As a follow-up to some recent discussion of cyberbullying and the upcoming Community Forum on Social Media hosted by CCPS and NDN, this post discusses another danger of the website. The following article was published in the Community School of Naples student newspaper, The Hawk Squawk, earlier this year:
Facebook is a way of life. Over 90% of the CSN student body has a Facebook account and uses it regularly if not obsessively. Can you imagine life without being able to instant message hundreds of friends, update your status, and see others’ statuses, wall posts, and links? It is hard to believe that high school life functioned without Facebook before 2005, when it limited access to only college students in its first year. But times are changing and people are increasingly web-savvy, even web-needy. Recognizing this reality in 2006, Facebook opened itself to the general public—from infants to retirees. This includes teachers.
It is a common practice for students to become Facebook friends with teachers. After all, CSN prides itself on close student-teacher relationships and open communication, so one medium of communication naturally includes Facebook and other social networking websites. Although social networking websites can be extremely useful, improper use of such sites can also be extremely harmful. Last year, school administration received incriminating photos from parents that were posted on the Facebook accounts of current students who were later disciplined. This event caused CSN students to rethink what is posted on such websites and therefore accessible to hundreds of their friends and possibly even parents and teachers. One teacher, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, mentioned that he or she wouldn’t add students as Facebook friends until after they graduated from CSN to avoid potential conflict. However, this is not always the case. A lot of teachers have Facebook or Twitter accounts and more and more of them “friend” or “follow” current CSN students. Computer science teacher Mr. Demarest commented that “Facebook can be a horrendous waste of time for teenagers but there are a lot of strong possibilities for use,” and he continued to say there are no current prohibitions on student-teacher communication via websites such as Facebook and Twitter, like at other schools that wish to avoid conflict entirely by avoiding out of class communication. After all, Facebook and online websites can and should be used to aid the learning process.
English teacher Ms. Bright created a Ning account—a social networking site similar to Facebook—for her classes this year, so she could post assignments, policies, and daily notes, but more importantly allow students to interact with one another outside the classroom and across classes. She added that “it is also important to me that people not write in IM speak and that they actually write in complete sentences.” When asked about her profile on the much more widely used website, Facebook, she mentioned that she initially created her account to communicate with SMILE members. However, the student club soon abandoned Facebook as a way of communicating, but Ms. Bright did not delete her profile. After a lengthy hiatus, she began using the website to communicate with other AP Literature teachers, CSN teachers, and occasionally current CSN students and alumni.
Economics and history teacher Mr. Parker actually had a former student create a Facebook account for him at his old school after he heard so much about the website from students. “The collaborative nature of social networking sites does have practical applications in the classroom,” Mr. Parker commented. “Almost all students are familiar with these applications and the use for educational purposes seems to be a productive use of this application.”
Some students, however, are somewhat hesitant to “friend” teachers out of fear that faculty members may see the wrong photo or wrong status. Head of Upper School Mrs.McCormick who created an account last year said when she hears a student say something inappropriate it is easy to interject with a ‘Hey, you shouldn’t be saying things like that.’ “But when someone commits these comments to writing, and they are posted under their name, then their entire network of friends sees it…and unfortunately it remains in place,” she said. “When I first got the Facebook account I didn’t really think about long term ramifications of being linked with students. When a few students asked to be added as a friend I just said OK. Now, though, there seems to be much chatter about what teachers should and should not do in regards to social networking.”