Figuring out Facebook


cc licensed ( BY SD ) flickr photo shared by Nikke Lindqvist

I am all for effective use of social media in the classroom, when working with our students.  The one thing that I am having trouble with though, and seeing over and over again is the thought of “friending” students on the network and how teachers are getting frustrated with laws in states that are prohibiting this.  Now that there has to be a law for something that should be common sense might be going overboard, but this is what is happening right now in Missouri as well as other areas in North America.  (There is way more to this story than simply the “friending” issue, but it is at the heart of it.)

Here is my own personal guidelines for Facebook with students.  While they are students or minors, we should never “friend” them.  When they are done K-12, then it is fine, but I think while students are in school, friending them is not the best idea.

Vicki Davis reiterated my beliefs on the topic (ironically using Facebook as the platform)

(Vicki also has a great post on Facebook use for educators.)

It is not that you can’t use Facebook in schools.  My former school had a Facebook page that we used to share information with students and parents to communicate information.  I have also seen many teachers create a Facebook page to have discussions in their classroom or share things such as an agenda.  The difference between a “page” and “friending” students is that if your privacy settings are set correctly, students are not able to see personal information about you.

The concern is not that YOU will do something that is inappropriate (you would always be mindful of your digital footprint right?), but I have a lot of my own friends who are not educators who are free to post on my wall, who may not be as mindful of their digital footprint as I am.  There is also times when you can easily get spam on your wall from a friend when they have accidentally clicked a link and spammed it out to everyone.  As you can see from my screen schot of Vicki’s work, it is not that hard to capture what is posted on a wall and share it with the world easily misinterpreting something.

So am I off?  Is there something I am missing in this area?  I truly believe in the importance of strong relationships with our students, but there are always lines; this is one that I believe we should not cross.

  • C. Daub

    Instead of using Facebook, I gave set up a blog(wordpress) so that my grade 4 students may have discussions and positive on-line interactions with classmates. Some time is given to blog at school but use at home is strongly encouraged. This year students will receive reward points for comments that respond to questions that other students or I post. Last year a student blogged her math frustrations. A number of classmates stepped up to encourage and support her; which she said helped her build confidence.

    All comments have to be approved by me and no information is given that identifies our school. Aa

  • Norm

    I agree George, that "friending" current students is ill-advised. In fact I still feel a bit odd befriending former students recently graduated!

  • Beth Still

    I think the decision to friend or not friend students on sites like Facebook has more to do with the type of school where one teaches than any other factor. I teach grades 10-12 at a very small (45 students, 4 teachers) alternative school. I would not ever consider NOT friending them on Facebook. Six years ago I started using MySpace with them, but when the majority of them finally made the switch to Facebook I opened a separate account to use specifically with students, turned over my user name and password to my principal, and told my students they were free to friend me if they wished. (I do not feel comfortable seeking them out.) I do not use the site for academic purposes at all. It is more of a window into who I am. I share pictures of my kids, husband, and dogs. I post pics of places I have traveled or I joke with them about all of the new things we will do after I return from conferences.

    We both know that building relationships is so incredibly important, but with my particular clientele it might be the only thing that keeps them in school. The majority of my students have either dropped out or come very close. Quite a few are parents and it is sad how many live on their own. Sometimes they have nobody to turn to except their teachers. Two students have actually come back to my school after dropping out because of a conversation they had with me. One took place on MySpace while the other occurred on Facebook. (More here: http://bethstill.edublogs.org/2009/05/04/how-mysp

    Friending students is a decision that educators should not make lightly. If I was a teacher at any other school in town I probably would not friend my current students. But I don't think it is fair to say that across the board it is a bad idea. There are always exceptional circumstances.

  • Jeff

    I totally agree with you on this one George! And like you said, it is not about us behaving in a way that is ill befitting to our positions but not all of our 'friends' are on that same map. I also chuckle at my fellow interns who are running around changing their facebook name and trying to hide their profiles…makes me wonder if they really are right for this profession if they feel they have something to hide.

  • http://shannoninottawa.com Shannon Smith

    Hey George,

    I agree with you. However, I have to admit that there are occasions when I would temporarily accept a friend request from a student and then set the privacy settings appropriately. I will give you an example: Last year, about a week before our Christmas break, I had to issue a suspension (5 days) to a student who was in my own homeroom. I was teaching .5 of my day as a grade 8 homeroom teacher. Without getting into details, this was his second serious 'offence' for lack of better word. Mitigating factors aside, I was not in a position to have him at school the last week before Christmas. I gave him 4 days instead of 5 so that he could come back for one day before the break. I cared deeply for him and was really worried that with the suspension and then 2 week break, something terrible might happen, either at his home, or to him, or that he might disappear and not return after the break. On the Thursday night before his one day return, I got a friend request from him. I thought about it for a bit before accepting. Then up popped a chat from him asking if he was allowed to come to school the next day. I replied with, "yes, see you tomorrow". That next day I had a chat with him privately explaining that I would be "unfriending him" and why. It wasn't that I was worried about my own activities or those of my friends, but I asked him to consider whether or not he wanted me to see his activities and those of his friends and family. He understood and felt a bit sheepish about some of the things I might have seen.

    It also led to a really productive chat with both the rest of my homeroom and then separately with my staff, about the issues around friending students. All of my students from that point on have my email address and my business card, which I give out to anyone who I am concerned about, has my cell number. We don't need to be friends on facebook for them to reach out for some help if they need it. Just my approach. Curious to read further comments and see what others think.

    Shannon

  • http://doyle-scienceteach.blogspot.com/ Michael Doyle

    Beyond the "friending" issue, Mark Zuckerberg has shown an abysmal lack of respect for privacy, an issue children do not dwell on.

    Public schools have plenty of other, safer, channels to engage students. If you need FB in the classroom, you need to develop more social media skills than you have.

  • http://upsidedown.edublogs.org Amanda Dykes

    I am so glad you wrote this. I always feel like a "fuddy duddy" because I refuse to friend students. Once they graduate, then great we can be friends and every May I go through the list of kids I have not friended but did not turn down request and friend them the day after graduation. There are so many reasons why: 1. kids don't understand the privacy policies of it and I know for a fact that unless they have me in technology class, no one has ever taught them. Those bikini pictures that my kids post from the beach do not need to be seen by adults and I am not going to help give them access. 2. Every time I post a status I always have a fear in the back of my mind that an old friend from high school is going to post something inappropriate that will offend my adult friends so I don't want to add to that fear of offending a child. 3. I am worried that a conversation is misjudged. As a young(er) female teacher not a year has gone by that I have not been warned about an inappropriate lockerroom convo was going on about me. That situation terrifies me so much, I do not want to add to it by friending a kid and unknowingly on my part he being one of the ones making bets & comments about me. I cannot take that chance, and some of them I am still turning down request after graduation. I never want someone to have a question behind my motives.
    You know the human race never questioned privacy policies until there was a "facebook." There is a reason for that. It can be an untrustworthy place. I know there are situations where I guess it will can be ok, I know the re is a teacher in my school who is friends with most of her "favorite" students. That works for her and she is very religious and uses that as an off campus way to connect to them for that, but it terrifies me.
    I know I am a social media pusher but I just can't get comfortable in that space in that way. I have noticed that this year setting up an edmodo site for each class has drastically cut down on friend request. And of course with my district policy the parents must have access to their child's edmodo account so that helps with the private message fear as well.
    Thansk for this post George!

  • Aaron

    I use Facebook and am friends with students, but I have a completely different Facebook account for school than the one I use with family and friends. There are no friends in common between the two, so the chances of inappropriate material popping up are low.

    • georgecouros

      Why that instead of a Facebook fan page?

  • http://mrtoft2012.edublogs.org/ Nathan Toft

    Like, C. Daub, I have a class blog for my grade 5s this year. I used blogs about five years now. It’s main purpose is to showcase students’ work and to get them to communicate about school related topics through moderated comments. I also post what “should” have been written in their agenda each day and hope that parents check in. The students become very accustomed to visiting http://www.MrToft.ca for information connected to my class and a few parents, I think, remember to check the site from time to time. It’s hard to say what level of participation I get from parents because it is very rare for them to leave a comment.

    I have no intention of “friending” students or parents of FaceBook but I would like to take advantage of Facebook’s popularity and convenience. If a parent is already using Facebook, it would be ideal for class blog posts to show up in their accounts.

    This year I plan to experiment with a Facebook “Fan Page” for our class blog. I think that’s the right lingo. I’ve set it up to repost anything put up on our blog page on Facebook. Anyone, but ideally a parent, can “Like” the page and receive updates in their FaceBook newsfeed. No friending involved, but, as the page creator, I alone will see the names of all those who “Like” our class blog FaceBook page. As far as I can tell, the only downside I’ll face is having to monitor this fan page for comments but, my hope is, that since it isn’t possible to leave anonymous comments, I’m less likely to receive inappropriate comments. And, being a frequent FB user anyway, I don’t anticipate this becoming a huge burden.

    So, no, I don’t plan to use Facebook in my classroom this year. I’m pretty sure my board will continue to block the site regardless. But, I do hope to see my classroom used in Facebook.

  • http://collaborizeclassroom.com/blog Shana Ray

    We just talked about this at EdcampSfBay in the #ThingsThatSuck discussion. People had to pick a side of the room depending on their feelings towards the topic. Most teachers sided on Friending Students on Facebook as "suck"

    I definitely am on the side of letting teachers decide what is appropriate vs. letting government decide for you… But personally, I feel students and teachers have the mindset that FB is for play…. Oh and there are awesome PRIVATE social media platforms *cough, cough Collaborize Classroom* where student/teacher/peer collaboration can happen.

    Another point that was brought up was the legal issues of having to report students who post anything about illegal activities (that comes up in your stream) or having school boards getting involved if a teacher posts anything other than positive comments.

    Just my two cents.

  • Andy Cunningham

    While I agree that we shouldn't friend students, the waters can get very muddy quickly in smaller towns. You commonly friend people that you become friends with at work. These colleagues often have their own children whom they friend to keep an eye on. These children are also students at your school who are friends with other students. Another example is teachers who are local to smaller areas often having real life friends who they interact with on Facebook, with children that are students. It's the whole notion of 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon (separation). The only way to ensure your personal information isn't leaked is to not post it, if you are concerned. While you can control your privacy settings and attempt to educate your friends to do the same, odds are most of them won't make changes to their settings to protect your privacy.
    Simple rule: Don't post anything that you don't want to share with the world.

  • http://annedemanser.blogspot.com/ Anne De Manser

    I agree with Beth that it depends very much on your type of school and the community you live in. I think the term 'friend' is very misrepresented on facebook. Some of my 'contacts' are my friends but not necessarily. I add any student who requests to be on my contact list but I live in a very small community where I have contact outside of school with almost every one of my students and their parents. I don't precipitate contact with the kids but I respond to anything they send directly to me and occasionally I add congratulations or birthday wishes etc. I have found that many parents find fb a very convenient way of contacting me and kids often use it to .ask homework questions or find out about times for excursions etc

  • http://annedemanser.blogspot.com/ Anne De Manser

    Cont…….Because I am happy to add students and their parents, I am also pretty careful about the way I represent myself on facebook and (probably because of my advancing years!) my other friends and family are very respectful of my position. I also set my privacy settings very tightly.
    I have been told over and over again by students that my presence on their 'friends' list keeps them safe, both from potential cyber bullies and from their own impulsiveness. Apparently, sometimes just knowing that I can see what they write provides a digital conscience.
    Facebook is just another space to me, like the supermarket and the footy ground and the local park. I don't ignore the kids there either. I think everyone has to use commonsense in the use of social media and be guided by the social rules of their own environment.

  • http://avivadunsiger.wikispaces.com Aviva (@grade1)

    Facebook in schools is something that I'm still trying to understand. I'm not a Facebook user myself, and I'm not sure exactly how I feel about using it in the classroom. I definitely agree with you in not "friending" students, but I would also argue that we shouldn't be friending students even after they graduate. I teach in a K-8 school, and even when the students at my school leave Grade 8, they're still minors. I care about my students, and I will do all that I can to support them, but they're not my "friends." After reading the comment from Vicki in your post, it got me to thinking, wouldn't this same issue exist even after graduation? If students have their privacy settings open that they can see "friends of friends," then wouldn't they still possibly be seeing inappropriate content? I don't think that I want them to see this content regardless of if they are still my students. Just my thoughts though. I wonder what others think!

    Thanks for a post that has definitely got me thinking!
    Aviva

  • Helena

    Thank you for expressing your useful views so tirelessly, George!

    Once again, they have offered a lot of food for thought here although I still wonder what specific actions would be considered as spamming on FB.
    And so, to prevent that coming from learners, would it be legal to set up a learners' site/blog instead? But then again there are other criteria and restrictions to consider! Using this form of technology can obviously be liberating for learners (of any age) and helps satisfy a balanced analogy between 'Content and Process'. Still, what International legal issues does a Social Media buff teacher need to bear in mind in order to prevent mishaps and lead their students (and families) safely?
    Perhaps this calls for a seperate post which would be great pleasure to read from you if, that is, you feel it fits in with the purposes of your blog.

    Thanks for giving us the best of you.
    Keep posting!
    Helena

  • Mike H.

    I"m kind of a social media junkie but I realize that Facebook is not where I ever need to be sharing the deepest, most private parts of life. I used to accept friend requests from students once they had left my school because I felt that if they wanted to keep a connection to their teacher after they left middle school, then who am I to deny them? However, I always placed them on a Limited Profile. That way, I restricted their access on my page to only wall posts and photos uploaded by me. I actually have my settings so no one on my friends lists can see photos that are tagged of me (not that there would ever be anything questionable anyway). This worked fine and even some parents added me as well. Recently, I created a Fan Page and deleted most of the kids I had on my personal page (there are a few students that I would like to keep track of, you know!). I think a teacher fan page is a great way to remain a positive online role model without raising any of the boundaries issues. I keep it professional and post quotes or questions as status updates. I do believe that if Facebook used a word other than "Friend" to describe the online association, people wouldn't be so much in a fuss. Just because I have a former student as a Facebook "friend" doesn't mean we are hanging out on weekends or anything. Also, since everything is recorded on Facebook, it is more likely to catch inappropriate behaviour than to cause it.

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