon Walters

I tend to disagree with all of these suggestions that we not 'friend' our students (although I must admit that the term does suggest an inappropriate level of familiarity). If students are in a public place like the shops, a sports ground or a museum who is it that shares with the students appropriate behaviour and tells them when they are doing the wrong thing? It is their parents or other responsible adults that are know to the family such as teachers. American Social Network researcher Danah Boyd refers to sites like myspace as Network Publics. This leads to the question who should it be that guides the students in appropriate behaviour in these public spaces? Teachers and Teacher Librarians who have been trained in internet safety, parents whose understanding of the internet have been tainted by mass media or don't even know how to use computers, Uni students who post pictures of drunken parties, or strangers whose intentions are unknown to the students and their families. I think providing teachers remember that sites like MySpace are public places and behave appropriately they are by far the best guides for students on these social network sites. For the past two years I have been doing just this, with the support of some of the parents too.

March 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDavid

I have a separate account for keeping up with my former students. I wouldn't accept friend requests from students on my normal account b/c I want to be able to speak freely with my friends, post whatever pictures I want, etc. On my teacher account, I carefully select what I post. It's the easiest way for me to keep in touch with students from years past. I've never had a problem with it, but I can see why some people might be cautious.

March 16, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterlefty

My knee-jerk reaction was one of agreement. Mostly because of the "sue happy" generation we live in, I would hate for any teacher to be accused of something that never happened but because of a "perception" they are guilty.

With that in mind, I tended to stay on the "not friend a student side" on Facebook just to eliminate any even possibility of misconduct.

However, after reading through comments on this post....I am leaning more towards the option of having a Teacher Account for just such conversations. It is something I had not thought of, and it just might work.

I think the wording of "Any teacher who links to a student on MySpace or Facebook is an ABSOLUTE FOOL!!!!! " is a bit strong.

I believe it should be more like "Any teacher who links to a student on MySpace or Facebook blindly...and doesn't think of what it could be perceived as....and enters into more of a friendship relationship rather than teacher/student....and who doesn't stay just a bit cautious.....should stop and think again."

I am all for opportunities.......but I think there needs to be wisdom involved.

March 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer

Using Facebook to communicate with students sends the wrong message. We are adults not pals or friends of students. Teahcing responsible Internet use and Internet safety is not an excuse to cnnect with students on Facebook. Understanding Facebook is important. As I said on LM_NET -- just because a parent or some other adult allows a student to lie to get a page does not give us the right to agree to the lie.

I will never forget when I was a young teacher (22) - I went to Myrtle Beach, SC close to where I teach. When I got back to school on Monday -- many of my students said they saw me going into the Bowery (the bar where Alabama started out). Needless to say - I never went there again.

Contacting students on Facebook or any other social networking site is inappropriate. Just as having a drink with high school kids, hanging out with kids, etc. is inappropriate.
You will get yourself into big troubkle with this.

March 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPaula Yohe

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>