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Friday
Aug072009

Guidelines for Educators Using Social Networking Sites

ATTENTION: These guide lines have been revised and the newest version is available here. - Doug

 

 

My friend and colleague, Tech Director Jen Hegna over in the Byron (MN) schools developed this set of guidelines for the staff in her district. (She was motivated, she said, partially by posts here and here on the Blue Skunk. Cool!) Anyway she's given permission for me to share her work here and says readers are welcome to use and adopt as well:

 

 

Guidelines for Educators Using Social Networking Sites
August 2009
(DRAFT, DRAFT, DRAFT)

 

Social networks are rapidly growing in popularity and use by all ages in society. The most popular social networks are web-based, commercial, and not purposely designed for educational use. They include sites like Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, and Xanga. For individuals, social networking sites provide tremendous potential opportunities for staying in touch with friends and family.

 

Other educational networking sites are also growing in use. These sites are usually restricted to only certain users and not available to the general public. These include resources such as Moodle, educational wikis, a professional online communities such as the Classroom2.0 Ning, or district adoptions of online applications such as Google Apps for Education.

 

As educators we have a professional image to uphold and how we conduct ourselves online helps determine this image. As reported by the media, there have been instances of educators demonstrating professional misconduct while engaging in inappropriate dialogue about their schools and/or students or posting pictures and videos of themselves engaged in inappropriate activity. Some educators feel that being online shields them from having their personal lives examined. But increasingly, how educators’ online identities are too often public and can cause serious repercussions.

 

One of the hallmarks of social networks is the ability to “friend” others – creating a group of others that share interests and personal news. The district strongly discourages teachers from accepting invitations to friend students within these social networking sites. When students gain access into a teacher’s network of friends and acquaintances and are able to view personal photos, the student-teacher dynamic is altered. Friending students provide more information than one should share in an educational setting. It is important to maintain a professional relationship with students to avoid relationships that could cause bias in the classroom.  

 

For the protection of your professional reputation, the district recommends the following practices:

 

Friends and friending

  •  Do not accept students as friends on personal social networking sites. Decline any student-initiated friend requests.
  •  Do not initiate friendships with students
  •  Remember that people classified as  “friends” have the ability to download and share your information with others.
  •  If you wish to use networking protocols as a part of the educational process, please work with your administrators and technology staff to identify and use a restricted, school-endorsed networking platforms.

 

Content

  •  Do not use commentary deemed to be defamatory, obscene, proprietary, or libelous. Exercise caution with regards to exaggeration, colorful language, guesswork, obscenity, copyrighted materials, legal conclusions, and derogatory remarks or characterizations.
  • Weigh whether a particular posting puts your effectiveness as a teacher at risk.
  • Post only what you want the world to see. Imagine your students, their parents, your administrator, visiting your site. It is not like posting something to your web site or blog and then realizing that a story or photo should be taken down. On a social networking site, basically once you post something it may be available, even after it is removed from the site.
  • Do not discuss students or coworkers or publicly criticize school polcies or personnel.
  • Do not post images that include students.

Security

  • Due to security risks, be cautious when installing the external applications that work with the social networking site. Examples of these sites are calendar programs and games.
  • Run updated malware protection to avoid infections of spyware and adware that social networking sites might place on your computer.
  • Be careful not to fall for phishing scams that arrive via email or on your wall, providing a link for you to click, leading to a fake login page.
  • Visit your profile’s security and privacy settings. At a minimum, educators should have all privacy settings set to “only friends”. “Friends of friends” and “Networks and Friends” open your content to a large group of unknown people. Your privacy and that of your family may be a risk. People you do not know may be looking at you, your home, your kids, your grandkids, - your lives!

 

Please stay informed and cautious in the use of all new networking technologies.

 

 

Resources

Written by Jen Hegna, Information Systems Manager, Byron (MN) Public Schools


http://teenormous.com/

 

 

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Reader Comments (31)

Thanks Doug! Educators need to be aware of the significance of social networking sites to their career and the implications that might arise. It will be so useful to have these guidelines to build on. Thanks for sharing your friends work. =)

August 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCarol

Thanks, Doug! This is a great resource.

August 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAngie Wassenmiller

Doug, I like Jen Henga's piece and agree with everything she has written. However, why be such a spoilsport? Yes, quite right about the dangers of personal social sites, but why not put forwards a positive list of those collaborative activities that can be so much more fun and constructive?

I'm thinking particularly how one can use the collaborative features, peer reviews, polls and surveys all built within an e-safe e-Portfolio environment. In other on-line environments I have even seen Primary school children giving formative feedback and learning how to collaborate on team projects. I have learnt soooo much from the Minnesota eFolioWorld gang - as you will gather from my blog.

August 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRay Tolley

Doug,

Ooops! Apologies about the typo of Jen's surname. However, if Jen can contact me, I would like to refer to her piece on my blog (or link to yours?)

rjt@maximise-ict.co.uk

August 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRay Tolley

I like very much most of the wording in these guidelines. The one part I am having trouble with is this:

Friends and friending

* Do not accept students as friends on personal social networking sites. Decline any student-initiated friend requests.
* Do not initiate friendships with students
* Remember that people classified as “friends” have the ability to download and share your information with others.
* If you wish to use networking protocols as a part of the educational process, please work with your administrators and technology staff to identify and use a restricted, school-endorsed networking platforms.

My question is, "Why not?" I can clearly see how this can be an issue if you are using your social network site for personal reasons or to keep in contact with old friends, relatives, or to network with coworkers but what about participation in these networks for the purpose of maintaining a meaningful relationship with your students? I fail to see the problem with this if you "friend" students on an account created specifically for the purpose of interacting with students within the social media landscape. By not interacting with students in this aspect of their lives we cut off an important communications channel with them. Also, the teacher who friends a student on MySpace or Facebook might be the only responsible adult with a connection in that space who can help direct a student toward proper use of these tools and bring awareness of the importance of being conscious of one's digital identity. Would the same rule apply for a teacher who creates a classroom ning? Surely they would want their students to "friend" them in that space.

August 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCarl Anderson

I agree with you Carl. I know that 'friending' students can be dangerous but it all depends on how you use Facebook. I have over 600 'friends' (not trying to be egotistical) and 90% of my friends are educational colleagues. Less than 10% are high school classmates and I have two former students as friends. I use Facebook mainly to network and connect with other educational professionals so I am not worried about students seeing what I post - even if the status update is of a personal nature. Perhaps that is why I do not see a problem friending students. I am not advising anyone to follow suit but so far I have not had a problem friending students on Facebook or MySpace.

August 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKim Caise

This list of advice sure seems heavy on the "Thou Shalt Nots" without much to inspire teachers to get online and create a powerful, educational online presence. In my experience, teachers are already sufficiently terrified by the "bogey man" of life online... they don't need to be made more frightened: instead, they need to learn about how to build their online identity in a way that benefits themselves professionally, benefits their students educationally, and contributes to the overall use of the Internet for teaching and learning. This was a topic I emphasized in a presentation I recently did targeted for Latin teachers... I've put the slideshows for the presentation online at, oh no, a social networking site! :-)
Here it is: Web2.0 - what are your favorite tools these days...?
http://firesidelearning.ning.com/forum/topics/web20-what-are-your-favorite

August 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLaura Gibbs

It's all about context. If you want a particular social network to be primarily professional/educaional, it's probably best to limit "friends" to collegues you know and with whom you want to collaborate. If you want to include personal quips, obervations, links and content, you may want to create a different personal network.

I participate in several social network sites, each for varied puproses, and as I have learned more about what I want from these sites, my specific usage and goals has changed over time as well.

I think it's sad that at some schools, some of these sites are blocked by default, with no discussion from teachers. It tales a while to figure out the best educational context for using interactive web tools with students but that's all part of the professional develoment process we all need to be experiencing.

August 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJeff Johnson

Jeff is right about the problems with indiscriminate blocking of sites by schools. I publish lots of Latin materials online using PBWorks.com (ad-free wikis for educators), at Blogger.com (no ads on my blog), and at Ning.com (I pay a monthly fee to remove the ads). Yet I regularly get emails from high school teachers who are not able to use my materials at their school because they are blocked as a matter of policy (I never hear from college instructors facing this problem and I am lucky to be teaching at the college level myself). I always encourage teachers to go to their technology administrator and ask for a permission to unblock a specific domain (bestlatin.blogspot.com, even if the rest of blogspot.com is blocked, or aesopus.pbworks.com, even if the rest of pbworks.com is blocked, aesopus.ning.com, even if the rest of ning.com is blocked)... but many teachers, especially who are not confident about technology to begin with, are hesitant to rock the boat.
It is very frustrating to find myself putting forth a good effort which is being blocked, mindlessly, by school policies that are so inflexible as to not evaluate the use of these online tools on a case by case basis.

August 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLaura Gibbs

If a teacher uses social networking tools, like Ning, for educational purposes - I do not see any problem with friending students and using FB on a purely professional level is a somewhat different use than many of the users in my district.

As I think of how I use my FB profile, it is very personal in nature and contains information and pictures from the kid’s birthday parties, holidays, family vacations, and outings with friends. I use it to keep in touch with family and friends while having conversations about things that are personal to me. There is no educational benefit to it (I use Ning, Twitter, Wiki’s) and I do not use it to connect with other professionals (I use Linked in). It is strictly my space. (no pun intended) With that being said, I have nothing to hide and if an administrator stumbled upon it – I would still have my job in the morning. I just want my privacy.

I think teachers need to ask themselves some questions when considering friending students in these environments. How do you use your profile? Is it personal or professional? How do your FB friends communicate with you on your profile? What kind of photos/videos will they tag of you? Do you friend all students or just the ones you trust? How do the parents feel about you friending their children? What do you do when you view inappropriate material on a student’s profile? What will you do if a student is in trouble?

As indicated, this document is a draft that can be used to provide guidelines and talking points for districts. Whether you are for or against the idea, teachers still need to make informed decisions when friending students online.

August 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJen Hegna

I would much rather see districts make guidelines for teacher use of social networks that sound more like the last two paragraphs in Jen's response:

I think teachers need to ask themselves some questions when considering friending students in these environments. How do you use your profile? Is it personal or professional? How do your FB friends communicate with you on your profile? What kind of photos/videos will they tag of you? Do you friend all students or just the ones you trust? [How do the parents feel about you friending their children? What do you do when you view inappropriate material on a student’s profile? What will you do if a student is in trouble? - These issues need to be dealt with from a policy level]

As indicated, this document is a draft that can be used to provide guidelines and talking points for districts. Whether you are for or against the idea, teachers still need to make informed decisions when friending students online.

To me this sounds far more progressive while addressing more directly the concerns the guidelines seek to address. This issue is a big one for me because at the advent of social networking I created an account for the use of using with my students. As a result of that experience I found far greater leverage in teaching students about digital citizenship and the need to be aware of your online identity, at least 1 suicide attempt was discovered and intervened upon, and the use of these tools with students worked to positively affect community building in my classroom. This was before the issue became taboo. Since then I have not been allowed this tool for use with students. Enough time has passed since my initial experience that most of those students are now graduated. Those students still keep in touch. The use of these tools has established a way to measure the effects of education practices and impact that was not at the teacher's disposal before. I feel strongly that we need to encourage these kinds of relationships between students and teachers and the prospect of having a new social platform to do so provides a great teachable moment for both students and teachers.

Consequently, I also view the internet as moving toward being a social medium. We see social networking creeping into all aspects of what is done online. For example, the White House and Library of Congress websites even have social components. To tell teachers not to use social tools to interact with students will mean that soon we will not be able to use the internet in schools. It is far more productive to move this conversation toward educating teachers how to interact with students online.

August 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCarl Anderson

I am happy to say our district will be moving forward with these guidelines as talking points and we will be going to each building to have an open discussion about the implications of friending students on sites like Facebook. We will be adding one more line to the document -" If a staff member learns information on the social networking site that falls under the mandated reporting guidelines, they must report it as required by law." Thoughts?

August 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJen Hegna

Absolutely!

August 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCarl Anderson

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Susan

August 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSusan

Hi Ray,

I agree there are positive uses and the document does acknowledge this in the second paragraph. The purpose of this guideline is warn about the misuse of non-educational networking sites rather than be a guide to all educational networking. A fairly narrow focus, that I will admit, is more about preventing problems than offering opportunities.

Thanks for the comment,

Doug

Hi Carl and Kim,

When this subject came up before, I found that many educators feel like you do - why not use networking tools to increase educational opportunities.

I am all for that, but I worry the line between "educational" networking and "social" networking is easily blurred. Do we really want to use the same Facebook account with our students that we do with our friends - a question especially relevant, I think, to our youngest teachers.

If we set up an analogy in the real world, I don't think anyone would question a teacher taking a class to the bowling alley as part of a school-sponsored event. But I do think there would be concern and a negative perception were a teacher to start hanging out at the bowling alley with her students outside of school.

All the best,

Doug

Hi Laura,

I am not a big fan of the boogie man approach either. But I do think it is realistic to advise teachers, especially younger ones, of the inherent risks of confusing social networking and educational networking. The document does acknowledge that there are valid uses for networking in education, but personal social networking sites are not the best way to do this.

Appreciate the comment,

Doug

Hi Laura and Jeff,

I think this helps make the case for why guidelines like these are necessary. Were everyone to use such sites appropriately, blocking would not be considered necessary,

All the best,

Doug

Hi Jen,

And I would add that if a teacher wished to use Facebook or MySpace to work with students, he/she should establish a separate, organizational account.

Doug

Hi Carl,

I don't think this document advocates banning or blocking educational networking at all. It only asks teacher to distinguish between personal and professional uses. This is a line I hope is very clear to most teachers in the real world, but may need clarification in the virtual world. My sense is that a lot of parents (me included) would think a teacher who "friended" his/her students on a personal social networking site would be unprofessional, if not a little creepy or dangerous.

All the best,

Doug

August 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

Hi Doug, it would be GREAT if there were some guidelines that could help support teachers who positively DO want to use social networking sites and other web2.0 for educational purposes. For example, one of the main issues I see is uncontrolled advertising - GoogleAds will regularly put up ads for "Latin Lovers" on the Latin websites I administer. So, I either choose ad-free tools (PBWorks is ad-free for educators, Blogger.com is ad free for the readers of the blog although Google now is putting ads on the administrator pages for managing the blogs at Blogspot.com, GoogleDocsSlideshows - one of my favorite tools - is ad-free, and I pay $30/month to remove the GoogleAds from my two educational Nings).
So, keeping the sites ad free is very important; I recognize that. What else should I be thinking about? I would benefit from additional guidance into what it is exactly that technology administrators in high school are wary of. That's not the kind of information that was being provided in the draft document here, but as a conscientious creator of online materials intended not just for college-age but also high school students, I would really appreciate help in navigating the uncharted waters of acceptability.

August 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLaura Gibbs

I don't think this document advocates banning or blocking educational networking at all. It only asks teacher to distinguish between personal and professional uses.<./blockquote>

I didn't read that into the document. My concern was only that the wording implied that social networks should not be utilized for professional use with students.

August 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCarl Anderson

I really thought this was useful information and a great discussion. I posted a link to this on my Facebook page, and dropped my friend Doug's and my friend Jen's names in doing so - I can name drop with the best of them.

August 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMary

Well I'm in BIG trouble. I use my Facebook account almost exclusively for educational purposes.

Almost all of my "friends" are students. I share their photos of their artwork, links to videos i want them to view (tutorials, documentaries, animations) and make recomendations about websites and even TV programs they might be interested in.

i joke with the parents when they come to open house that i can show a clip during school and half the class is asleep. I post the same video to Facebook and 5 minutes later I have 10 comments all telling me how cool it is.

A hammer can be used to build a house or break your thumb. It's just a tool. It's all about how you use it.

ian

August 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterIan Sands

Thanks for this good discussion! It's given me a lot to think about as the new year begins. Ian, I like the proverbial hammer: I'm a total klutz with real hardware, but I like remodeling my virtual house with new web tools at the beginning of every school year. :-)

August 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLaura Gibbs

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