Digital Directions sponsored a recent online chat to discuss how social-networking technologies can be used to help students learn and monitor their behavior. Our featured guests were Montana Miller, an assistant professor of popular culture at Bowling Green State University in Ohio and Conn McCartan, the principal of Eden Prairie High School in Eden Prairie, Minn.
Read the full transcript. Here are edited excerpts from the discussion.
At what point should schools use MySpace to punish students? For example, if a teacher sees a student’s MySpace page and he says he’s going to skip a class, or did skip a class, should the teacher do something about it before it happens or after it happened?
Conn McCartan: I think our stance on what we do with information on social-networking sites helps a school navigate this issue. We declare up front that we do not go out looking for information on social-networking sites. We encourage our parents to do that. We do tell our students that we will investigate and take action on anything that is presented to us from a social-networking site when it involves a violation of school or activity rules.
Since we know students are using MySpace and Facebook, could we ask them to think about positive uses for this technology in the classroom? Teleconferencing has allowed students to interface with kids from other parts of the world and could states do the same with these social-networking sites?
Montana Miller: I feel strongly that schools should not require students to use Facebook or MySpace for class purposes or assignments. When students join these networks, they post personal information on their profiles that they are just learning how to manage and control. The risks of their personal information being exposed to classmates and teachers through school-sponsored groups and projects is great, and with the many risks to personal privacy that kids typically run when they use these sites, mishaps are sure to occur.
Please address the pitfalls for staff, particularly if they are interacting on these Web pages or even blogs with students outside of the school day on home/personal computers.
McCartan: We have spoken to our staff about using the same guidelines they use for face-to-face social interactions with students when they think about social-networking interactions. While we do not want to infringe upon speech rights, we have told them that professional guidelines would direct them to limit their electronic interactions with students to academic sites rather than social sites. Add to that the fact that every interaction is a permanent record that can be sent and re-sent to thousands of other people in seconds. We have discouraged our staff form interacting with students on social-networking sites.
Have there been any studies done to show that these social-networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace have been successful in reaching out to students in a positive way?
Miller: I don’t think so. Remember, these sites were not created so that adults could “reach out to students.” They were created for students to reach out to each other! I think there is enormous ambivalence among the student population when it comes to adults being on Facebook at all, and the sense that this is THEIR territory is strong. Again, I feel it is intrusive when teachers request that students connect with them through these social-networking sites—it’s like inviting yourself to their parties.
A version of this article appeared in the June 09, 2008 edition of Digital Directions as The School’s Role