There’s an interesting article in the New York Times discussing Rules to Limit How Teachers Interact with Student’s Online. School districts are facing a myriad of issues with social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter – such as lurid photos being posted to inappropriate conduct between teacher and student. The knee jerk reaction to this unsavory activity are for policy makers to create strict rules governing social media use, however I’m reminded of the saying that hard cases make bad law i.e. we should not be creating wide sweeping polices that condemn everyone because of a rare instances of breech of trust. I have to believe that misconduct and rude/illicit behaviour is the minority from within the teaching profession or something else is entirely wrong with the hiring practices for those we place our children’s trust in. School boards and districts already have policies in place specifying the limits of the teacher/learner relationship and I’m left wondering if adding additional rules will ultimately hinder the adoption of social networks in the classroom.
Social Networking can be used to strengthen the bonds between student and teacher in positive manners and strict rules may limit its effectiveness. For example, private communications between student and teacher should not be prohibited as was attempted by Lewis Holloway, the superintendent of schools in Statesboro, Ga. Although the policy was overturned, the attempt to protect students could have placed them in greater harm. What if a student needed to confide in a teacher that they are being bullied and the only way they felt comfortable was communicating electronically? If the policy was in place, a student may not be able to receive a response and potentially result in harm to the child either physically or psychologically.
In terms of child protections, I would argue that social networks actually improve the situation that existed previously. Teachers may have engaged students in inappropriate behaviour on school property or elsewhere without any traceability in the past; social networks at least can monitor and record this activity for investigative purposes. Rules to limit or control how technology is to be used won’t prevent its abuses – those who wish to betray our trust will do so regardless of how may rules and regulations are set forth, strict. If a school district’s stance is to have rules governing every tool at a teacher’s disposal it will stifle innovation in the classroom because technology will always outpace legislation. Ultimately educators need to be reminded that social media and networking falls under existing policies that set forth the standards for the relationship between the teacher and the student. Any breech of conduct will be associated with ramifications that have already been established. Consider that even the American Medical Association only publishes a single page titled Professionalism in the Use of Social Media, that basically says “remember to maintain professional boundaries” and that social media may negatively impact their reputation. Do educators need more hand holding using social media than those who see us naked and maintain our health?
Educate the Students and Parents on Social Media Use
More importantly, students need to understand how social media is to be used in a classroom setting and if there are methods to allow parents/guardians to observe. I’m not sure how many parents of K-12 children know if social network or other social media sites are being incorporated in the curriculum and if so what the expectations are for their use. If anything, policies need to be created for the parents and the students to understand how Facebook, Twitter and other sites will be used in an educational setting in order to protect themselves from abusive situations. But for some reason we expect them to intuitively understand how to use these sites without any guidance. Its like giving my son a power drill without having him first starting with a screw driver.