Social Networking and Education

Put together the words “Facebook” and “teacher” and generally most people expect to see a scandalous new report. As a result, quite a negative stigma has emerged regarding the education field and social networking sites. Despite this attitude, social networking tools have amazing potential within the classroom. The trick is knowing how to use these new technologies in a way that is appropriate, educationally sound and innovative. The following list is a compilation of reasons why teachers should take advantage of this trend and rules to keep them safe in the process.

  1. Reason: Everyone is on Facebook

This is not a “jump on the bandwagon” plea so much as it is”appeal to the masses” reasoning. There are many advantages to joining social networking platforms. It is, of course, possible to create a course webpage of your own. By making a WebCT or Blackboard course there would be no need to fiddle with Twitter. The best students will even use the webpage frequently and participate as instructed. But what about those students who are not among the most motivated? Odds are that they will not go to the webpage and eventually will forget that it even exists. Facebook, though? They will go to Facebook. If they didn’t how would they catch up with their friends, post what they did five seconds prior or take a bunch of menial quizzes? The benefit of this comes in when they are logged in, pouring over their News Feed, and can’t help but notice that Ms. Jones posted a homework reminder. Consider it subliminal messaging at its most obvious (but still effective).

  1. Reason: Technology is Relevant

Thankfully, the old ways of teaching are on their way out the door. No longer are classrooms being filled with teachers that merely read off lists of irrelevant facts while the students write it down verbatim. Lesson plans are becoming more interactive and the students are receiving more hands-on training that they can relate to their everyday lives.

One inescapable change to the teaching profession is how technology is viewed in the classroom. The battle is not whether or not technology will be integrated in the classroom, but how it will be integrated. Students who take notes via cell phone are being told that they are a distraction. Others are being forced to use a physical encyclopedia when the exact same information is available in public databases. While change may be difficult to accept the hampering of change is bad for everyone.

School districts across the nation have been pushing teachers to utilize technology as a way of keeping our students engaged. In a world where taking a teenagers cell phone away may as well be a death penalty students expect their curriculum to utilize technology. It is relevant and it is the future of education.

  1. Rule: Keep Your Private Life Private and Your Professional Life Professional

It is generally frowned upon for teachers and the like to have personal Facebook or MySpace pages. The assumption here is that teachers should reflect morality and be role models for students even beyond the classroom. While in theory this is a sound practice the reality is that most professionals in the educational industry do in fact partake in the joys of the virtual world. The result can often be a blurred line between what is professional and what is personal. Luckily, there is a solution to this particular hurdle.

Most social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, allow for the existence of multiple accounts. This means that you have the option of creating not one, but two pages that clearly define the double life that so many educators live. By simply setting one of the accounts to ‘private’ you ensure that only those who you invite view the material present*. Your photos, events and blog entries are safe from prying eyes. This account can become your own personal Mecca of non-work related individuality.

The second account, on the other hand, can be left open to public viewing. This can become your “professional” account, where you are able to communicate with students, post homework assignments and create events that revolve around school functions. The possibilities are endless and vary depending on what tool you use. Facebook, being one of the most widely used social networking sites, allows for a vast array of options: event planning, club creation, interactive wall posts and chatting abilities to name a few.

*It should be noted that even with the strictest privacy settings certain organizations and databases may have access to your page. Always use caution before posting material. However, with the aid of technology, people can now see through the profiles of people who chose to be private on social media. This is through platforms and services ike

  1. Rule: Utilize Your Page Effectively

Piggy backing off of the previous rule; it is of the utmost importance that you use your page for its intended purpose. This means that turning a professional page into a place to post what you are eating for dinner, or how excited you are for the trip to Vegas you’re planning is generally a bad idea. Save that for the private, personal page that you have set up. Instead, post homework reminders, questionnaires, contests, quotes, book reviews, etc. Keep it relevant to the subject you teach and the students you teach.

  1. Rule: No Stalking

This rule does not necessarily refer to the peeping Tom-type of stalking (although you shouldn’t do that either). The reason that this rule exists is because of that nasty habit known as ‘Facebook stalking’. It is an easy trap to fall into – checking your News Feed constantly to see who has done what with whom and when they were where (if that sentence confused you, it was supposed to). Unfortunately, falling into this pattern will lead to the inevitable sighting of your prize students News Feed where you will be exposed to a recent photo album titled something along the lines of “Spring Break 2009 – CRUNK!” A word of caution:do not click on the album. Why? Well, because if you do give in to temptation and stumble upon the inevitable picture of said prize student doing something they shouldn’t you take on a moral and legal responsibility to alert someone. Don’t get sucked into finding out everything you can about your students lives. It is not a good road to take and you probably don’t want to know anyways.

These are just a few general guidelines and reasons behind using social networking an effective tool in the classroom. When it comes down to it, though, it is up to teachers to maintain professionalism when in contact with their students; whether it is in school or out of school or online. So please, use your best discretion, but be open-minded. Technology is not all bad and using it does not guarantee you a spot on the local news.