Monday, January 5, 2009

Teachers, Students, and Facebook

I’m finding it harder and harder to believe that a teacher/student connection on Facebook is that bad of a thing. I’ve read several articles/blogs recently promoting one position or another, such as THIS ONE or THIS ONE, and I’m still wondering if, overall, connections are a GOOD thing.
I spend a lot of time talking with teachers about making professional connections and inevitably, talk of Facebook and befriending students comes up. It’s no secret to anyone in my network that a good fraction of my “friends” are students I’ve taught in the past. I’ve even “friended” some of their parents.

I’m more of a constructivist and like to see what unfolds when things are allowed to happen. I understand the concerns that other teachers and administrators have with networking through sites like Facebook, but I also understand that ignoring that network is ignoring a mountain of possibilities for professional development and teaching about appropriate internet usage.

Does befriending students mean that I am their “friend” in the normal sense of the word?

No.

I can still be a professional while understanding that this connection is a preservation of communities I've built over the years—I get to continue conversations and have opportunities that extend beyond the classroom interaction. For instance, because I’m networking with previous students, I have the opportunity to continue to teach them when they post things like phone numbers, addresses, pictures of their cars w/ a license plate, etc. It gives me a chance to remind them that EVERYONE can see what they are posting and they may want to reconsider what they’ve got on their pages, especially if they are looking for a job or trying to get into a particular college. Additionally, the chat feature has often times given me the opportunity to do homework or research help.

(As an aside…how many of our students have actually been TAUGHT about appropriate internet usage and are of the “anything goes” mindset? Or perhaps they are of the “anonymous internet” mindset and believe that what they do online is somehow a secret…)

My Facebook network is comprised of Family, Friends, previous students, colleagues, acquaintances from High School and College, and professional contacts. I don’t post anything that I wouldn’t mind ending up being on the front page of the newspaper. In fact, in all of my online activities, I try to maintain a professional tone, or at least try to refrain from references that could be misconstrued. I like being able to network with this group of people—not only to find out what is going on with them, but also to build a Professional Learning Network of users that have similar interests to mine.

The times really are a-changing. We can’t expect that what was considered right or wrong in the past is still considered the same way. This is what being a global community means. If we, as teachers, administrators, staff developers, etc. are really interested in best practices, shouldn’t we be interested in embracing the tools that we know students are using?

It’s okay to set boundaries for usage, or make decisions about whether or not you “befriend” anyone, but I don’t think it’s okay for folks to just put a blanket kibosh on something that has a lot of potential for changing the way people, not just kids, are educated.

4 comments:

  1. I could not agree more. I have both MySpace and Facebook pages that are invaluable ways to connect with my current and former students (and parents). I also give out my AIM and Twitter handles freely to students. IMO, It's all about using common sense. I never post (or tweet) anything that would not be appropriate for me to say in class. I personally know every single person I friend on Facebook or MySpace, and I respect the privacy of my students' personal space. Once the ground rules are established, my students know that use these tools in a professional way (not to kill time or chit chat), and they generally respond in kind. They know that I am not available 24-7, but I try to respond to class-related questions and problems as soon as I can. Students need more good adult role models using these tools, as you point out. The answer is not to ban them out of hand, but to model them with common sense.

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  2. Excellent comment posted by Jen. I agree wholeheartedly with what you and she have said. We must serve as mentors and model proper online behaviors for our students using the tools with they are so versed (and could teach us a thing or two). Excellent post, Mike; very thought-provoking and something that causes us to push the boundaries of the status quo. Thank you for this!

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