The Role of Social Networking Sites in Teaching

By Justin Lim on February 1, 2010

"Friending a student on Facebook?! No way..." That was the reply that one my colleagues gave when asked about using social networking sites to connect with students. In the last few years, social networking has grown to become a huge part of our culture and for those teachers (myself included) who have personal profiles, it seems as though getting friend requests from past and current students is becoming more and more common. What's a teacher to do?

On the one hand, teachers are afraid, and rightfully so, to break the professional relationship boundary, or even worse, that a student might come across something inappropriate. On the other hand, any high school teacher knows that popular networking sites like Facebook and MySpace profoundly shape the way our kids develop and see the world. So what's the role of social networking sites in teaching? Is there even a role at all?

For some educators, the answer is no. Most teachers make it a policy to keep their personal profiles off limits to their students. There's definitely some wisdom in doing this, as we have to be aware that even if we don't have anything inappropriate on our profiles, we can't control the comments of our friends or the content found in links. Also, there's the fact that as teachers, we're not "friends" with our students in the same way that their peers are. While that doesn't mean that we don't care about our kids, it does mean that there is a definite professional role and responsibility that we have to fulfill.

With that being said, let me admit that I actually do have a profile that I've created for the exclusive purpose of "friending" students. I don't use the profile for anybody other than students, and I never post anything of personal nature. In the end, it's basically a way to check up on what my kids are doing outside of school and to try to meet them on their level.

So how has it worked out? Well, let me say that so far, it helped me to discover that the reason why one of my students wasn't doing his homework was because his mom wouldn't let him go to his dad's house to get his backpack due to family fighting. I discovered that another student was ditching school because she had recently broken up with her boyfriend. It turns out that two of my students have a crush on my T.A. and apparently, my kids consider me "pretty cool."

The first time I confronted a student about an issue that I learned about online, I was afraid that it was going to be interpreted as spying, and that I was going to have to defend myself. To my surprise, he was more than ready to share and was really searching for somebody to reach out. It seems as though the more I work with teenagers, the more I realize that so many of them are searching for meaningful relationships with mentors or adults who they can relate to.

All in all, it breaks my heart that teachers are so confined when it comes to utilizing what might be the single greatest tool to reach out to the youths of the current generation. Going back to our original question of what the role of social networking might play in teaching, I'm not at all sure if right now, we can really say for certain.

What are your opinions? What's your policy on "friending" students? What about former students?

Warm regards,

Justin Lim
Rosemead High School
El Monte Union High School District

Comments

I do not "friend" my students until after they have graduated. This way I can keep in touch with them and help them if need be with their collegiate work (and I do get many inbox messages asking for help!!!). However, some of my colleagues do "friend" students and it seems to work just fine. One even has a page for his AP Calculus class and uses it for class announcements and such. It is a great way to use social networking for positive reasons!!!

Hi Justin,

I've never allowed students to "friend" me. However, I deliberately "friended" my nieces - so I could know what they were up to! I had never thought about using FB to check up on my kids. Hmmm ... but I just might now! ;) My kids are always asking me to add them, but knowing that I can have two separate profiles makes me feel more comfortable in doing so. Thanks for sharing this great idea! My kids will love that they've added me ... and I'll gain greater insight into what's going on w/them outside of school. :D

Wow! I have never thought about using facebook this way. I currently have a personal profile and have turned away many students that have "friended" me. They definitely have no business seeing my personal profile, but allow them to "friend" me on facebook with a professional profile could be great. It is one more way to make a connection with them. I love it! Thank you so much for sharing your insight into this topic!

[Edit: Response]

Hi Eileen!

I'm glad that I could help!

Warm regards,

Justin

Hi Justin,

Such a hard choice. I can see how high school teachers will find this much more difficult than us here at the primary grades - being that the age of 13 is a magical age in which children are actually allowed to have their own email, post on certain blogs, and the such. Personally, I would not add students, but my students are not of age. I do have high school teacher friends that absolutely DO NOT use Facebook or other sites for fear of just that - teachers blurring the line between school and personal connections.

Thanks for the great post - I'm going to do some surveying of friends and colleagues.

Eric

I have created a separate profile for my teacher life on facebook. I love have contact with past and present students that is monitored for content. It is also a place for 'those' odd parents who wish to be in contact too without opening up my private life. For now this seems to have worked well and safely. I can leave specific messages for students without them knowing any other private aspects of my life. It remains to be seen if it continues to work. I also have a class/teacher account for flickr and twitter also for the exact same reason! I think social networking is the way of the future - this is what our children are into - embrace it I say!

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