Good use of social networking and other social media in schools doesn't change that much with the changes in tools and platforms, but it's still useful to have a reminder of what works, and what doesn't.
Scotland's Bryan Kerr asks a great question tonight about whether a teacher should friend a student on Facebook, especially when his school district has banned teachers from being on Facebook:
First things first: should teaching staff be on Facebook in the first place?
No employer has the right to tell a member of staff that they cannot interact on social networks or publish their work and thoughts freely on the web - this is the right to express oneself, a fundamental if ever there was one. For any school district to claim that a member of staff is bringing their employer into disrepute simply by sharing online through a particular platform, Facebook or otherwise, would result in the kind of court case that wouldn't make it past the corporate lawyer's intray.
Should a teacher take care about what they publish on their social network, or other sharing space on the web?
Teachers, priests and doctors, for example, are the kinds of groups we trust to vouch for one's identity on a passport application. They are thought of differently than any other profession, and rightly so. They deal in the highly personal, and therefore the room for indiscretion offline or online for a teacher is much more constrained than those working in other professions. If a teacher was ever in any doubt as to what is accpetable, simply read the existing guidance in your jurisdiction for the acceptable attitudes and practices for educators in general, and make sure you keep to that code online, regardless of whether you're sharing and 'socialising' on school time or not.
Should a teacher accept a friend request from a current student on their personal profile?
Facebook is primarily a space where we find personal profiles. No matter what your personal rules are for engaging people as 'friends' on Facebook (mine involves in depth work or conversation offline, and invariably a pint) you cannot guarantee that your students' habits are as thought-through. Private, personal, almost public and public are four different gradients of privacy that are hard enough for adults to comprehend, let alone a teen acting, probably, on impulse as (s)he befriends you.
Facebook and other communities have provided ample opportunity to create a more public space where the people you invite on board might not be classified as 'friends' in the more traditional sense of the word. Facebook Pages are a great way to create a purely professional profile, whereby you can invite and approve selected or self-selected members to join your Facebook 'community' on that page, without becoming personal friends and seeing what you get up to on a Friday night - or vice versa.
This way, when students want to talk about 'work'-related issues, or learning, they can do so through that page, knowing that everyone there will get the messages appearing on their wall, but their personal messages will not appear on the group wall.
Can we not just say that Facebook is personal, and not a place where learning should be discussed? Full Stop?
Answer: Are you serious?
It's not just today's young people that are hanging out on Facebook for 200+ minutes a day. The largest group on Facebook is over-35s, and in Britain the fastest growing group is the over 75s. If you want to remind students about great resources to help them with their homework, when they've fallen off-task or are seeking help, then Facebook is the only window that you know will always be open on their browser. Likewise, if you want parents to have a wider appreciation of what learning is actually going on, they're on Facebook downstairs in the living room at the same time your students are online upstairs.
This sounds like extra work - working in the evening when I should be marking/preparing/having a life.
Answer: It's a bit extra. But it's worth it.
Train hard, fight easy. That's what the SAS say. In teaching it might be "get to help your students when they really need it, in the place where they need it, and in-class is going to be easier, more effective and more personable."
Where do we go to dive into detail?
Juliette Heppell as a page of great advice on the dos and don'ts of using Facebook for learning. It's worth updating that, since the beginning of this week, you needn't worry about creating a second 'you' for working with students. Instead, new Facebook pages allow you to allocate 'friend requests' to a particular page or list, thus rendering your Friday night shenanigans invisible to Johnny, Jamie, Kelly-anne and Kaylee.
If you've followed the development of education blogging platform eduBuzz, you'll know I'm passionate about social media's promise for connecting learning and parents. Facebook is great for that, too, so consider setting up class pages which parents join. See how one school has done it for its six-year-old First Graders.
For a host of other resources on Facebook, in general, follow up on my library of Facebook links.