Sunday, August 29, 2010

Facebook Social Networking...Yea or Nay between Students and Teachers?

The discussion of Facebook usage (Social Networking) between teachers and students contains a number of points, all which merit discussion. I come from the position of a parent who is a bit computer savvy. I participate in a number of Social Networking sites and enjoy the ease of communication that they afford. My son (who has now graduated) joined in the MySpace revolution shortly after it became fashionable. As a parent, I felt it my responsibility to monitor his usage. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case with all students. Of course, once he was of high school age, I no longer logged into his account to monitor, but did remain “friended” so that I still had some connection to his “friends”. As emailing, cell phone and texting usage became more common, it was not unusual for teachers, particularly coaches, to contact him via these devices. This type of networking has been in use for quite some time without much notice or discussion. Whether it’s heightened awareness or whatever the reason, Social Networking between students and teachers has become a current point of discussion.

If we look at Social Networking at its bare bones as a way to connect and communicate with others, many schools already have some type of this program in place. At my son’s school, it was “Access”, where each student had a login and could view their grades, homework updates, email teachers, etc. The difference between this and Facebook would be that it is monitored by the school district, to a certain extent, and doesn’t have areas for personal information in the way of photos and discussion between other students. It is simply a tool to make available information to the student and if need be, communication to and from the teacher. It also grants parents a separate log in. In effect, we have already been Social Networking.

Some of the recent discussion I have heard has come from those who are not in favor of using Facebook between students and teachers, whether it be due to wanting to keep their personal lives separate or for fear of predators, and from those who are in favor citing positive implications that come from the ease of communication and of building relationships in a learning environment.

To address some of the concerns of protection of privacy on both the student and the teacher’s part, some could choose to go the route of professionals in the Facebook arena. Many have created a professional or work/business account and kept their personal account private. This allows selective monitoring of their personal details. Teachers could use an account set aside specifically for communication with students and parents, and students could use a separate account so that their personal photos and interpersonal discussions with friends would be kept separate. If Social Networking did become the chosen way of communication between students and teachers, this may be a viable option available to those who are against opening themselves up to what they feel would be a personal violation of their private lives.

Aside from the issue of those who want to keep their personal life separate also comes the aspect of making the way for predators more available, meaning those who might be in a position of teaching, coaching, etc. Predators are a topic I am familiar with, as a parent of one of my son’s friends was convicted of heinous acts just a couple of years ago. He was a coach and had ease of access to the boys. Yes, we need to be on our guard against these predators, but that should not stop us from moving forward with advancements which are coming into everyday usage in our own homes. Awareness and monitoring are key. These people will use everything available to them and choosing to not participate in certain programs will not guarantee that they will not try to communicate. We must just continue to be diligent in keeping open communication and monitoring of our children, no matter how much they protest.

The benefits from the use of Social Networking are fairly evident. Increased communication in a forum type setting that is very comfortable with most youth today as well as opportunity to build relationships that make way for continued education.

All that being said, I am in favor of Social Networking between students and teachers. Social Networking is a good tool and has become a mainstay in today’s environment. Education should take advantage of every opportunity to reach and interact with our youth.