There is a lot of talk about Facebook – in the media, the staffroom, amongst the parents in the carpark. Some parents flatly proclaim it the work of the devil while others get their under-age children online to help them acquire points in games. Schools often have Facebook blocked but most students can freely access it on their phones. Some teachers refuse to have anything to do with it because they think they’ll compromise their positions, while others seem blissfully unaware of any possible consequences.
Fact is Facebook itself is only a tool – it’s the way it is used that makes it useful or dangerous, good, bad or otherwise.
DEECD Technology A-Z warns:
Safety information: Information posted on sites and in profiles is used to create targeted advertising. It is difficult, if not impossible, to delete an account once opened. There are privacy issues with Facebook. Users are offered the chance to ‘connect to your friends’ and then asked for their email account and password to collect details of email contacts in order to make the connections. All users (both teachers and students) should be aware of their digital footprint. Once images and content are posted online they may become public, despite your initial privacy settings.
The VIT Code of Conduct requires that “teachers are always in a professional relationship with the students in their school whether at school or not” but as explained here by Andrew Douch, this does not preclude the use of Facebook:
When I asked the [VIT] field officer about Facebook specifically, she confirmed that the alleged VIT anti-Facebook policy was unfounded, but cautioned that teachers who choose to use Facebook should make sure that their practice adheres to Principle 1.5 of the Code: “TEACHERS ARE ALWAYS IN A PROFESSIONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH THE STUDENTS IN THEIR SCHOOL, WHETHER AT SCHOOL OR NOT” Part D of this principle says that a breach of this standard would include (among other things) “having contact with a student via written or electronic means including email, letters, telephone, text messages or chat lines, without a valid context”.
Therefore Facebook has no different standing to any other form of interaction, electronic or otherwise, between teachers and students. It is the nature and topic of communication that is subject to the code of conduct, not the conduit of communication. This is just as it should be.
I strongly recommend staff do not ‘friend’ current students on Facebook; and I encourage them to carefully check their privacy settings to ensure that what is posted is shared only with friends. If your friends have friends you do not know (and who doesn’t?) how can you be sure who is seeing your posts/photos/events or what your friends see via your other friends? Another option is to categorise your friends in order to share only certain things with certain categories (see How to Friend Mom, Dad and the Boss from Read Write Web) but I still would not recommend being friends with an existing student.
Your profile should look almost anonymous to anyone who doesn’t know you, this is how mine looks.
If you wish to connect with your students the best alternative is to either create a Facebook page (which your students can ‘Like’ in order to see what you post there), or to create a Facebook group where you can control who can join and what is shared.
Categorising your friends, creating pages and creating groups is well explained in this article: The why and how of using Facebook for educators – no need to be friends at all.
Some of the differences between a Page and a Group are illustrated here:
At my school teachers of senior classes (VCE, years 11 & 12) have set up Facebook groups for their students; I encourage them to use a group for its immediacy and ease of communication but in conjunction to use the Ultranet to provide access to resources.
Recently I presented a workshop on using Facebook safely, creating a Facebook group and using the group to link to resources in the Ultranet – here is the presentation:
Andrew Douch has written about the value of Facebook Groups here: Why the Facebook group my students created for themselves is better than the discussion forum I created for them
Some more interesting reading:
The Evolution of Privacy on Facebook An interactive graphic shows how default Facebook privacy settings have changed over the years.
Three ways to create fake Facebook profiles for historical characters from Richard Byrne at Free Technology for Teachers. Use Facebook as a way for your students to consolidate and present their knowledge about a historical or fictitious character.