At our Thanksgiving celebration a year ago, I was busy updating my Facebook status and prowling around my friends’ pages when my sister-in-law peeked over my shoulder and hesitantly said, “Ya know… That might not be such a good idea.” This was not the first that I had heard about concerns relating to teachers having social networking sites, but it was the first solid example I had of the consequences teachers can face when their social lives intersect with their professional lives. Apparently a teacher at my sister-in-law’s school was told that her contract would not be renewed because students stumbled across racy pictures of her online from her college days. Since that time, discussions about the legitimacy of Facebook accounts have become standard in just about every social gathering. Ironically, I found out on Facebook that one of my former students lost her job at a nursing home for posting something about poor patient care. Her company saw this as a liability, and perhaps rightfully so. So I have chosen to address the question: What is Facebook’s role in education? And vice versa?
Social networking is as second-nature to a huge majority of our society as the local mall or movie theatre was to individuals seeking social interaction in days past. It is where they–we–live. One of my colleagues has taken what I believe is a solid and ground-breaking approach to Facebook’s role in education. He has acknowledged that the seniors he teaches will soon have to manage their time without a teacher or someone else dictating what they can and cannot view at a given time. Rather than banning Facebook, he would like to teach the students how to budget their time online, along with the importance of managing their social presence on the web. He would like to teach students how to extend their personal portfolios into the Facebook realm, how to friend (a.k.a. network with) the appropriate individuals and organizations, and how to ensure that anything that they do not want affiliated with their professional image is hidden from anyone who might be looking. Fortunately, our Technology Committee and administration have agreed to open up Facebook to a pilot group of students so that we can determine its usefulness and effectiveness in educating students within this venue.
As we embark on the journey of opening up Facebook to a pilot group of students, I will keep you posted on our progress. One small step I took was to make a Facebook group for the Shepherd Secondary Media Center where I serve as the Media Specialist. Within 24 hours, I had 18 members–18 more than I had previously known were interested in what happens there! I am up to 25 members within a week and look forward to more individuals requesting to add.
As educators, my colleague and I have chosen to meet our students where they “live” and to hopefully engage and educate them in an environment that they frequent and enjoy. Perhaps we are identifying two of the key roles that Facebook has in education: engaging and educating students. The next question is, when and how will education turn the tables and take an active role within Facebook?