A 2nd year teacher that I keep in touch with sent me an email yesterday:

“Hey Dave!

How do you feel about adding students as friends on Facebook?  I use my Facebook mainly as a communication tool.
I don’t put anything up that I wouldn’t want people to see.  In the evening, my students have trouble getting in touch with me via [district] email, so I’ve had a few messages via facebook (which they can do without being my friend.)
I have had a few requests from legitimate students.  There have been a few requests from students I don’t want on my list…and I have denied their request.”

Here was my response and a few points I’d like to make afterwards.

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The fact is that I’m not a huge fan of Facebook, just because I’m already connected to so many people online and it feels like just one more place I have to go. Also I tend to get stuck talking to old friends and former students who just want to say ‘Hi, how’s it going?’ rather than having meaningful or learning conversations. That has changed a bit since moving to China.

– So yes, to answer your question, I do have students as friends on Facebook.

Here are my self-designated rules:
1. I never invite students, they invite me. It just feels weird asking a kid to be my friend. It could put them in an awkward situation too, “I don’t want to add Mr. Truss but then what would he think of me?”
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2. I accept one so I accept all. My choice, and an easy one since I don’t really use facebook much anyway. If I’m open to all my students I can’t be seen as unfair or leave someone ‘out’ and disappointed. Think of the rumor mill that could get started: I say ‘no’ to a guy student and he starts writing about how ‘Mr. Truss only facebook friends girls’ –  If I’m going to accept students as ‘friends’ then I shouldn’t turn anyone down. To me this is as much a reason for teachers to choose ‘not to connect’ as it is ‘to connect’ and should always be a personal choice not one made by a school or a district!!!
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Facebook-Privacy-Settings3. I put students on a very ‘Limited Profile’. For my Facebook use, I chose that they can’t see my wall. Why? Because I don’t use facebook much and I don’t feel like monitoring it often. Of all the setting I choose, this is the one most likely to be different from other teachers who see Facebook as a place to connect with students.

Something important to be aware of with Facebook and settings: When you join a group or a fan club etc. your profile becomes open to all the other members for a limited time, (I don’t remember the timeline or know if this has changed or not). This is a great example of why, if you are a teacher on Facebook or anywhere else you MUST be professional at all times. We don’t know when or why Facebook will change their rules like this? We don’t know what Facebook does with our records or how secure what we have said in the past will be protected in the future? They are a private company and have private motives.

On the point of being careful about what you do and say online, here is a great lesson for teachers and students alike: Check out my blog as of July 14th, 2008. I got this from the WayBackMachine on the Internet Archive. I cannot change anything on this permanent record! Digital text is (or at least can be) forever!

4. If I see something inappropriate then I say so:

Example:

Hi [Student Name],

I hope things are good with you and that you are enjoying [Secondary School]!

I’m not sure why you thought I’d be interested in joining:

“Support my cause, F*** The Police. Help by joining, donating, or inviting your friends!”

Not really appropriate. Hopefully you won’t be sending similar things like that to me because I can’t have that kind of stuff in my facebook community.

It is nice to stay connected, but if you wanted to remove me as a friend, I understand. And likewise, if I get invitations such as this then I’ll need to remove you as a friend. Hopefully this won’t be something either of us feel we need to do.

Good luck with exams, but first, enjoy your Christmas break!

Mr. Truss


Also, with kids that I don’t know that well, I usually send them a ‘Thanks for inviting me’ message:

Hi [student name], Thanks for inviting me into your network. Have a great weekend!

I always find it a bit strange when a kid I barely know invites me to facebook, with my rule #2 above, I accept them, but I send a ‘thanks’ message just so that I have evidence that they started the friendship. This might be a good idea to do with all student connections.

5. I do not erase any messages between me and students. If they want to quote me out of context, then I want to have a record of what that context was.

Read my last post on the topic for more details: Facing Facebook

This does not mean that we get ‘chummy’ with our students online… we are simply a significant adult presence, modeling appropriate behavior, and connecting with them in a meaningful, respectful way. The internet is no place for an unsupervised playground!

Also check these other two posts out and read the comments on all 3 to see how differently teachers look at this.

Social Networking Sites: Public, Private or What? by Danah Boyd (Found via Dana Woods)

“When a teen is engaged in risky behaviour online, that is typically a sign that they’re engaged in risky behaviour offline. Troubled teens reveal their troubles online both explicitly and implicitly. It is not the online world that is making them troubled, but it is a fantastic opportunity for intervention.”

Teachers and Facebook by Dana Huff

“One positive aspect of using Facebook is that nothing else is as quick in terms of communicating with students. I have often asked students to get together on Facebook and study or to spread a message I want to make sure they get. Because I am not friends with students who don’t request it, I can’t use it as a reliable method to contact all of my students. I created a Facebook page, and they can become fans of that page without being my friend, but again, it’s not something I feel comfortable requiring.”

“We” -meaning teachers/parents/adults -need to be on places like Facebook, but “we” as individuals have a right to choose: ‘Do I want to be on facebook?’ and ‘Do I want to be friends with students there?’ If the answer to both questions are ‘Yes’ then we must figure out what our comfort zone is with connecting with students in a meaningful and thoughtful way. And whether or not we choose to connect with students on sites like Facebook, we must be professional in our online conduct… always!

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A few final thoughts.

I firmly believe that districts and schools have no right to tell teachers that they can not connect with students on social networks. It would be like saying, “As a teacher, I don’t want you going to the shopping mall at the end of the street and if you are there, you certainly can’t talk to the students that go there.”

However, I also believe that as teachers our professional code of conduct extends into the digital world and we need to be accountable and professional.

Also, as I said in the comments on Dana Huff’s post:

Personally I wouldn’t use Facebook in the classroom. I think there are so many good tools out there, like Ning networks for example, that I’d rather not take a site my students like to socialize on and somehow make that site ‘work’ for them.


Forcing kids to participate on Facebook, or insisting that they add classmates as friends or that they must become fans of a group is not an ideal way to create a meaningful learning space.

And finally, I’ll end with this from my Facing Facebook post:

If we (educators and parents) don’t participate with students online, then we run the risk of having misguided or inexperienced friends, or worse yet bullies, becoming greater influences than us in their lives.

Students today will have a digital footprint. Are we going to let them figure it out on their own? Or will we be there with them, educating them along the way?

14 comments on “Facebook Revisited

  1. Hi Dave,
    As usual, I always find something of great interest on your blog. I also am on Facebook, but not a major fan. I do not accept students as friends because my students are elementary students, the majority of whom aren't old enough to be on Facebook. I make no exceptions. I do email them when the requests come and explain why I do not have students as friends. What I did really appreciate is your example of the message you send to those people who do post inappropriate things that appear on your Facebook account. I have had to remove young adult friends over inappropriateness and I have changed all my privacy settings to be at their highest settings.
    I totally agree with you on whether districts and schools have any right to tell you can be connected to any social network or not and that we, as professionals, need to carry our code of conduct into the digital world. It is why I always use my name, it keeps me careful and authentic.
    The whole issue of our students' digital footprint issue is one of great concern to me. At this point in time, they just don't seem to “get” the implications of what they are doing online and how it can/may affect them in the future.

  2. Hi Dave

    As usual, you & I are on the same page with regards to this issue. I agree with pretty much all the points you mentioned.

    I have another few (self-imposed) rules:

    – no students that currently attend my school can add me. I only allow former students to add me. I figure if, after they leave my school, they STILL want to be connected, then it weeds out a bunch who just do it to goof around or for the novelty. Plus, I don't want to be talking about my latest status update with kids at school (even though, like you, ALL my FB info – limited or not – is appropriate enough for any kid, colleague or parent to see).

    – no Facebook chat with any (former) student, ever. There's no way to keep a record of this conversation, I don't think. Love the idea of sending the message with the “thanks for inviting me” for a record of who started things!

    – my profile is less Limited than yours – but especially the Wall is turned off because I don't want to be monitoring what people post on there. I know I can't control what people write on my wall short of deleting it after it's been posted, but I don't want kids having access to read & write on it either.

    – I almost never look through the students' profiles. I don't feel like I “can't” – but I most likely won't. I leave it to them to connect & share with me more directly if they want to.

    – I don't think using Facebook in the classroom is very effective. I look at it more as a connection tool – if former students want to stay connected to a teacher, I look at it as one more positive adult in their life – even if it's their “online” life.

    My personal teaching philosophy in the classroom includes sharing a little bit of myself with students – my experiences, passions, lessons, likes/dislikes, stories… I find that when we all laugh together, empathize or learn about each other, not only do we cultivate community but I usually find I have much more willing learners. For me, since Facebook only includes former students & all of my info is relatively benign, it's a way to remind those students that there's a real human out there, who's willing to connect with them – and for some, it might just be the link they need.

    Cheers,
    Elaan

  3. Hi Cindy,
    I love your point: “…we, as professionals, need to carry our code of conduct into the digital world. It is why I always use my name, it keeps me careful and authentic.”
    If I was thankful to Facebook for 1 thing, it would be the fact that it was one of the first sites that made your online identity essential to be known! Before that we had names like Sexyeyes777 and Hockeyluvr1 (and worse) to deal with on social networking sites. It is so much easier to be crass and inappropriate when one's identity is hidden behind a pseudonym. The biggest problem with these pseudonyms is that invariably they get revealed, and when that happens to a teacher or a reporter or a celebrity or anyone, then it will get ugly and people will get hurt.
    Be Careful and Authentic! Wise words Cindy.
    – – – – –
    Elaan,
    My policy was the same as yours, “no students that currently attend my school can add me.” I was in a Middle School, so then I started accepting students at high school. Shortly after that I moved to one of those high schools and my rule had to change or I had to 'unfriend' a whole bunch of kids. I chose to change my rule. 🙂
    I had not thought about the fact that 'chat' is not recorded and need to rethink using it with students. -Thank you.
    – – – – –
    The conversations here, on my previous post, and on Twitter all point to the same thing: As teachers we have different comfort levels about connecting with students on social networks and online.

    I think there needs to be Guidelines to be clear about what is appropriate.

    What we don't need are sweeping policies based on banning and restrictions… but in our Bubble Wrapped approaches, I fear those may be on their way.
    Like punishing the whole class for the behavior of one kid, we will probably see lawsuit-scared organizations dictating that we should disconnect from kids online because one or two teachers are not being appropriate. The odd thing is that I think this kind of behavior leaves a definitive digital trail and is probably easier to catch (at a more harmless point) than the same behavior face-to-face. And yet we will disconnect from more meaningful and more appropriate connections and learning opportunities, not so much to prevent this, but to push it out of sight.
    Guidelines, not restrictions, are needed.

  4. Hi Dave,

    Good post, and a topic I have been doing a lot of thinking about lately. Maybe I am getting more conservative, but I have made some adjustments in my view, and in the advice I give to young teachers and Facebook.

    First, some history. Three or four years ago as Facebook began to take hold and many of us were searching for ways to bring Facebook into our schools and classrooms to conenct to students, I was one of the people who was “friends” with current students and also trying to use it as a collaborative tool in the classroom.

    I have found that now, Facebook is about 90% personal and about 10% professional. I find very few educational uses. I love Facebook for conencting with old friends and sharing photos with family, but don't do a lot of collaborating. I contrast that with Twitter where my use is really the reverse – about 90% professional and 10% personal.

    When I would speak with student teachers, new teachers, or even experienced teachers 3 years ago, I would give the messages of we need to go where the kids are, and Facebook is one of these places.

    Now, I say, Facebook is great and I use it all the time, but I wouldn't be friends with current students. If teachers are going to be friends with students be very careful with security settings and also be sure to use it as a teachable moment to remind these students to be careful with their security settings. If you asked me, I would say, don't go there with students.

    Another caveat, I wouldn't say don't conenct with students on Facebook – create / collaborate in groups etc. but what value does being Friends add, and do the benefits out weight the potential very awkward situation that could be created by seeing photos of student drinking etc.

    I don't think there are absolutes with social networking – and I appreciate our District's advice to staff but also flexible guidelines.

    I was helping a group of students from multiple districts connect last week for a project and we immediately agreed on Facebook as our tool – everyone had it. Yes we could have used a ning – but Facebook was easy and convenient – so it does have its place.

    Here was a recent CBC story on the topic: http://www.cbc.ca/canada/british-columbia/story

  5. Dave,

    Another thought on my earlier post. I find that teachers using Facebook now are much less tech savy than those who were using it 3 years ago (the early adopters). As these teachers get on Facebook, they no much less about security settings, and are more likely to make mistakes with their settings. I understand the largest growth in Facebook is in the over 50 crowd – people who likely will have little experience with security settings. Another reason that Facebook friends for these teachers and their students could be problematic.

    Chris

  6. Chris,
    Excellent arguments.
    You bring up two very valid points above all that have challenge my thinking around this topic:
    1. “what value does being Friends [with students] add?”
    – I have not experienced much that I couldn't find elsewhere.
    2. “teachers using Facebook now are much less tech savvy than those who were using it 3 years ago.”
    – I have noticed that there are all at once both:
    a) A clueless 'generation' of teachers that struggle with online tools and would find setting up these permissions properly a challenge, and
    b) A 'generation' of teachers that are more savvy than most, but digitally share far more of their public life than I would feel comfortable doing.

    I thought 'Facebook Revisited' would be a final visit of this topic for me on my blog, but is seems my thinking has been challenged and perhaps I still have more to consider.

    Thank you for contributing to my learning Chris!

  7. I am a pre-service teacher and also have a FB account. I keep the privacy settings at their highest. I will be teaching 7-12 grades and am still considering my policy concerning FB and students. My initial thought is to create a group/page called “Mr. Eric's History Class” and students can join that group/page. In this way they don't see my status updates, they don't see threads with other teachers or friends I'm having. I should also say that I don't post inappropriate pictures or comments, but I think a group/page permits a barrier between the two yet still keeps a presence on FB. I also think posting classroom info on the page/group is harmless. I think one of the great things about FB is its flexibility. It can be a total social network tool or it can be used as a information gathering tool. No matter what, information posted in a group/page is a passive communications network and so no one can be held accountable for info on it. But its just one more way to keep people informed about ongoing events and projects. Additionally, it obviously cannot be a primary communications tool.

    But again, all this is just a thought and I'm still in the analyzing phase of my potential policy.

    Oh and I absolutely agree that districts should not be able to tell teachers they cannot connect with students digitally. It is analogous to a shopping mall situation. In my opinion, schools/districts are fearful of the digital world. They want to use it but don't want to deal with potential harms that come with it. So instead of teaching appropriate use, they seek to ban it all together, except those elements of it that are simply digital modifications of old school style teaching. (e.g. powerpoint = chalkboard, youtube = 8mm movies, etc). To truly use technology you have to be able to be able manipulate it and make it work for you, not just use it as a way to convey information like the chalkboard did or the 8mm movie. (And I realize the contradiction of using FB as an additional tool to convey information and my belief about the use of technology in education.) But that's another subject and one I've been wanting to tackle in a blog post.

    1. I purchased a US$70 VPN from Witopia for my laptop.
      I read a lot of blogs and use Twitter, Youtube, Diigo and many other blocked sites on a regular basis so that price for a year of unlimited filter-less internet use seemed really worthwhile. My wife uses Facebook far more than I do to connect with back home. I tend to go to Facebook only when someone else initiates a conversation with me.

  8. I think if you friend students on facebook, you have to be careful about what you, or your “friends” are putting out there. It does seem odd to think about being friends with a student on facebook, but we have to realize that this is a 21st Century Skill that most people are using. I believe there are other sites that can be used (maybe set up in advance) with your students. Maybe teachers could create a separate facebook page that is just for interacting with students?

  9. Hi Marcy,

    Have a look at the recommendations Vicki Davis makes in her post: Facebook Friending 101 for Schools

    The separate Facebook account for students is a good suggestion for most, but I hardly ever use my one account, much less adding another. That’s why I just make my profile very limited (and boring, not even sharing my wall) for students. I’ve written twice about Facebook now, but I’m not really a fan of using it. I tend to only go there to accept friend requests and to decline using what I think are stupid apps that insist you join them before you can see any messages people send you through them.

    Basically, most of what I do on Facebook is auto post things like my new blog entries (which doesn’t require me going to Facebook), and chatting with friends that want to reconnect, (usually privately in the mail section).

    So, how I use Facebook would be very different from someone who chats on their wall about going out to a pub or bar on the weekend, and I set mine up in a thoughtful way that works for me… and this relates to my biggest message in this post:
    If you are going to connect with students online, then think about how you do it and do it in a professional way.

    Check out the video and advisory that I shared recently, via the Ontario College of Teachers. While I don’t agree completely with everything they suggest, they advocate for being thoughtful and professional at all times!

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