Imagine, if you will, that the online world is a virtual field trip to the zoo. Before you get to cut loose from the entire group and explore all the zoological society has to offer, you have to establish a meeting place, usually near the entrance to the zoo. At this meeting place – a food court, security booth, or information kiosk – leaders and chaperone’s convey the expectations, boundaries, and such to the entire group. Nothing else is accomplished here; no learning, per se, is taking place. There is no point in hanging around the meeting place. Unless you’re touring the zoo, the trip is no fun.
Facebook resembles that kind of meeting place, where teachers and parents and students can convene and decide where to go next. To learn anything, to have any valuable educational fun, teachers and students have to leave the Facebook window and tour web 3.0 tools that contain educational platforms, like Edmodo or Edu.Glogster.com. So many valuable sites and application tools are becoming available for teachers and students to interact effectively that the ultimate goal, of course, is to get beyond social networking sites altogether, to find exciting, interesting methods and tools to facilitate the acquisition of knowledge. Regardless, Facebook remains one of the best places to continue sharing and communicating among various groups simply because nearly everyone from teachers and students to parents and colleagues and friends are easily accessible from this one portal.
Such accessibility, though, has its limitations.
The limitation of any social network includes spending the majority of one’s online experience playing with the games and other applications inside the social network, which could easily lead to inappropriate conduct. Any idle activity–whether online or off–presents countless ways to lose focus, cross boundaries, and cause problems for all involved. It’s called loitering. If teachers are hanging out with students on the social networking sites, simply for the sake of hanging out, then the necessary boundary between teacher and student blurs. This blur adversely affects the value of the meeting place. Loitering in Facebook muddles the efforts of those of us who want to move students on to bigger and better things.
Another limitation exists in the misconception of Facebook friends. Friendship in the real world is really no different from friendship on social networks, so when naysayers suggest it is inappropriate for teachers and students to befriend one another, too much is assumed. “Friend” is such a general term anymore. To assume that becoming a friend on someone’s social network somehow suggests that the two are real friends betrays what we know about the superficiality of friendship. Most of us know who our real friends are, but that does not keep us from befriending acquaintances who may or may not be worth our time. Job’s comforters are a good example of how some friends behave in such a way that we don’t need enemies! Sound familiar?
On the other hand, perception and legality affect our choices, so we must respect ourselves. Professional boundaries demand professional responsibility. For more perspective on whether teachers should befriend students in a casual setting, read “Is Talking with or about Your Students on Facebook a Really Good Idea?” David P. Thompson, a fellow writer on the AC, makes a clear case against such friendships, realistically and legalistically.
With that said, to utilize Facebook in a completely professional manner is almost impossible because I, for one, have finally reconnected with some of my childhood friends and high school classmates, and our conversations are rarely concerned with professionalism; however, I make sure to present myself to my 700+ “friends” in such a manner as to protect my professional presence. Teachers must exercise caution due to our profession while still finding ways to joke and be real.
Facebook resembles a gun. Guns don’t shoot people; people shoot people; therefore, Facebook does not ruin people; people ruin people. The social network is not out to ruin teachers and/or students who choose to connect and network on Facebook; rather, teachers and students who choose unwise connections and networks sabotage themselves by not exercising shrewdness and discernment in the public worldwide eye, and thereby, shoot themselves in the proverbial foot!
The goal of teachers communicating on Facebook with students and parents must always be at the forefront: to find and utilize exciting, interesting methods and tools to facilitate the acquisition of knowledge. Again, Facebook, itself, is just a portal to virtual learning environments that offer friendly, accessible ways to do what teachers and students have had to do in a less glamorous venue: the classroom. As a portal, Facebook functions as a doorway to bigger and better opportunities for teachers, students, parents, and the community. When teachers and students maintain that point and view, everyone benefits!