I have been chatting with my colleague Nancy Willard of the Center for Responsible Internet Use about Facebook in schools, and how they should and should not be used by educators. These are her recent thoughts with some of my input added…just to get some more discussion going on this issue. We both think that schools MUST shift to the use of interactive technology environments to effectively prepare students for success in their future. There are incredibly effective tools to do this, like EPals and EdModo. However, Facebook in its current instantiation may not be perfectly suited for certain uses by educators. For example, the use of Facebook for community outreach – by schools or extracurricular organizations – is perfectly appropriate. In addition, there may be times that it would be helpful and appropriate for students to access material on Facebook for instructional purposes. However, I would hesitate to recommend that Facebook be used as a platform for instructional activities based on its current limited feature set for schools and educators. The potential problems – including potential liability for schools – are significant.
- The privacy of student work products must be protected under the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Having students publicly post their work on Facebook could very well violate this federal statute. (Justin and I recommend that schools and teachers set up Facebook Fan Pages which ensures that communications between the adults and students are public…but Facebook is testing the capability for Fans (students, in this case) to send private messages to the owner (adult educator, in this case) of the Fan page. See here for more information.)
- Schools would have to ensure that every adult has effectively set up the appropriate group protections to avoid the potential of liability.
- If a teacher has access to student Facebook profiles, these profiles could reveal evidence of abuse. If a teacher fails to detect and report such abuse, the teacher might be in violation of state mandatory reporting laws.
- Facebook requires individuals to be at least 13 years of age to sign up. Schools must adopt interactive platforms that can be used throughout their K-12 system.
- Students deserve privacy in their personal and social communications. Being required to use Facebook for their instructional activities disrespects this privacy for some. Also, some students and their parents might prefer not to have an account on Facebook.
- Facebook’s business model is focused on market profiling and advertising. Whether instructional environments should be engaged in these activities is definitely a controversial issue.
- Teachers and other school staff who want to friend students on Facebook are possibly setting themselves up for difficulties. School staff should certainly maintain friendly and supportive relationships with students. But do we want to *formally* encourage teachers to become students’ “friends?” Should they also go and hang out at the mall and go to movies with students? Or should they maintain a distinction in the status of their relationship? This, of course, is a polarizing debate with many strong opinions on one side or the other.
To summarize, these are some of the difficulties associated with teacher friending of students:
- The aforementioned mandatory reporting requirement
- Activities in an environment that is fundamentally built for sharing personal information, thoughts, experiences, photos, and videos (as compared to other social networking platforms like LinkedIn)
- Perceived pressure on students to allow teachers to have (at least some) access to their personal social environment, which may violate their privacy
- Perceived grading bias if some students establish deeper or stronger “connections” or friendships than others
- Possible expectation that busy teachers take on some of the responsibility of monitoring and intervening in student-student personal relationships when they are out of school
I really want to hear your thoughts on this…again, keeping in mind the caveats I have stated. I am not suggesting we throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. Facebook is great and has numerous benefits and incredible potential. I just don’t think it is where it needs to be yet in terms of providing what schools and educators need to deliver education and provide connections in a perfectly appropriate way.
Here are some sample policies that may help you within your school or district as you seek to establish or revise your current formal rules.
Facebook has also contracted with a third-party to create a Guide for Educators, and it is available here.
Chime in and let’s talk this out!