On the question of students, teachers, and social networking, CNN's Schools of Thought blog posed this question on Jan. 20: Do you think there are more benefits or downsides to this kind of communication?
As a public high school teacher, it's a question I have pondered often. How do schools make sure communication between students and teachers stays appropriate without placing outright bans on many useful, instant forms of communication? I think the answer lies in identifying the purpose of the communication and defining the word social in social networking.
The easy approach would be for school boards to ban all communication outside of school between teachers and students. After all, isn't the primary job of a school to look after the safety of its students? The problem with that knee-jerk solution is that it automatically cuts off many legitimate and creative uses of electronic communication. My former colleague, Joe Chianakas, now a professor at Illinois Central College, used a Twitter feed to deliver homework assignments and reminders about upcoming quizzes and tests. To me that is a terrific use of technology that helps engage students.
In addition to my teaching duties, I also coach tennis. I regularly text players to let them know of a schedule change or to cancel a practice in the event of bad weather. In fact, if I do not provide such information, parents complain to me that their kids drove to school for no reason, wasting both time and gas. The parents of my players know I text as a communication tool, and not one has ever asked me to stop.
Facebook provides another side of this conversation. Many districts, including mine, do not allow teachers to "friend" students on Facebook or similar sites until they graduate and leave our schools. This is where the social part of the question comes into play. Personally, I don't see the need or value for high school students and teachers to communicate via Facebook. Yes, I know the site has useful communication features such as messaging and chatting. But it is first and foremost a social networking site, and teachers and students should not go down that road.
When it comes to communication, the gray areas now far outnumber the black-and-white ones. Many households have dropped traditional phones completely and rely solely on cell service. Email now seems slow and obsolete to teens accustomed to the instant nature of texting. Sites like Twitter make it possible to push out loads of information that students and parents want.
My district has yet to implement an official policy on this issue, but I feel a neighboring district got it right. Their policy simply states that there is to be no communication between teachers and students "outside the coach/teacher's specific job responsibilities." A text telling members of a sports team that a bus time has been changed? Perfectly fine. Collecting students' email addresses to use for sharing a class Google Doc? Go for it. But if the communication does not fall under the strict umbrella of a teacher's specific job responsibilities, then it's prohibited. I think that's a common-sense policy that protects teachers and students alike.
Brad Boeker has taught high school English for 21years. He has a master's degree in educational technology.