Social Training Wheels

Hand holding a Social Media 3d Sphere

Should teachers and students be Facebook friends?  Is it ok for a student and teachers to Tweet with each other?  I have been involved in these discussions so many times and I see valid points in both sides of the argument.

On one hand….
Has there ever been a case of inappropriate relationships between teachers and students that couldn’t be traced back to a social media connection?  There’s a lot of bad stuff out there and such tools are a distraction from learning at the least and a potential for real harm at worst.  How would you monitor and control it?  You can’t.  You can only teach students what is right and the respond when they choose to do otherwise.  There are other tools, such as MBC, that offer the same social components but provide the safety net that can protect students while also teaching them to behave appropriately.
On the other hand…. 
Facebook and Twitter connected us with a far bigger world – a world that has huge learning potential!  Students and teachers can use these tools to connect with people in fields of study, experts, and gain cross-cultural experiences.  They are tools so many are already using and checking daily.  Are we going to throw those opportunities away because we’re too scared of what might happen?
As you can see, I’m a bit torn on this.  I see so much good for education in these tools, but I’ve seen too many hurtful posts, indecent pictures and inappropriate student/teacher relationships to just jump in and embrace it.  People who are opposed to filtering and blocking content at schools always argue that students need to learn through experience.  I agree, but I also don’t think they have to learn the hard way through a negative experience.  I think we should be more proactive than that.  Perhaps my views are affected by being a parent.  I have the responsibility to teach my children right from wrong and I think it is possible to overprotect them in a way that hurts them more than helps them.  But I still protect them.  When they were learning to walk I didn’t just sit there and watch them hurt themselves over and over.  I held their hands for a while.  I guided them away from sharp corners and covered the outlets.  Over time, I held their hand less and gradually allowed them to try on their own.  Yes, I knew they would still take some falls when I let go, but I waited until I knew the pain would be minimal.  It is the same with learning to ride a bike.  We start with training wheels.  At some point, they have to come off, but we don’t just put our kid on an adult bike and send them down a hill.
So for now, I have adopted these positions:
  • I use Facebook for personal connections only, and do not accept friend requests from students until after they graduate.
  • I use Twitter professionally.  I haven’t actually received any student followers (I don’t think) because they don’t care about the professional stuff I post on Twitter, but I do not restrict my tweets.  It has played a HUGE role in developing in my Professional Learning Network and I have grown in immense ways through the people I connect with there.
  • I promote and support My Big Campus fully (hence the little “MBC Coach” badge next to my name).  I think it is kind of like giving students a social platform with training wheels.  It allows them to learn, teaches them how to do better when they do make errors of judgement, but does it in a safe environment where they are protected from real harm.
So when is the right time to take the training wheels off?  I think it probably is before they leave k-12 education, but only after we’ve given them sufficient practice in a safe environment.  Maybe another year or two into our 1:1 and we’ll be able to do this with our older kids.  But there have been enough of these issues in the last few months with these tools restricted that I can’t say we’re there yet.  The students need to show they are mature and responsible enough to handle it, and it’s our responsibility to get them to that point.