Educators and Social Media; The Results

Problem: Educators and Social Media. Can an educator maintain a personal digital identity through the use of personal social media accounts or should most/all digital use from an educator be professional? Should students be able to contact teachers through social media or vice-versa? Should coaches be able to communicate with student-athletes through social media?

Social media has become a part of everyday life for both students and teachers, which brings about the moral question of whether or not student-teacher communication through social media should be allowed?

Examples: Throughout my internship I used Edmodo with my Information Processing class to post assignments. Students were able to upload their assignments to the site, review their grades, receive reminders about outstanding assignments, as well and send/receive comments to/from me, the teacher. Other teachers allowed students to communicate with them through Twitter to arrange homework help or ask questions about assignments outside of class time. Some teachers used Twitter, Wikis, blogs, or other internet platforms to post classroom information or interesting/relevant links. I also know of some teachers who coach athletics through their school and use social media as a way to communicate with players such as setting up a Facebook group to inform student-athletes of game/practice time changes or other important updates.

Research: My first action was to create a survey which I sent out using my own social media accounts such as including the link in a blog post, allowing friends to include the link in their blog posts, “tweeting” the link to my followers through my Twitter account and other Twitter users “retweeted” it to their followers. I also emailed the link to the survey to numerous classmates, teachers, and parents that I know. In the end a total of 51 people participated in the survey, and these were their responses:

Question #1: Your Occupation (participants could check more than one box)

*Other responses included: University Instructional Technologist, Assistant, Psychologist, and Career Counsellor

Question #2: Do you use any social media platforms? (check all that apply)

Question #3: Can an educator maintain a personal digital identity through the use of social media accounts or should most/all digital use from an educator be professional?

Some explanations included: Yes, teachers can have a personal identity but must be aware that they are never really out of the spotlight and must conduct themselves in a respectful manor. Nothing online is really private. Educators are mentors, leaders, and role models and should use caution and tact when using social media. An educator is well capable of having a personal and professional life, their life outside of school is up to them to have. Educators are held to a higher expectation because they have students in their care and are constantly setting the example. You are never completely removed from public scrutiny, one has to be careful to conduct themselves accordingly. Educators have rights to a personal life, however, an educator must always be fully aware and understand that personal actions can and will be judged by society and decisions they make in their personal lives may have an effect on their job/career. We are teachers 24/7, there is no break from that – what happens in Vegas doesn’t stay there anymore because of technology.

Question #4: Should students be able to contact teachers through social media?

Some explanations included: If allowed by the teacher, then it shouldn’t be a problem. No, too many ‘issues’/legalities. No, it creates a false relationship that students mistake/confuse for in-school relationship. It is fine as long as the content is appropriate and maintains the student-teacher relationship but sometimes such communication can become too casual and informal. Only once the student has graduated, to stay in touch. It is a world of technology, why not connect them? It crosses the professional line and the integrity of the teacher is decreased. Why not is the question, if used appropriately then it is a good use of technology. Social media is becoming a part of life, students and teachers should be able to communicate through its use but in a professional manner. It is all recorded and if the reason for contact is innocent, wanting helping with homework, the teacher becomes a more stable support. Yes, however students should also learn social media etiquette. Different social media should be used for different things, for example: Twitter should be open and used to communicate with students and network whereas Facebook should be used for personal use and locked. Teachers should set up specific social media that cater to education such as Edmodo or blogs. So many valuable educational applications!

Question #5: Should coaches be able to contact student-athletes through social media?

Some explanations included: If a page was established specifically for the team, then that would be acceptable. It would be better if it was a family or parent account. There are other ways of getting hold of athletes besides using social media. It’s difficult to get commitment from students and communication can be a challenge, sometimes texting and Facebook groups can be used very effectively to help with this. Different relationship, coaches can have less professional relationships with players. It is much easier to connect to a team of people rather than one individual through Facebook or text. Coaches need to communicate quickly with parents and players and most of them are on social media, so why not? Only with the full consent of parents. Many of the answers from Question #4 carry over in to this question.

Question #6: What are some of the positives for student-teacher social media interactions? (47 responses)
Some responses included: Open communication, ease/speed of communication. Keeping information current. Better communication, more personal, possibly more engaged students. Students can see teachers in a more human role from their posting. Convenience, students are in tune with social media. Instant communication that people actually use; students engage better in learning when they are interested and involved in the activity and social media is interesting right now and should be used in the classroom and for communication. Developing healthy relationships with students is a very important part of learning and social media interactions can facilitate that. None,students and teachers should not communicate through social media. Students are able to get help when they need it. Social media is the way students / business functions, education needs to be a part of this. Relationship = engagement, engagement is the holy grail of education and if you are able to engage them better then you will be able to educate them easier.

Questions #7: What are some of the negatives of student-teacher social media interactions? (46 responses)
Some responses included: Confusion of roles/relationships. Opens up inappropriate situations – doesn’t teach youth good social skills – allows youth to send comments based on emotion and without thinking first – possibility of allowing youth to see teachers being inappropriate. Could lead to issues related to exploitation of minors by some teachers, easy to keep from parents. Shows too much of the personal life, decreases professional integrity. Anything can be misperceived and by associating with students through social media one opens themselves up to big risks. Potential for information to be distributed unintentionally. May cause problems in the classroom. Too many networks and not everyone uses the same network consistently, not everyone has immediate access and may not get the message at the same time. There should be a distinct line between personal life and professional life. Boundaries need a lot of reflection, potential mistakes can be problematic. Students need to learn appropriate models of professional communication. Students can leave messages that teachers are held liable for yet they may not know until it is too late (ie suicidal). Students who do not use social media are left out. Takes time to teach students that teachers are not their equals and online conversations must reflect that. Inappropriate expectations in response time. Students over sharing/complaining while knowing that an educator can see what they are saying (educate students on digital footprints and that everyone can view what they post).

Question #8: Other comments (23 responses)
Some responses included: Social media is a very intriguing medium, there is a lot of potential benefit but risks must be weighed and evaluated. Social media should not be used with students until they graduate from high school or legally become an adult. There needs to b a “code of conduct” and appropriate guidelines of usage developed. We need to be open minded that this is a more familiar mode of communication present day for young people. Has some merit but also a lot of downfall educationally. As long as all parties are professional and dignified and follow the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it should all be good. It is extremely important for teachers to utilize the available opportunities to connect and engage students. Students need to be educated on social media, such as who they think can see what on their social media accounts and then talk about how to control your privacy online. There is a very fine line between appropriate and inappropriate, social media outside of school hours should be approved of and monitored by the parent and even then it is questionable. A good case can be made for needing adult role models on social media, teachers can help. Educators should not be afraid of new technologies and in fact it is imperative to embrace them for the sake of student learning. Social media is a huge part of life right now, it can not be ignored so why not use it to our advantage? You have to value the media students value to establish pedagogical relationships; but, you don’t need to be 120 students’ personal sounding board or tutor.

As a result of the survey, I have concluded that generally educators using social media as a professional to connect with students and other educators is okay as long as it remains professional. It has also been suggested that perhaps public communication through social media sites is better than through private email communication since then there is public documentation of the communication exchange. Edmodo and Twitter tend to be the most desired forms of student-teacher social media interactions whereas most individuals suggest that Facebook should be used for private lives and not to connect with students.

As I continued my research I found a number of useful or interesting websites on the topic:
EDUCHATTER’S BLOG: A blog post discussing Facebook in Schools, mentions a teacher’s successful campaign to bring Facebook into Catholic public schools in Regina, Saskatchewan and discusses the stance on social media from various school boards across Canada.
Facebook for Educators Facebook Educator’s Guide. A website designed to help educators develop school policy, understand Facebook’s guidelines, safety & privacy, digital citizenship, pages & groups, 21st century students, professional development, and more.
Mashable Social Media: 3 Tips for Teachers Using Social Media in the Classroom (survey your students about social media, utilize groups and communities, and establish clearly communicated boundaries)
Reuters: Missouri judge blocks teacher-student social media law – an article explaining why a Missouri judge blocked a pending state law that would prevent teachers and students from communicating privately over the internet on social media sites.
Edudemic: Why students like social media but schools don’t – includes an infographic of students use of social media and why schools are cautious
Education.US News: Student-Teacher Social Media Restrictions Get Mixed Reactions – explores various reactions to student-teacher social media restrictions, includes a student, psychiatrist, family-counseling provider, and a principal perspective.
New York Times: Rules to Stop Pupil and Teacher From Getting Too Social Online – an article that takes an in-depth look into some of the issues surrounding student-teacher social media interactions.
The Blue Skunk Blog: Networking Guidelines – provides guidelines for the use of social networking sites, educational networking sites, and all networking sites by professional staff.
Social Media Today: Bridging the Gap: Students, Teachers, and Social Media – a blog post describing the importance of teachers using social media to communicate with both students and parents.
Social Media Guidelines: a collaborative wiki project to generate Social Media Guidelines for school districts
Social Media Governance: A listing of social media policies from various brands and agencies

Canadian Resources:
The Ontario College of Teachers has its own Professional Advisory; Use of Electronic Communication and Social Media document which would act as a good rule for educators outside of Ontario as well. The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario also has an Electronic Communication and Social Media Advice to Members PDF.Although I could not find any links to social media policies for school boards in Saskatchewan, the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation does offer CyberTips for Teachers on their website which provides some helpful tips for teachers to consider when using social media.

Conclusion: As with any moral issue, there is no clear-cut answer as to whether or not educators or coaches should be communicating with students or student-athletes through social media. There are numerous positives and negatives to such use of social media but does one really understand the moral issues involved? Based on the researched I have conducted it appears that more individuals think that social media is where our students are now and teachers should be accessing these platforms as a way to engage and support these students. In contrast, school boards often seem to have an opposite opinion of educators and social media and recommend limited or no student-teacher communication through social media.
Personally I battled with the moral issues of using social media to communicate with students but at the end of the day I do think that it is very important for us to communicate with our students in a way that is easy, readily-available, and second nature for them. I found through my internship that using Edmodo was a great educational way to communicate with students while both myself and my students could keep our personal lives out of the mix. Through the use of Edmodo students were able to privately communicate their concerns about the class to me and stay updated with class assignments when they were away from school. Although I strive to always conduct myself professionally online, I also understand the great push-back for educators using social media and the great risks involved.
At the end of the day, is it morally okay for students and teachers to communicate through social media?

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