February 15, 2011

Teachers and Facebook: Please, Miss, Can I Friend You On Facebook?

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:

Facebook when you're a teacher

First things first: should teaching staff be on Facebook in the first place?

Answer: Yes.

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?

Answer: Yes.

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?

Answer: No.

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.


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Ewan what a great post. Really helpful.

Just for clarification the local authority have not banned teachers from having a facebook profile rather some teachers are concerned that when it comes to having what some perceive as difficult conversations they may retreat to the easiest default position and 'encourage' them not to have a profile. We all know there are some who continue to blur the boundaries and cause issue for the many many responsible teacher users who want to use FB for good!

As a school chaplain we use technology all the time and have used social networking to interact with pupils outwith the formal school environment and it has worked well!

Thanks again for your post. Let's hope more people can see the possibilities of using social networking and technology for good in young people's lives and not retreat to the bury our heads in the sand mentality we see all too often!

Johnny, Jamie, Kelly-anne and Kaylee...? Guess we all know who they are, don't we?

But good advice for us all, many thanks. I think it's especially useful to note that the technology is developing in ways tha support needs expressed by users, greater 'granularity' in our control over permissions for different parts of what we post online. I begin to see it all coming together in this one simple step. One place, all my stuff and all the different parts of my online life neatly (or otherwise) divided up and shared out. Sounds like Sharepoit to me :-(

I definitely agree that the Facebook Pages could work well as a platform for users to share relevant content and comment. I know that we used a site similar to sharepoint when I was at university but it wasn't exactly user friendly, the design wasn't engaging and it used to crash frequently. Therefore, the user friendly experience of Facebook combined with the complex actions achievable via the site make it an ideal knowledgebase for students. They will also be familiar with how the site works and are more likely to post if they are already signed in.

Apologies for last abortive post - I was making sure I could do it after having difficulties.

This is a most helpful post - one I shall bookmark for further reference when the F/bk topic surfaces again, as it most assuredly will. There are still too many people who blame the medium for the shortcomings of its users, IMO.

Hi Ewen,
I AM USING FB groups for our class, there we can look up events,say we are attending, comment, discuss topics, I put photos and videos from class excursions up and it has been a great platform to get student engaging with each other.
They are refugees, new to the technology, highly respectful and are urged to join and make friends with class members and our Australian volunteers. We also have a blog and both these suit different purposes,English instruction and cultural/social inclusion. I have no qualms about using it in education.
Cheers, Jane

Ewan, really useful post that will help a of teachers get over the 'Friday night' issue that stops a lot of us using FB for educational purposes with students. My last school had an enlightened open policy towards social media and the students used FB to self-organise events, yearbook and the student council. Listening to a recent interview with Mark Zuckerberg he admitted he was really interested in developing (or supporting) education specific applications but said he hadn't yet found the right model for this. Thanks for the post and the links.

Facebook is a very good place if anyone want to use it but people are just using Facebook to get social in my opinion it is a best plate form to teach and learn.

You raise some very interesting points here. Obviously social media means that frequently our interactions with one another have become more informal; as information is readily available to share through social networking. But on the other hand, many would argue there needs to be a clearly defined line in the relationship between teacher and pupil.

This post touches on a sensitive topic to some people and asks intriguing questions. You have made interesting points here. Teachers are people too and have the same rights as everyone else but it is important not to cross any lines that may have a negative impact on students in any way.

Well I think, the user friendly experience of Facebook combined with the complex actions achievable via the site make it an ideal knowledgebase for students.

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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