Today's headlines sometimes reveal educators who have been caught in inappropriate relationships with their students. Often, these relationships developed on social networking sites or via text or email messaging. Even though these situations do exist, many educators find that social networking and electronic communications can enhance the classroom experience. This article is the first in a series to discuss ways that teachers can use social networking and electronic communications in their classroom, while minimizing the potential for allegations of inappropriate behavior.
According to Internet World Stats, users of Facebook in the United States have remained fairly steady over the past year, leveling off at around 174 billion users. Many of these users are teenagers. Facebook requires that their users be at least 13 years old to create an account, which means that educators in grades 7-12 have opportunities to use the popular site in their classroom. Additionally, more and more parents are signing up for accounts.
One popular use of Facebook for teachers is to disseminate information to parents and students about upcoming deadlines, post information about what is happening in class, and to create discussions for students to participate in. Some of these discussions can include comments from users all over the world, increasing student awareness of the world and cultures around them.
Many districts, however, have strict policies against teachers "friending" their students on Facebook. Some allow it only after the student has graduated from high school. How, then, might an educator continue to leverage the power of this tool?
One option is to create a teacher "fan" page. Fan pages look much the same as a user profile. Individuals can post to a fan page, and owners of the page can use it to provide information. Rather than "friending" parents and students, however, anyone who wishes to see the information on the fan page in their news feed simply "Like" the page. This option protects both the teacher and the student - there are no opportunities for private conversations. It also serves to be a reminder to the teacher about the type of content they share on their fan page, helping them to post only school-related content on their fan page, while reserving more private information for their personal profile.
To create a fan page, simply visit the Facebook page creation site, choose the public figure category and follow the prompts to create the page. Once created, there are tools for building an audience, and the page will have its own website. The URL for the website can be given to parents and students so that they can like the page.
Educators should be sure to check with their local policies before establishing any kind of contact with students through social networking sites.