I recently attended a “Teaching and Technology” conference , and the overwhelming theme from the presenters was that we are now in the the age of Teaching 2.0. The main idea of the conference was that teachers must fully leverage social media and technology in order to better engage, connect, relate, and communicate with students. Personally, as a tech writer, gadget lover, and educator, I can fully stand behind and endorse these ideas. However, teaching 2.0 is not without risk.
For example, Granite School District in Salt Lake City Utah outright banned teachers from communicating with students via social networking sites including Twitter and Facebook. Schools in both Florida and Mississippi have also banned student and teacher communication via social media sites. While some may question a school district’s right to interfere with the personal lives of teachers outside of the workplace, the more relevant discussion is that of online safety and security for teachers. Should teachers communicate or “friend” students on social networks?
The Pros of Teachers Connecting With Students Online
Facebook has a “population” of over 400 million. Many of these users are students, and their primary mode of communication is through sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace. In fact, when my daughter was evaluating which cell phone to purchase, the only feature she cared about was how well it connected to Facebook – call quality or service plan minutes simply did not matter to her. Students expect their friends to communicate and be accessible online, so it only makes sense that students “expect” teachers to be able to communicate to them online. If online communication is going to be a student’s primary method of connecting, don’t educators have a responsibility to “meet students where they are at?”
Facebook also opens an immediate opportunity for engagement. Through sites like Twitter or Facebook, teachers can quickly and easily send out questions to their students and gather immediate short constructed responses or simple and informal assessments. Granted, not all students will have access to Facebook, but you can make the same question available to students in more traditional, paper and pencil, methods. Responses via Facebook wouldn’t be appropriate for traditional grading, but it would be fantastic data for quick, informal formative information. Via Facebook, teachers can easily get a sense if most students “get it” or not.
Lastly, Facebook and Twitter can invite parents into the classroom in a very non-traditional and exciting way. Parent communication is essential to student success, and Facebook easily invites students and parents into the classroom and class communication together. If both parents and students communicate because of what is going on in a Facebook feed, the time and energy will have been well invested.
The Cons of Teachers Connecting With Students Online
As a teacher, I am of the opinion that if a parent and a school administrator can accuse you of something, while you might be innocent, you probably crossed a line. In education, the best way to avoid trouble is to be completely beyond reproach. As soon as you begin communicating with students or parents online, you are opening yourself up to a Pandora’s Box. Because communication online is often private and unmonitored, it can be too easy for a parent or student to accuse you of something, and too hard for you to prove your innocence. With inappropriate student and teacher relationships becoming shockingly common, and both teachers and students trying to get away with more and more, it might be best to completely avoid the potential of lawsuits or administrative actions.
Also, things said online are often taken out of context and misunderstood. Students and parents might take classroom comments the wrong way, and you could be unintentionally damaging the school or classroom climate. Classroom climate can also be affected if the use of Facebook or Twitter creates an us and them, or have and have-not atmosphere if many of your students do not have access. The last thing a teacher wants is for parents to think that they are somehow excluded from information or that your don’t feel that their participation is valuable.
Lastly, it is a time drain to update yet another classroom project. It goes without saying that you will not be compensated, in any way, for your Facebook or Twitter time. If you start updating social media sites, the expectation will be that you continue to do it all year long. If you drop the ball on your updates, or if you decide that it is too much of a time drain, you cannot easily just stop. This is especially true if much of your class community has bought into the idea. If you just stop, you could be viewed as lacking integrity or work effort.
Tips for Teachers Connecting With Students Online
Don’t use any direct or private messaging – ever. If you do have a private message to share, do it through official channels such as your school email or official letter. Personally, I don’t even share important information via the telephone. It is too easy for a parent or student to forget or ignore the information.
Duplicate all information given through a social media site via another method. A newsletter or weekly bulletin works great. If you make sure to compose your updates and messages via a word processing program and then paste them into Facebook or Twitter, then you can have a easy source for compiling the information in multiple formats.
Invite parents, students and building administration as friends or followers.Until you have all groups, don’t share information. Make sure your profile and updates as transparent and open to all parties. The last thing you want to do is seem like you might be hiding something.
Create a professional identity and a personal identity, and never let the two mix. Never allow students and parents into your personal side and keep your personal friends away from your professional side. You must compartmentalize your life to protect yourself. Again, this adds “one more thing” to your daily routine, but if you value the engagement you get with the online sites, then make sure you invest the time to do it right.
Monitor and mediate your page carefully. If students or parents are allowed to post or give feedback, you want to be very careful because someone will try to get away with something. The last thing you want is to be in trouble and held accountable for an other’s bad idea or inappropriate statement.