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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?

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Reader Comments (27)


I'm not sure I can contribute a whole lot more to this but after reading the comment post I thought I'd give it a shot.

I'm really fearful of anyone setting boundaries as to how teachers and students connect. I realize the naysayers will tell me that's ludicrous but I don't think we've got our heads around this issue clearly enough to start telling everyone what they should or shouldn't do.

My spidey sense begins to tingle when I hear statements like,

Any teacher who links to a student on MySpace or Facebook is an ABSOLUTE FOOL!!!!!

Spoken from someone who has likely not seen any positives come from this. Ask Chris Lehmann about this issue.

I posted about this recently and pretty much stand by that.

I strongly suggest you listen to the podcast I linked to. That is about the best discussion of this issue I've heard.

March 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDean Shareski

See follow up post to many of these comments here:

Hi Paula,

Our relationships with our students is almost a sacred one, I think. For myself, viewing any student as a social partner violates that trust. But I suppose we all have our own standards.

Good to hear from you! And stay out of the bars.


Hi Jennifer,

I suspect how we deal with this should be more "nuanced" as you suggest. Perhaps a "professional account" on Facebook, used only for educational purposes might work.

Thanks for the comment,


Hi Dean,

Great blog post. Thanks for sharing it.

This is certainly not a black and white issue. For me, I'd rather see us use the same tools that allow networking and interaction between students and teachers (and parents), but in a more official sanctioned environment - even a walled garden.

Like all tools, Facebook can be used for great good or great evil. And some people will do both.

Appreciate the link and look forward to listening to the podcast,


March 17, 2009 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

I use FB to share Book Club information with my high school students regarding upcoming events. I value this tool as an open line of communication. Many students have sought homework help from me on Facebook, 24-7! Regarding Facebook as a 21st Century Literacy tool, maybe this will help explain its value: *Collaboration--Students practice cyber-etiquette by listening and responding to others with respect and giving positive feedback, when appropriate. *Collaboration--Students understand how social media tools can be used effectively in the learning process. *Using writing skills to communicate new understandings effectively--Students compare / contrast emerging social media per best choice of global communication. *Connect learning to community issues--Students develop a willingness to share learning with a community of learners. *Ethics and safety--Students follow ethical and legal guidelines in acquiring and sharing information. Students practice online safety in the exchange of information, ideas and communication. Most importantly, this last one shows that social media tools allow our students to learn: *Students understand their online behavior in exchanging ideas and information enhances self-enlightenment, academic pride, and social and ethical responsibilities. (Note: Students should be carefully guarded in their use of any Internet resource by parents and teachers.) Now, isn''t Facebook an appropriate online tool to practice these 21st Century learning behaviors?

I view Facebook no differently from Twitter, Flickr, PBWiki, Blogspot, etc. I am an engaged 21st Century Educator, modeling appropriate online behavior and providing assistance to high school students and former ones, too. As a teacher librarian, I am compelled to teach responsible use of 21st Century communicative tools. These are great public spaces, or networks, for the educator to provide professional guidance, no different than if I saw these same students at a game, mall, or other public space. If asked for homework help, or if they were acting inappropriately, or if they wished to just say hello, I would respond the same as if I were speaking to them in Facebook, or other networked environment.

I do value Facebook for touching base with family members across the country and personal friendships which I have developed over the years. As for students, I use this environment to:
1. publicized upcoming Book Club events or Library happenings
2. promote reading and discuss new titles
3. give homework assistance (no different, from my "Ask a Librarian" services in our online research resources)
4. guide a student towards responsible online use

March 17, 2009 | Unregistered Commentervanhookc

Facebook is a great tool for educators, if used properly. You can even set up a classroom and utilize educational applications within facebook. eachers could post lectures or educational videos. Teachers need to go where the kids are to educate them. This is where the students are living and playing they are extremely comfortable in this envriroment. Soem suggestions though--use two accounts one professionally for your students and one socially for yourself. Also change your profile settings so that only certain information is shared. I would suggest you show your kids to change their profile settings as well so you can't see all of there information.

It is all about how you use the tool, if you flirt with your students that is your problem, not the technology's problem. You still need to draw the line. As far s someone vouching for their friends that is hogwash. Why would you accept a friend you didn't know?

Don't shut down the technology understand and use it. It is also our job to teach about Internet safety, using this with your students might bring up teachable moments that you could use.

March 25, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterrob

Here is an article with some of the positive things people are doing with Facebook. It's like any new technology; we sometimes fear the unknown. And we also magnify the bad so that the good and wonderful ends up skewed and warped.

"Facebook can be good for kids, socially and educationally"


July 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMarjie Braun Knudsen

Hi Marjie,

Interesting article. Thanks for recommending.

I have no problem with kids using social networking sites - I just think we ought to call them by another name if they are to be accepted in schools.

All the best,


July 2, 2009 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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.

August 24, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterlaura

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