What’s the Use of Restricting Student-Teacher Interactions on Facebook?

Restricting student-teacher interactions helps preserve the integrity of the student-teacher relationship and encourages respect both ways. On Facebook, students and teachers both communicate with peers in their respective age groups in ways that might not be appropriate from one group to the other. However, the fact that a teacher has a Facebook account makes many students feel their teacher is open to this type of peer-to-peer communication. Even if there is no inappropriate contact whatsoever, parents who see their children are Facebook friends with their teachers may nevertheless assume teachers are getting too much into their children’s personal space.

Restricting student-teacher interactions helps preserve the integrity of the student-teacher relationship and encourages respect both ways. On Facebook, students and teachers both communicate with peers in their respective age groups in ways that might not be appropriate from one group to the other. However, the fact that a teacher has a Facebook account makes many students feel their teacher is open to this type of peer-to-peer communication. Even if there is no inappropriate contact whatsoever, parents who see their children are Facebook friends with their teachers may nevertheless assume teachers are getting too much into their children’s personal space.

School boards in many states have clear policies banning social media communication between students and teachers, and many legislatures are working to pass laws to similar effect. Even without a clear administrative or legal policy, teachers should be very cautious about any communication with students through Facebook.

College professors are more likely connect online with their students, partly because Facebook began as a college phenomenon. At first glance, one wouldn’t think there’d be any problem with college-age students communicating with their PhD online. However, professors should still approach Facebook interactions with students with a high degree of caution. Sadly, even baseless accusations of having inappropriate relations with students could put their jobs at risk.

Facebook allows for private messages between the student and teacher alone. Even among college students and professors, this type of private communication may lead to inappropriate relationships, or at least the appearance of such. Missouri passed a law forbidding private communication between students and teachers. Many teachers protested this, arguing social media sites are simply students’ preferred mode of communication, and that connecting in this way is simply being a better teacher. Some teachers have even used social media sites like Facebook to facilitate classroom discourse. Those who do have often found it very effective. Nevertheless, furor over the imagined danger of inappropriate student-teacher relations continues to be louder than teachers’ claims of constructive use of social media for education.

Facebook can also lead to embarassment for teachers because students may inadvertently gain access to information the teacher wouldn’t have wanted students to see. Despite ongoing efforts to improve privacy, the ability to control content on Facebook is limited, and default settings allow anyone to tag a photo or post on another person’s wall for anyone who is friends with the user to see. This can lead to embarrassment, rumors, or worse.

If teachers choose to use Facebook, it’s advisable they not accept friend requests from students and limit privacy settings so that only their friends are able to see their posted content. For teachers set on using Facebook as a constructive educational tool, for now the best option may be to set up a separate account specifically for classroom use. If teachers do connect personally with students through social media, they must be exceedingly careful about how that online channel is used and what is shared with students.

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