Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Social Networking Boundaries

Facebook has brought with it many ethical grey areas. Teachers need to be cognisant of the fact that social networking sites are available to a very wide audience. This has ramifications on more than one level.

First, teachers must consider what information they post on their profiles. There is a stark difference between Facebook and Hotmail, and it seems to me that not everyone really understands how public Facebook can be. Because of the public nature of social networking, teachers must consider their professional reputations when either communicating or adding information to their profiles. What might be fine to say to one or two friends via email is not okay when it comes to writing on the walls of friends or contacts.

Secondly, teachers must be careful as to who they include as their 'friends'. Teachers should not be 'friends' with students and must be careful to maintain that professional distance. Having social contact with students could easily be construed as a breach of professional ethics. I have also heard some argue that it should be accepted and that as long as the communication between teacher and student is of a professional nature, it should not be viewed as unprofessional. I tend to disagree. In my opinion, teachers and students must not have contact that could be viewed as social in nature. This is not to say that teachers with students on their 'friend' lists are necessarily unprofessional, but they need to consider how their actions are viewed by the general public.


  1. I agree with the concept of professional distance. However, there are two things about Facebook, and other social networking sites that cause me to fear interactions with students there as less than frightening.

    E-mail still has somewhat of an assumed air of "privacy" about it that I not seen in interactions in Facebook. We have been exchanging e-mail with students now for years. Here's betting that this mode of communication fosters more lack of judgment than a more obviously open mode such as Facebook.

    It was tough for me too, to get past the terminology of FB, notably "friending." To me it is now quite simple. Being a FB "friend" does not share a definition with the more classic notion of being a friend. FB "friends" may be friends in the classic sense... but there is no necessity in that. I have even seen attempts within the Ning platform of actually switching the terminology within from "friends" to "colleagues." I know the term friend freaked out several of my colleagues in a tech cohort I set up this summer at: to bring our faculty up to speed with this flavor of communication as it relates to PD.

    Perhaps finally- I feel comfortable adding students as "friends" on FB because the forum there feels perfectly open to the world. I think this contributes to respectful communication emanating from students in our direction. And if it isn't... 1) what was said is purely public, and even simple screenshots could serve to preserve the moment for future reference. and 2) we now have a teachable moment in online communication to have with a student.

    In reality, the face-to-face conversations I have with students are likely now riskier than the online version. Think of it... anything spoken, when challenged is generally one person's word against another. We all know examples of teachers accused of something inappropriate who were as good as guilty by association with the controversy. With online communication with students, I at least have a permanent digital record of my interactions to protect me.

    Given that fact, the only that could go wrong, is something directly inappropriate done by the teacher themself. I am happy with the security the online record provides me.

    Excellent topic to step forward with... keep up the questioning. Putting yourself forward like this and directly engaging on issues such as these only causes us all to grow and to come to grips with a rapidly changing world. Good work.


  2. I agree with your comments here, Trevor, about how a teacher needs to be aware of their role on such social networks as Facebook. I am aware of what I put out there on Facebook because more than my list of friends can read and see what I have posted be it written words or images. My students are not old enough to be on Facebook but many of their parents belong to this site. I choose not to be "FB friends" with the parents of students I teach in a given year; I just feel uncomfortable with such a situation. I feel it is important to continue to model digital responsibility to those former students who are friends with my friends and can read and see what I am up to. I should also note however, that my lifestyle doesn't warrant too many "bans of publications" either!!!

  3. Educators need to be careful with Face Book. I never add any students as friends. I keep my FB for friends and family only. One of the students stopped by my office one day and asked why I would not add her, she had requested about three times and each time I declined her. I simply told her that my FB is only for friends and family and if she wanted to chat with me, she is more than welcome to stop by my office!