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How teachers Facebook & tweet for students

Facebook and Twitter are very different but social utilities just the same, so there are about as many ways teachers use them as there are teachers. And their creativity is truly inspiring. In his blog post “The Why and How of Using Facebook For Educators – No Need to be Friends At All!,” Texas middle school teacher Ronnie Burt has a little graphic showing that 61% of educators have Facebook accounts. So (whether or not they use Facebook for professional or personal purposes or both), Facebook’s a logical place to start this post.

Burt starts with showing teachers how, if they and their students’ parents are comfortable with school-related Facebook use, to friend students safely. Among the many examples of teachers’ uses in the comments at the bottom are:

  • Jose Aguirre‘s use of a Facebook community page for his Earth Science High School Class (“I post school photos, lab videos, links to NASA. I even used ‘discussions’ to have them submit homework as an alternative to [using] Blogger”)
  • Gabe the first-year German teacher who sets up a private group where he posts “study help, extra material, interesting links” and his students “post comments, ideas and any questions they have. I can also post ‘tick the box’ lists as well as primitive questionnaires. The event reminder and calendar is also a great function.”
  • Teacher and coach Rick has “a Facebook group for each of my classes and the Golf team which I coach. Once the group is set up students can join it and then I okay them to join and my personal stuff is kept personal and yet I can message all the students and even parents who join and they can message me. I find this a great way to be in contact, and not have to write in email addresses, and yet not be friends.”

Fewer falling through the cracks?

Rick also reports that using FB helps keep students from falling through the cracks: “Above all, the increased communication in the last few years has meant better monitoring of kids’ progress in school. Thus Parents, Admin, Learning Assistance and Teachers can work together more efficiently to support struggling learners. In the last 3.5 years I have taught 619 kids (grades 9-12) and only had 4 failures. I did not have that kind of record before.”

For a book chapter she was writing (see “Related links”), Laurie reviewed “several studies that have looked at student perceptions of faculty and teachers on Facebook,” finding that “it was all fairly positive – one study included student perceptions of three different Facebook profiles (one with almost no information, one with limited information, and one with personal information including personal pictures). Students thought the instructor who included more information would be the better teacher.”

A school counselor’s view

Gary McDaniel, a clinical social worker of 20 years who works in the Morgan County School District in West Virginia, finds Facebook and other social-media tools indispensable. He gave me permission to publish this email to a group of risk-prevention specialists: “I and many of the school counselors I coordinate and many of the parents, school administrators and some teachers I work with find Facebook a helpful adjunct to working with students. We’ve prevented at least one likely suicide this year, had cyberbullying taken down regularly, apprehended several knives, talked kids out of 100 stupid things, and been made aware by parents and other students of kids in crisis. Other counselors, teachers and administrators want nothing to do with Facebook and that’s OK too. But with one of me and 2,700 students, Facebook, email, text messaging and cell phones help me get my job done.”

Twitter for teachers

As for Twitter, which doesn’t have a minimum age of 13, here’s the answer to all those who hear the word “Twitter” and reflexively picture a tweet about “what I ate for lunch”: Iowa State University education professor Scott McLeod’s blog post, starting with “If you were on Twitter yesterday, you might have found…” and listing meaty, useful links people tweeted that day, from “fabulous summer reads from The Atlantic” to “resources for how to rework your acceptable use policy” to “great ideas for doing Webquests in your classroom.” And guess how I found this post? Somebody tweeted it (I use Twitter as my professional learning network, or PLN, the same way Scott does and have to say I feel greatly enriched because of it, personally and professionally).

But that’s just the day-to-day professional development part outside the classroom. Then there are the ways teachers use Twitter in it: Here’s a blog post linking to “100 ways to teach with Twitter,” including University of Plymouth Prof. Steve Wheeler’s 10 ways. I think it would be great to turn social studies, media, and language arts students into news curators and wrote about that last February at the height of the demonstrations in Cairo’s Tahrir Square here.

Toward re-humanizing school

Sometimes we think technology removes the human factor, when the exact opposite is true – at least when we’re talking about social (interactive and collaborative) media. Two-and-a-half years ago, I read a thoughtful New York Times Magazine piece about Twitter and wrote “A (digital) return to village life” and, at the bottom under “Twitter in the classroom,” thought out loud about the benefits I was seeing. I said it then, and I’ll say it again now:

Powerful things can happen when people can come to understand each other on even slightly deeper levels afforded by the kind of frequent, candid, humanizing communication that happens in social media. Empathy emerges. Think about what can happen when people feel empathy toward one another: compassion, civility, encouragement, empowerment, engagement, etc. Disinhibition – that condition of online experience that allows for cyberbullying, harassment, hate, etc. by dehumanizing people – tends to be disempowered. And students go from being passive consumers to citizens and (class and school) community members – collaborators in each other’s and owners of their own learning experiences.

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  1. I agree with Rita. We need to be highlighting the technology tools that are being built by quality educational technology companies to see how they can effectively be incorporated into schools in this transformation process.

    This is where the future lies in Web 2.0 in schools.

    June 12, 2011
    • Anne #

      I don’t feel it’s for us to decide where the future lies with technology in schools. Thanks for your comments.

      June 13, 2011
  2. Actually my concerns in this regard are not focused on risk prevention. I have been wearing my “ed tech hat” – that includes my “legal issues hat.” Schools have a legal obligation to protect student privacy. And they can be sued if they fail to do so. Also, they have a legal obligation to ensure disability access.

    Facebook has a well-documented history of having no respect whatsoever for user privacy. And it can be very confusing to adjust Facebook’s privacy settings. Thus, if teachers are allowed to set up instructional activities on Facebook, they could place the district in legal jeopardy. I do not think Facebook will support disability access. Certainly my youngest son, who has some profound learning challenges, would be totally left out of instructional activities if a teacher set them up on Facebook.

    Further, for instructional environments, it is my opinion that it is unacceptable for schools to use sites that are engaging in market profiling and advertising. And if a school district is serious about transitioning to 21st Century learning, they need to be pursuing a comprehensive approach – not one that will only work in high school.

    Additionally, I think we are undermining our ability to encourage many principals to pursue the instructional use of interactive Web 2.0 technologies if they get the idea that all this involves is having teachers and students play around on Facebook. I do not even use the term “social media” because that implies “socializing” as in “goofing off.”

    We need to maintain a focus on effective strategies to shift schools into using interactive Web 2.0 technologies – possibly using Facebook for outreach and certainly with the ability to investigate material posted on Facebook for instructional purposes. But not encouraging teachers to use Facebook to set up instructional environments. This is where the danger lies.

    June 12, 2011
  3. Anne, not exactly your most balanced of blogs. Expanded use of Facebook in education – beyond parent/community awareness activities – raises SERIOUS privacy concerns. This is especially true with a company that is so lacking in any kind of a moral compass when it comes to personal privacy.

    Use of Facebook educationally is not scalable. Use is limited to those who are over 13. There are serious concerns related to disability access. The ongoing market profiling and advertising is unacceptable within an educational environment.

    Given Facebook’s tendency to hide their privacy settings and change settings in a way that forces greater disclosure, there is no way that any school should trust that teachers are going to set a Facebook class environment up in a way that will ensure the protection of student personal information under FERPA.

    When educational technology enthusiasts go off on these kinds of paths – instead of focusing on the hard work it is going to take to transform schools into 21st Century learning environments – they are simply creating barriers.

    All of the creative activities described can and should be taking place in a vibrant Web 2.0 instructional environment that has appropriate boundaries in place to ensure the well-being of students.

    June 10, 2011
    • Anne #

      Thanks for your comment, Nancy. Blogs by their nature aren’t balanced, generally; they’re commentary tools. The aim of this short post was to highlight (& link to) an excellent service Ronnie Burt has provided fellow educators who are interested in using Facebook in the classroom and are looking for guidance.

      I understand your interest in scalability. But is part of your definition of “scalability” “recommendability” (if that’s a word)? I understand that, as a risk-preventon specialist, you feel you can’t recommend Facebook. But not all classroom tools have to be “scalable” and recommended from the top-down (by a district or state ed dept.). Some tools just work for individual teachers, no? I hope so. I hope it’ll never happen that teachers can only use tools recommended or required by “the management,” that all the creativity reflected in Ronnie’s post and all the comments below it will flourish. Tx again.

      June 12, 2011
  4. Rita Oates, Ph.D. #

    “Time for social networking in school?” (July 31, 2008 post here)
    TechNewsWorld suggests it’s time to end the stark dichotomy of second-nature social networking at home vs. a complete ban on social networking at school – even in an academic context. Though not so much in the classroom, “some school districts are going beyond e-mail technology and using collaboration software and online services to share information, host Web conferences and assign tasks and projects,” and teachers are social networking with each other for professional purposes. Certainly we don’t have to be all literalist about social networking and allow the negative, narrowly defined presentation of it in the news media to be what we picture of social networking at school. There are all kinds of forms social networking can take, from wikis to collaborative video producing to podcasting to class blogging to transworld collaboration in a global classroom! The TechNewsWorld article includes an annotated list of social-networking tools for the education market that might interest parents as well as teachers – for example, Blackboard’s Sync, for the college market, ePals for K-12, Jooners, and Wimba Pronto.
    How about writing about the companies who care deeply about education and schools and are creating social learning networks to be used IN school–taking into account all the issues of security of data and safety of children and other things that Twitter and Facebook don’t address and don’t care about?
    The post above from your site in 2008 was a good start. Maybe in the next few months you can update with more options.

    One example, the International Baccalaureate wanted to have a private social learning network, only for students/teachers in their program, but in 140 countries. They did an RFP, rejected Facebook as lacking in multiple ways, and chose a platform, LearningSpace. They then built out their community with the content appropriate to their curriculum. Here’s a brief video:
    Probably a dozen companies are focused on K12 issues and needs in this social media market. How about giving them some coverage and talking about how THEY are used in schools and districts? Enterprise-grade technology with data security features are important to school district folks, and there are companies who understand how to do that.

    June 10, 2011
    • Anne #

      Absolutely, Rita. I so completely agree with your statement, “Certainly we don’t have to be all literalist about social networking and allow the negative, narrowly defined presentation of it in the news media to be what we picture of social networking at school.” I only recently heard that those of us who follow all this need to help define “social media” because a whole lot of parents (and teachers and young people too, most probably) think “social media” means “social networking” or just Facebook. That was a revelation to me because I’ve always thought of it as a broad category that includes wikis, blogs, Skype, texting, game worlds, etc., as WELL as social networking – and that it includes both formal and informal learning. I think that, as people come to understand this, resistance to using social media in school will ease.

      Thanks so much for pointing out ePals’s IB Virtual Community (tho’ it’s far from virtual!) – looks like a great product. I did write about Diipo a bit – have you come across that one? Wish I had the time and resources to be more comprehensive. If you’ve looked at a number of these products, would be interested in writing a guest blog post? Pls let let me know! Thanks for your comment,

      June 12, 2011

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