Last Wedneday's post on not confusing social networking with educational networking stirred up quite a bit of controversy. (For the life of me, I can never predict what posts will provoke comments!) A lively conversation ensued on LM_Net as well.
First, I would suggest that you go back and read the very cogent and diverse reactions in the full comments. But I will summarize a few main issues here...
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?
And with a similar line of reasoning, Brandt asks:
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.
Of course it is how one uses the technology. But Facebook is designed to be social, not educational, just as an RV is designed to be recreational, not a school bus. (Although both could transport kids to school.) Were Facebook the only tool that would facilitate student/teacher interaction, I would probably be thinking more about how to use it well, but there are other programs designed specially to facilitate educational interactions such as Moodle, private Nings, Saywire and other "walled garden" apps. And of course any technology, including the telephone, can be abused!
Patrick details the personal use he makes of Facebook, but adds:
...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.
Does the old expression that we are known by the company we keep hold true for social networks as well?
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.
And Mike adds:
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.
The very term "social" to me suggests forming relationships that are casual, equal, and recreational as opposed to educational and/or business-like. While I understand networking can and should be a part of the educational process, the term "social" (and those sites like Facebook so branded), ought to be left to fulfill their separate purpose. Schools might use very similar communication tools, but describe them in terms that are less threatening to parents and spell out their education purpose and values.
Tim points out:
Just as I would report underage students hanging out in a physical space that required a minimum age for admission to their parents, I would also report underage students hanging out in an online age-restricted space. Call me Miss Manners.
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.
Interesting point. How likely does something have to be before we need to regulate it? (Next week we will be having a meteor hit drill in the auditorium!)
Along similar lines, Cathy reasons:
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 ... particularly if you like your job and know there are people in position to misunderstand.
Risk/benefit analysis should be done for any tech use.
Barb writes about her institutional use of Facebook:
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.
I can't help but think a Ning instead of Facebook might be a better tool here, but obviously Barb has thought about this and set some limits.
Maribel writes in a personal e-mail:
... in the last two years 2 of our teachers lost their jobs due to inappropriate conversations with students on Facebook. What bothers me is not Facebook itself, but the fact that we as professionals are so willing to relax our standards in order to "be in touch" with our students. This makes me nervous, and by the way I am not a crotchety old school librarian, I am a cautious and optimistic 38 year old who loves the Internet!
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.
OK, just a qeustion ... are schools responsible for teaching safety to kids in every possible environment? Skateboard parks, mountain climbing expeditions, coffee shops, etc.? At what point do schools need to say that parents or other parts of society need to step up to plate and take responsibility for teaching kids "social" safety?
Finally, Lefty pragmatically suggests:
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.
Confused at a higher level???