Education Opinion

Is Teacher Use of Social Networks with Students...Creepy?

By Patrick Ledesma — September 13, 2011 3 min read
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At an education conference this past summer, a teacher relayed a question the students had asked about a situation they had experienced.

“Should students have to accept “friend requests” (on one of the popular social networks) from a long term substitute teacher?”

Ugh..... I was hoping for an easy question like, “How can social networks be used in education?”

If the question was positively phrased, I could have pointed out some of my previous posts on this issue discussing the benefits and challenges of using the popular social networks in schools.

A high school student (gSD) and I have blogged about how Facebook can empower student government and the benefits and challenges of social networks in schools.

Certainly, there have been lots of recent controversies on the issue of using popular social networks in education. Can a state control online teacher interactions with students ?

I also believe the student voices are important when thinking about how emerging technologies should be used in schools. Students understand how social networks might empower them, and the reverse is also true, they understand when these interactions are questionable.

So, I had to ask the teacher, what did the students think of this request?

The teacher responded, "....creepy.”

Creepy is not exactly the word one should use when talking about the potential of technology in education.

Geeky is OK. Creepy, is not...

Yet, the core function of a social network is to use the technology for social purposes.

The fact that innovative educators will find ways to use these technologies to enhance instruction and communication is noteworthy; however, students use social networks primarily for social interaction.

When educators enter this social space, they expand and challenge the boundaries and relationships between schools and families, and between school staff and students.

These relationships need to be clearly defined.

Eventually, the teacher asked me if educators in my district used social networks with students.

Educators in my district are fortunate to have other avenues for communication and community.

If my school administration wants to contact parents, we have Blackboard Connect to send messages instantly via phone, text, or email. We have Blackboard to create online communities for instructional purposes.

Essentially, we can bypass all the messiness of educators entering the world of social networks that occur during non-instructional hours. We can provide an appropriate place for teaching content and netiquette.

Is our official platform as fancy as the latest social media platforms? No, but we do not have to place our educators and students in potentially uncomfortable situations. When we interact with students and families using our district-sanctioned resources, we know all participants are protected and all interactions can be verified.

There are many examples of smart and innovative educators using social networks with students, but too often these educators represent one class or one school, in very specific contexts.

Things become more complicated when going to scale. Educators who create policies for larger districts have to think about what happens with thousands of teachers and/or hundreds of thousands of students.

While some may say that the traditional electronic methods of communication such as email and texting are not as quick, I doubt that many parents would be too upset that they won’t receive the instant latest school district messages or homework updates during their social time on Facebook. They will get the information soon enough...

And so that we don’t end on a “creepy” note, these questions can advance our discussion of using social networks in education.

1) At what level in the organization should schools establish a presence on social networks? Many districts, including mine, are on Facebook (in a representative, non interactive capacity). Should individual schools be on Facebook? What about teams or individual teachers? Who should be allowed to "represent" the school or team?
2) Who should determine policies of using social networks with students?
3) If a teacher should use a social network with students, should students be required to join these networks and accept friend requests with other teachers and students? Or, should all this be voluntary?
4) Are teachers and administrators the only ones who can send "friend requests?" What about long term substitute teachers or instructional assistants? What about non-instructional staff? In essence, who should be allowed to initiate online interactions with students?
5) Who will regulate or be responsible for teacher use of these networks with students? Who will be the legal expert on privacy and ownership issues on the popular social networks?

And finally,

6) Are all these challenges of using the popular social networks worth the effort and risk? Or, should districts provide alternate and safer methods for teachers and students to build an online instructional communities?

What do you think?

The opinions expressed in Leading From the Classroom are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.