Using Social Media in the Classroom: Friend of Foe?

Posted by Jerry Doll on Tue, Aug, 09, 2011 @ 10:08 AM

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Should Teachers and Students be “Friends?”  The Missouri state legislature doesn’t think so.  A new law just signed by Missouri’s governor is causing teachers to purge their Facebook “friend” lists of all current students in an effort to limit their interaction via social media.

The law was proposed after an Associated Press investigation found 87 Missouri teachers had lost their licenses between 2001 and 2005 because of sexual misconduct, some of which involved exchanging explicit online messages with students.

The problem, according to some teachers, is that by limiting Facebook interaction, the new law is hindering the teacher’s ability to keep in contact with their students — using a medium that students actually respond to.

The new law forbids teachers from having “exclusive access” online with current students or former students who remain minors, meaning any contact on Facebook or other sites must be done in public rather than through private messages.

The law, which takes effect Aug. 28, does not outright prohibit teachers from interacting with students on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and other sites. Instead, it requires local school districts to create written policies by January that outline "appropriate use of electronic media such as text messaging and Internet sites for both instructional and personal purposes."

Better to be safe than sorry, some teachers expect to purge as many as one hundred current and former students from their “friend” lists.  According to some, taking away this communication tool limits the chance for teachers to be supportive in a confidential manner.  In some instances, the teacher is the only adult role model a student has.  They will no longer be able to receive confidential advice through this medium. 

In many cases, students use Facebook as their sole means of communication via the Internet.  They might have set-up an email account to enable them to set-up a Facebook account, but have long since stopped checking the original email account as every interaction is completed via Facebook.

In the aftermath of this summer’s Joplin, Missouri tornado, teachers used Facebook to track down and communicate with students in the immediate aftermath of the storm.

Additionally, teachers often use Facebook as online forums for legitimate educational purposes.  The new tight controls might limit the teaching of the rising field of Social Network Marketing as a career opportunity.

As mentioned previously, the new law does not prohibit all contact between teachers and students via social media.  However, the fear is that to make it easier, some districts may ban all forms of social media communication with students.  Some feel this could result in missing out on some excellent educational and mentoring opportunities.

As the trend toward collaborative and group learning increases, making face-to-face interaction in the classroom more popular — it seems Facebook and other social media sites could be used as a natural extension of that collaborative learning process.

Is the Missouri law opening up the opportunity for similar legislation in other states?  Will these restrictions be extended to other relationships such as employee/employer “friendships” on Facebook?  Is it a violation of free speech?  It’s hard to say, at this point, what far reaching effects the new law might have.  But it will be interesting to watch how it might impact social interactions both inside and outside the classroom walls, going forward.

Got an opinion?  Send us a comment. We’d be interested in your thoughts on the new law.  Also, how does your school currently use social media?  We look forward to hearing from you.


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