Several colleagues at work and I had a discussion today about whether it is acceptable to be friends with students on Facebook. I held the minority opinion that it was fine, but my colleagues’ fear is that being friends with students will potentially expose teachers to illegal or just plain stupid behavior on the part of students. What is the legal responsibility of a teacher who sees a photo of a student drinking on Facebook? I think it’s a murky area that hasn’t been tested well, and until a precedent-setting case is tried, I’m not sure there’s a clear answer. I do think that each teacher needs to decide paramaters for Facebook use.
I personally do not request friendship from students. If they connect with me on Facebook, I want it to be their choice. I personally feel that requesting friendship from students could put them in an awkward position: might they feel compelled to accept because you’re their teacher? What if they really don’t want to open their Facebook lives to you? On the other hand, if a student requests friendship with me, I accept. I do not reject some students and accept others. I don’t think that’s fair. Until they graduate, any student on my friends list can only see a limited profile.
One positive aspect of using Facebook is that nothing else is as quick in terms of communicating with students. I have often asked students to get together on Facebook and study or to spread a message I want to make sure they get. Because I am not friends with students who don’t request it, I can’t use it as a reliable method to contact all of my students. I created a Facebook page, and they can become fans of that page without being my friend, but again, it’s not something I feel comfortable requiring.
I think teachers need to be intelligent and remember that anything that is posted on Facebook should be something the teacher is comfortable sharing in a major newspaper or a billboard over the major city interstate highway. If it’s not, then don’t post it. Teachers can and have been fired over injudicious Facebook postings. I do not write about anything I think my students, parents, co-workers, or administrators would find objectionable, nor do I post pictures of the same.
We do have some way to go in terms of educating our students to behave as if Facebook were public. I personally don’t look at their pictures or profiles, even if they have given me that access, but they should understand that other people will.
Instructions for limiting your Facebook profile (these instructions came directly from Facebook Help files):
- Login and click the “Create” link that appears beneath the filters on the left side of your home page or your Friends page. Or, click the “Create New List” button from the “All Friends” tab of the Friends page.
- Type the title of your list and hit enter. I use the title “Students.”
- Add friends to the list by typing their names into the “Add to List” field or selecting them from the list.
- Select “Save List” to store your changes.
- Mouse over “Settings” in the upper right hand corner.
- A drop-down menu will appear. Click on “Privacy Settings.
- Click on “Profile.”
- For each area of your profile that you want to limit, click the drop-down menu.
- Select “Edit Custom Settings,” which will open a field for Except these people.” Adding a friend or Friend List name here will hide the information in question from these people when they view your profile.
- Select your “Students” list if you want to prevent them from seeing that part of your profile.
I think this Facebook group has some smart guidelines.