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February 1, 2010 The Role of Social Networking Sites in Teaching By Justin Lim

    "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


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