Social Media is a Responsibility for Educators and Everyone

Last month, I moderated a chat on social media in education so when I saw a post by a local TV station asking if there was a reason for teachers and students to connect on Facebook, I wanted to give a counterpoint to the “teachers shouldn’t use social media ever” stance that many people seem to have.

Schools that have taken the “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to the social media curriculum are neglectfully choosing to look the other way as students communicate, collaborate, and connect in worlds devoid of adults.

~ Lisa Nielsen, The Innovative Educator

I’m not naive. I know that educators can act inappropriately, and unfortunately sometimes they do. However, I also know that there are ways for Facebook and other social media to be used effectively as a teaching tool, for communication between teachers, parents and students, and for the pure “social” aspects that Facebook and other social media platforms have to offer. According to a 2009 Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE), when polled about why they chose to stay in school, almost all students named a specific student, faculty or staff member who gave them the support and encouragement they needed to keep going. What better way to keep in touch with that teacher than via social media?

As a marketer, I have seen the value of social media by being a part of the community and conversation happening online. Not that long ago, marketers had to justify to the C-suite why companies should be active on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media channels. My response to that has always been that the conversation is happening, don’t you want to be a part of it? And don’t you want the social media profile found in searches to be yours rather than one that was made for you? There have been several cases where students have posted made-up social media profiles for teachers and administrators. If you’re not on social media, or actively monitoring the channel, how will you know?

Connecting with students and their families on Facebook gives teachers the perfect opportunity be a part of the conversation where there students (and parents) are, rather than attempting to force the communication into a less often visited channel like the school’s website, etc. The CCSSE study found that most students are already using social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, texting and instant messaging outside of the classroom – and that was in 2009, so you can image the adoption rate for social media now!

Connecting with educators on social media also gives the students a chance to see how social media should be handled (assuming the teacher is socially responsible with their posts). Leading by example is a great way to get students to understand that they need to manage their digital footprint and only post in ways that they will be proud to see themselves and have others see them. It is vital that young people learn that their social media interactions WILL impact their future. College recruiters are checking Facebook pages and so are Human Resources Departments when you’re ready to get a job.

With all of the “pros” for increased social media interaction between students and teachers, I do have some caveats:

  • Students need to be 13 or older, but that’s in Facebook terms of use, so if a younger student is using that channel then it needs to be brought to the parents’ attention.
  • Teachers need to post responsibly, but then EVERYONE should post responsibly!
  • Teachers should be trained on the proper use of social media. Sort of a “train the trainer” session on why it’s important to only post things that are appropriate for public viewing, and that once something is posted online, it will never go away. This training should be updated as privacy changes are made as well as when new social media platforms are introduced (like Google+).
  • Teachers don’t need to “friend” students on their personal social media page. There are ways to set up pages for “public figures” where teachers can post what they want their students to see, and still keep their personal profile separate.

So what do you think – SHOULD teachers connect with their students via social media? What tips would you have for them? Do you have any positive examples of teacher-student or teacher-parent interaction on Facebook, Twitter, etc.? Please comment below to share your opinions and experiences.

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  • Lisa Nielsen

    Thanks for sharing my quote and bringing this topic up with your readers.  Innovative educators have no problem communicating with students in their worlds using their preferred method of communication. If a teacher fears communicating with students, I’d fear having that teacher work with students. If an administrator fears having their teachers communicate with students I’d question that administrator’s ability to effectively hire.  Relationships are among the most important role that students value in their teachers.  As the saying goes, before I care to know, I must know you care.  A primary role of the 21st century educator is to let students know they care in their worlds. I write about this often on my blog in posts like Kids and teachers are interacting. Everybody panic… 

    Preventing teachers and students from communicating defies common sense and reason.  Communication and relationship building is one of the most important roles of an educator.  If we are afraid the educator will act inappropriately, we must deal with the behavior of that educator and remember the tool has no intent.  

    Districts that have such a distrust of students and teachers must take a step back and take a hard look at the real problem at hand.  When the message is “I trust you” real learning can begin like it does at my friend Michelle’s school

    • Sharon Mostyn

      Thanks for the great insights, Lisa. I agree that there are so many applications of social media in education…unfortunately we may be in the minority, at least for now, but someday we may be thought of as cutting edge!

  • JohnB

    For older age groups (high
    school and up), it’s definitely worth the use…

    I know of a few schools
    that are already using Facebook in this capacity for teachers to post
    homework assignments. The interesting thing is that the homework is based
    on a class discussion on the topic 
    – directly on Facebook – kids who don’t post or post lame things get F’s for the assignment,
    while anyone else gets Pass.  It’s an interesting experiment and the
    kids seem to enjoy it (but that’s one school and a handful of teachers).I think it could be a good resource for the classroom, just like other tools.  However, like many things in this country it will probably be abused or mis-used by someone and everyone will be condemned, which will result in it being over-regulated or banned denying a valuable resource for teachers to connect with students and work learning into “everyday life.”

    • Sharon Mostyn

      Using Facebook as a workspace to extend class discussions is an excellent use of social media by teachers! Thanks for sharing your experience.

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  • Sharon Mostyn