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EdTech Update




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More on "friending" students

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...

Peter writes:

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?

Rob writes:

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:

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?

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.

Tom writes:

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!

David argues:

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???

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Reader Comments (13)

Very interesting topic you are covering Paul. I don't think the answers to these questions are 100% clear hence the controversy. From 8th to 11th grade I attended boarding school where the teachers and other faculty members served a duel roll as both my educators and "Dorm Parents". Not only were they in charge of keeping an eye on me outside of class, but they also frequently engaged us by hosting sit down dinners in their homes which included their spouses and children. In a way my dorm mates and I were an extension of their family. I believe relationships beyond the classroom can exist and should exist to further aid in a students development. Many of these teachers were crucial to my development as a person and those personal interactions helped to make me a more successful student. As for friending teahers in a social network while still in a teacher student relationship I'd say its up to the discretion of the teacher. Their facebook profile would need to reflect the fact that they are intending to open it up to students by omitting certain attributes about themselves. They also need to recognize the fact that they are going to be connected to this student 24/7. Back in boarding school facebook did not exists and when the dorm parents were off duty there was an obvious and necessary disconnect. That being said teachers are not obligated to interact with their students on Facebook or any other social network for that matter. The easy solution is probably to have each school create their own Nings and avoid Facebook all together. That way it can be considered a school activity and a teaching tool. What happens after a student moves on is between that student and that teacher and if they want to be Facebook friends then I see no problem with that.

March 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJoe Corbett

I agree that accepting students as "friends" on Facebook is not a great idea. I had a fifth grader request me as a friend. The funny thing was when I told him my policy was not to friend students, he was totally embarrassed as I got asked because he sent a mass email to his contacts.
Happy to have found this blog.

March 16, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjone

There are privacy controls that I use when "friending" current students, and some I use for former students: they don't get to see my posts, my wall or my photos and vice-versa. I do find that many of them use FB instead of e-mail, and if they want to leave me a message asking for help with something, or a book request, that's fine with me!

March 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLazygal

An interesting topic for sure. Our school and many of our classes have facebook pages or groups to promote projects that we are working on. I've had teachers inquire as to the acceptability of students friended them on their own facebook pages. Students need role models but I encourage them to keep the onus of the request on the student. Something is a little bit creepy about adults needing fourteen year olds as friends. Then again they are reminded to keep all of their comments appropriate and to realize there is no eraser on the web and that all their actions reflect the values and mission of the school they work for and should they choose through their actions online or other to bring public shame or ridicule upon the school community we may be choosing to part ways.

March 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCharlie A. Roy

After discussing this with my friends and after having students find me on Flickr and Twitter, I decided to make 2 accounts for Facebook. I decided that if they are going to find me, I would want somewhere for them to connect to me. Some of our teachers use Facebook for their classes because students are so active on it and some keep their "teacher" voices there. However, there was an incident where a teacher posted photos from a party she held and she did not set the privacy so her middle schoolers saw all these photos of teachers drinking. People were upset and some were horrified by that. There is that other problem, how do you control what someone else puts on their Facebook page if they are your colleague or friend?
As a new teacher, I have gone to conferences where they tell you to let your students get to know you, but there is knowing too much about you.
Thanks for posting this.

March 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnna Martino

"designed to be social, not educational"

While there's a difference, I don't see a clean break.

March 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPeter

"are schools responsible for teaching safety to kids in every possible environment?"

I think the answer to this is ultimately YES - schools are responsible for teaching safety to kids in every possible environment they may interact with while in our care and beyond. To my mind, child safety is one of the main responsibilities of any educator. This is the reason why kindergarten students (and older) are taught how to cross the road safely, not to talk to strangers, how to read a map, how to tell time, etc. We teach students how to communicate and behave "in school" so that they might communicate and behave appropriately in the wider world outside of school. Social networks such as Facebook are currently part of the wider world, and I do believe it is our responsibility to teach students how to behave and communicate within them. If we bring our students on a field trip to go mountain climbing, then YES, we need to teach them how to be safe while climbing. Social networks, however, are more ubiquitous than mountain climbing expeditions, and therefore the social responsibility is more important and more general than the specific skills needed for a specialty trip like mountain climbing.

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?

Like the other issues above (road safety, etc.) we always ask parents to share this responsibility -- isn't it the same with reading and writing skills, among others? Parents are our partners in education. But as educators, we must be responsible for this, also, and we must get the ball rolling for the safety of our students.

Btw, for those of you who insist that Facebook is purely social and not meant for educational purposes, there is a growing (new) body of research from Stanford University's Persuasive Technology Lab about just that: teaching and learning with Facebook. If you have a FB account, look for the "Teaching and Learning With Facebook" Group. You may also be interested in this call for chapters for a book about this topic:

Lastly, a story to illustrate the point that Facebook CAN be used for both learning content and social network skills - a colleague at my school initially began a Ning for her IB Diploma Psychology students. They took to it right away, but after 6 months or so, the enthusiasm wore off and she had difficulty persuading students to participate on the Ning -- they had stopped visiting. Why? They much preferred to have their Psychology discussions on a discussion board in a Facebook group -- created by one of the students himself! She joined the group and was astonished to see the higher-level discussions that students were participating in on the student-created discussion board; they were far more engaged than on the Ning, or in class. Her decision: she migrated everything over to the Facebook group and things have been lively ever since. She even creates "events" for upcoming assignment deadlines, and tells me they work better than anything she's ever tried before.

March 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAdriennne

Hi All,

Good point about the precise use of privacy controls. As I remember, Facebook has just improved these.

Through these comments, I am beginning to think that the logical thing might be for professionals to have two Facebook accounts - one personal and one professional, at least until school provide a similar "official" communication format.

Appreciate your forward thinking here!


March 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

When I first heard about Facebook, I thought it was another MySpace. I used MySpace for about 5 minutes and promptly retreated in frustration because of the annoying backgrounds, music, "glitter," etc. So, when my 36 year old cousin told me that I absolutely had to check out Facebook, I decided to give it a go. Well, here I am admitting that, yes, I am now a Facebook addict. I enjoy being able to communicate with my friends faster than via email, quickly post an announcement, easily share pictures, etc.

Having said all that, I absolutely agree with you. As a teacher, I would NEVER "friend" a student. I honestly don't know why anyone would even be tempted to do so. I personally enjoy keeping my private life private. Many teachers "let loose"on Facebook, sharing information that they probably wouldn't want their mother to see, much less their students. I personally keep mine pretty much sanitary (smile), but I have seen pages of fellow teachers with text and pictures that would definitely not be appropriate for their students to view.

If teachers find certain aspects of Facebook to be of educational value (and I have seen some good suggestions by other posters), I agree that the best solution is to have separate accounts for personal and professional use.

March 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAngie Wassenmiller

I thought there was some rule in the terms & conditions saying you couldn't have two accounts?
I guess when they get the permissions really sorted (one reason I like Elgg - complete granularity over every single thing you do), then it would be possible to have one account.
I know they've improved their permissions, but as far as I can tell, it's not possible to have (potentially) everything you do visible by a different group of people.
While I personally dislike Ning (all that logging in drives me mad), it does make it easier to separate work & social - and indeed different elements of both. Just drives me mad that I can't see an overview of my whole participation on it ... so ... the ideal (to me) would be the ability to carve up your online life - for others, but to see an overview of your whole online life - for yourself. And, the best tool I've found for that to date is Elgg. I think that while most wouldn't make much use of it, if/when Facebook really introduces that level of control over visibility, then it could attract a lot of people who currently find that aspect of it offputting.

March 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterEmma

Hi Emma,

Yup. From the Facebook terms page:

In addition, you agree not to use the Service or the Site to: ...register for more than one User account, register for a User account on behalf of an individual other than yourself, or register for a User account on behalf of any group or entity;

I wonder how institutions get around this?


March 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

Doug, institutions register for a public page, which has different TOS. Go to the regular Facebook TOS, scroll down until you see the heading "Facebook Pages."

March 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAdrienne


Thanks for the clarification!


March 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

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