My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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when teachers and students connect outside school

In my last entry, I made a comment about the value of “cool” teachers interacting with students on social network sites. I received some push-back from non-educators. Most of the concerns revolved around teachers’ ethics and their responsibilities with respect to legal structures like the Federal Rights and Privacy Act. There were also concerns that teachers who would interact with students in these environments would be putting themselves at risk.

There is undoubtedly a lot of fear about teacher-student interactions, both in the US and elsewhere. All too often, there is an assumption that when teachers interact with students out of the classroom, they have bad intentions. This breaks my heart because, for all of the fear, most of the teachers that I’ve met in my line of work have really meant well by their students and their engagement with their students has helped their students tremendously. I’ve heard so many stories of teachers intervening and helping kids who really need it. Stupid things like giving them lunch money or being there to listen to their woes or helping a first generation kid learn about college.

The fear about teacher-student interactions also worries me at a broader societal level. A caring teacher (a genuinely well-intended, thoughtful, concerned adult) can often turn a lost teen into a teen with a mission. Many of us are lucky to have parents who helped us at every turn, but this is by no means universal. There are countless youth out there whose parents are absent, distrustful, or otherwise sources of frustration rather than support and encouragement. Teens need to have adults on their side. When I interview teens who have tough family lives (and I’m not talking about abuse here) but are doing OK themselves, I often find that it’s a teacher or pastor that they turn to for advice. All too often, the truly troubled kids that I meet have no adults that they can turn to for support.

Do teachers have to comply with federal privacy laws? Absolutely. Do they need to maintain a high level of ethics when engaging with students at all times? Most definitely. But I worry when folks translate this to suggest that teachers should never interact with a teen outside of the prescribed setting of a classroom. As a society, we desperately need non-custodial adults who teens can turn to for advice. Adults who can help guide youth without playing their parents.

Most of what teachers hear from students outside of the classroom might be answerable by students’ parents if only youth felt comfortable asking them. Teachers get asked about learning in general (e.g., “Why should I care about Shakespeare anyhow?”). They get asked health and sex-ed questions (e.g., “When will I get my period?”). They get asked for relationship advice (e.g., “How do I ask Alex to go to prom with me?”). They get asked about the future (e.g., “How do I get into college?”). Teachers get asked about the serious and the mundane, the personal and the abstract. But most of it has nothing to do with harm or abuse. Youth turn to teachers because they trust them, because they need advice from an adult and because they think that a trusted teacher might be honest with them. While some teens have other adults they can turn to, this isn’t the case for all teens. And for those teens in particular, it’s absolutely crucial that teachers are able to be there.

Students used to approach teachers before/after school, during lunch, or between classes. I’ve found that in many schools, this is no longer viable. These days, strict rules about being on campus before/after school and limitations to student mobility during school often make such face-to-face encounters untenable during the school day. As teachers started encouraging students to email homework assignments, students started approaching teachers online. Not surprisingly, social network sites (and IM) have come in as a new wave of this.

Teachers do not have to be a student’s friend to be helpful, but being a Friend (on social network sites) is not automatically problematic or equivalent to trying to be a kids’ friend. When it comes to social network sites, teachers should not invade a student’s space. But if a student invites a teacher to be present, they should enter in as a teacher, as a mentor, as a guide. This isn’t a place to chat up students, but if a student asks a question of a teacher, it’s a great place to answer the student. The key to student-teacher interactions in networked publics is for the teacher to understand the Web2.0 environment and to enter into student space as the mentor (and only when invited to do so). (Translation: teachers should NEVER ask a student to be their Friend on Facebook/MySpace but should accept Friend requests and proceed to interact in the same way as would be appropriate if the student approached the teacher after school.) Of course, if a teacher wants to keep their social network site profile separate from their students, they should feel free to deny student requests. But if they feel as though they can help students in that space, they should be welcome to do so.

We used to live in a world where space dictated context. This is no longer the case. Digital technologies collapse social contexts all the time. The key to figuring out boundaries in a digital era is not to try to revert to space. The key is to focus on people, roles, relationships, and expectations. A teacher’s role in relation to a student should not end at the classroom door. When a teacher runs into a student at a local cafe, they are still that student’s teacher. When a teacher runs into a student online, they are still that student’s teacher. Because of the meaning of a teacher-student relationship, that should never be relaxed; the role of teacher should always be salient (except when the teacher also happens to be the parent which is when things get very murky very fast).

If a teacher is capable of interacting with students as a teacher in environments other than the classroom, they should be empowered to do so (and given the tools to do so well). On the ground, many teachers are motivated to help students beyond the classroom and many students need that help. To prevent them from doing so, to say that they shouldn’t respond when a student asks for their help simply because of the technology, is to do damage to students and society more broadly. Teachers certainly don’t enter the profession for the money; they typically enter it for the service and the potential to help. I am worried about mandates that prevent teachers from doing what they can to help youth.

So here’s a question to the teachers out there: What do you think is the best advice for other teachers when it comes to interacting with students on social network sites? When should teachers interact with students outside of the classroom? What are appropriate protocols for doing so? How can teachers best protect themselves legally when interacting with students? How would you feel if you were told never to interact with a student outside of the classroom?

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23 comments to when teachers and students connect outside school

  • Teacherwoman

    “A caring teacher (a genuinely well-intended, thoughtful, concerned adult) can often turn a lost teen into a teen with a mission.”

    This was definitely the case for me. As a formerly at risk youth, feeling I could go to a teacher and trust them with the personal issues that were impacting my life and “success” at school was the difference between finishing high school – and a whole lot more. And these were very specific teachers whose world view and attitudes gave me a context that they would be receptive to me and my challenges. Did I feel this way towards those who were tasked to do that work (i.e., guidance counselors, etc)? Nope. I knew not one of those people had ever gotten into trouble or done or thought a weird thought in their life and those were people I just didn’t trust.

    Most of those people didn’t look like the people from my world. They weren’t the arty, weird, kind, funny people who I felt comfortable around. They were the kinds of people who represented worlds and ideas I neither respected nor sought to achieve. It was the outspoken, roll-his-own-cigarette, music-in-class playing hippie that I felt good talking to. I knew this teacher wouldn’t judge me. In fact, I knew this teacher understood where I was coming from. And as freaked out as this teacher was, they had the ethics and maturity to tell me what I needed to hear – not what I wanted to hear.

    It’s not about being the “cool friend” it’s about being a cool person. Somebody with whom a youth can feel some sort of connection or trust – like any human feeling of connection.

    Teens go to people *they* connect with – not necessarily the people tasked with “helping” them. I think your post gets at that reality – and you can talk to any really truly great teacher and they’ll tell you that their job goes way beyond their “subject” expertise.

    The big question is: are we as teachers qualified to deal with certain kinds of issues? What’s the line that we don’t cross in relation to advice or knowledge of personal contexts that are beyond our scope?

    Back in the day – before the net – I went to a teacher to talk privately out of range of any body else. Teachers are obligated to make note of these exchanges so I’m sure there was some sort of record. But that’s very different than a word for word chat transcript. Would I or my teachers have shared ANY of what we shared had we known our words would be recorded in the way they are now? NO way! I’m pretty sure my favourite teacher – who peppered his private conversations with swearing – wouldn’t have done so. And neither would I have shared.

    As for a practical response to your question: I think schools have to have very clear policies about appropriateness and ethics in online communications. Here in Ontario it’s pretty simple: NO email or electronic communications under any circumstances. If a student has something to say to you they say it to you at school. Otherwise their parent relays that information. Teachers are not allowed to have any outside of school contact – that’s the law.

    If we are to use social media in our classrooms it should take place during class time and with everyone using their real names. That is the context in which we engage as learners and teachers. Any other use is personal and you can do what you like – but teachers and students need boundaries. Teaching, like learning, is a profoundly vulnerable experience. I don’t want my students having access to my personal life and vice versa.

    I also wonder what happens to objectivity when student A becomes aware that student B shares the same taste in music as the teacher and the teacher and student seem to “connect” openly on that point. Student A suddenly feels like the uncool outsider – the one who will likely not inspire the same interest or engagement as the student B. This creates a context of inequity where the first student is concerned. Namely that they feel they may not be treated as objectively – whether or not this is true it is likely going to be a felt experience. And we need to talk about the felt experience of power.

    Social “connectedness” via social, cultural or other forms of capital or status signifiers between particular students and particular teachers may pose problems for all when some – rightly or wrongly – perceive a stronger connection between those teachers/students with shared contexts than may exist with the rest of the group. I certainly experienced this as a mature student when I observed one of my profs had a strong personal connection to one of the other students. It made me distrust that professor even more.

  • When I was a classroom teacher I logged every IM conversation and saved every email to/from students until at least two years after they graduated. No problems ever came up but I wanted to be prepared if they did. I found these tools (Facebook was not open to HS students then) to be very useful for helping my students learn. I felt like it made me a better teacher and promoted their learning.
    Facebook opened since I left the classroom but I have followed the policy you suggest of accepting friend requests but not making them even with former students. I think student initiated contact is less worrisome in most cases than teacher initiated ones. For all concerned.

  • Teacherwoman

    What I meant to add: It’s OK for us to show and share who we are. But it’s important to recognise when certain kinds of sharing can reinforce inequity in learning environments (i.e., favouritism). What was different about my connection to my teacher wasn’t “staged” in digital context. It was very private and personal. I think it’s totally OK for teachers and students to make choices about finding those points of connection between them as human beings – in order to serve a higher purpose of understanding and support – but these contexts of connection must be distanced from “friendship” or preferential treatment.

  • Thanks danah for writing this post. I think this is a really important and complex problem. I wonder how does it change your ideas when talking about youth serving non-profits and their employees. This is especially tricky in a context where more and more these organizations are creating social networking presences for outreach purposes.

    I wondering if there are more subtle best practices, like no private messaging but wall post are ok? Also I wonder if there is a way to pressure social network sites to create multiple, more varied “friend” categories. For example there could be “friends”, “aquatences”, and “colleges” or “friend 1” “2” and “3.” It would be really excellent if these were individually customizable. So that as a youth worker I could have a category to use for “friending” the youth I work with which I could set the scope of their access and the kind’s of communications possible.

  • I don’t think it is so much whether the teacher has bad intentions or not; as you point out most teachers are decent individuals. The real issue and risk for a teacher is the litigious society we live in where anything can be taken out of context, misinterpreted, misshapen, or manipulated into a lawsuit that can ruin a teacher’s reputation in a flash. When I went through teacher training, the notion of “don’t touch a student, don’t be their friend, so on” was pretty much the mantra. This was before social networks took off (and I have moved on to higher education), but the message was very clear: no kid is worth losing your career over. If they bleed, let them bleed (yes, they actually told us that in one of our classes). And yes, documenting every thing was (and still is) the norm in case you had to cover yourself later. It was (and still is) a sad state of affairs.

    So I moved on to higher education, taught a while, then became an academic librarian. I am active in social networks, and I even do reference services through my FB. Since I do outreach, social networking is one of my big tools, and I do friend some of our students, but I always keep things professional. However, the specter of politics of destruction you had in public schools is not that bad here. My advice to the new teacher headed to a public school classroom? Document everything. Do not deal with anything other than school work, and even then be careful. And for the love of your deity of choice, keep your personal life separate from the school life. Lock down as much as you can in terms of privacy if you use something like FB or MySpace to keep in touch with students.

    I know, it sounds sad, but until parents learn to take some personal responsibility for their kids and society as a whole loses some of the litigiousness, it’s every person for themselves.

    Best, and keep on blogging.

  • Just realized I misspelled the link above for the name. Fixed now.

  • Full disclosure: I am in Germany, which is fairly unlitigious and in Higher Ed, not in High School.

    Multi-channel teaching (http://www.philippmueller.de/multi-channel-teaching/) has distinct advantages. Whenever, I go to the class room the conversation starts on a much higher level in classes, where I know my students follow my twitter, blog, etc. I find that mixing in my personal facebook and picasa site increases the authenticity of my arguments and allows me to get through to people that I would not be able to connect with otherwise. It is much more fun for me… But one needs to learn to live with more feedback! 🙂

  • Andromeda

    Back when I was teaching, I told my students (who were very intrigued by the fact that I was on Facebook) that they could friend me when they graduated; a few did (not necessarily the ones I would have guessed). But I also got a FB account during my last year as a teacher, so *I* was gone too by then, so I haven’t faced the same set of issues.

    FB was starting to get popular among the teachers at my workplace that year, and has gotten more penetration since. Teachers seemed to handle it in a wide variety of ways. One uncomfortable thing for me, as a digital near-native, was the generation gap among the faculty in how FB/SNSes/tech in general were viewed; among the older faculty (i.e. the ones most likely to be in administrative, policy-making positions), FB was seen as very much the students’ space, that faculty might go into but only in paranoid and decorous ways, and for the purpose of maintaining a presence for students; for those of us under, say, 35, FB was a space where we were already because our friends were there, and coincidentally students happened to be there also, and that was strange.

    My school hadn’t yet groped its way toward a policy, but I do think it’s very important for schools to have policies on this as guidance. The policies need to recognize that teachers may be online for their own, personal, out-of-work reasons, and have leeway for that…which means they need to be written by people tech-savvy enough to understand nuanced privacy settings…which is, alas, unlikely. Similarly, schools should provide tech support to teachers on how to use these settings. And the best policy is likely to vary from place to place; it should reflect some kind of local cultural consensus.

    For me, I am very careful with privacy settings; I only accepted friend requests from students I knew reasonably well, and they all go into a limited filter (notably they can’t see my status lines, which lets me speak more freely). No photos or video, and no IM — partly because that would allow them to find some of my other online presence, and partly because one of my colleagues got totally buried by student needs when she let them IM her. I go back and forth on whether they should see my wall…on the one hand, if they don’t, I’m cutting off a huge way they might communicate with me…on the other hand, I can’t control what my friends put on my wall, and that lack of control makes me uncomfortable in this instance. I think it’s perfectly fine that I have a life wherein I do thing that wouldn’t have been appropriate at work ;), but that doesn’t mean it’s appropriate for my students to see evidence of it. (So that, I guess, is my central piece of privacy advice — if you wouldn’t discuss it with the students at work, make sure your privacy settings don’t let them see it.)

    (Speaking of which, Eli, yes, FB already lets you do that.)

    Legal issues, I have no idea. That’s another sphere where the schools really ought to provide some guidance. Teachers can’t be expected to be experts on the legal issues, but schools can readily consult some kind of counsel.

    If I were told never to interact with a student outside of the classroom, I’d simply ignore it. It’s not tenable. (I can imagine teachers being told that — cf above about the generational gap in how online spaces are viewed. I can’t imagine that having happened at my school — it was a boarding school — so a whole fascinating set of intersecting public and private space issues already.)

    (Note — I’ve said nothing about MySpace here because I’m not really on MySpace, and it was definitely not the thing among the faculty at my school. Per your essay on hegemonic vs subaltern, faculty were almost universally on FB if they were on anything (MySpace just for the occasional music fan); students were probably more evenly split ~3 years ago but FB really started to take off among them — boarding school, New England, very college-prep, etc. etc. There were people on MySpace — a lot, actually — but they didn’t talk about it in school and they were a lot more likely to be kids in some sort of trouble and I think it was largely off of faculty radar.)

  • Diane Main

    What do you think is the best advice for other teachers when it comes to interacting with students on social network sites?

    My rule, whether I am interacting with my students or not, is to pretty much conduct myself as if my supervisors are standing right there. If I am always the same “me” no matter “where” I am (online or in real life), then I don’t have to remember how to act in certain situations. I have a lot of current and former students as Friends on Facebook and MySpace (though I almost never use MySpace anymore), and I am the same person they see and interact with in school. Does this mean I am a prim and proper, uptight perfectionist? No way. Like I said, I am the same “me” everywhere. So I’m a little crazy and goofy at work (I teach grades one through eight), and I am that way in my online persona as well. The online “me” is the same persona as the real “me.”

    So if I would not say or do something around students in front of my bosses at school, you can bet I wouldn’t do that online. Because, as I said, there is only one “me.” I think teachers and other trusted professionals run into problems when they try to conduct different lives in front of students than they do when they think no one is looking. Who you are is the person you are when no one is looking. If you strive to make that person one that you like and can live with, then you can be that same person everywhere and with everyone. By that same token, if students use language that makes me uncomfortable when they are online, I will let them know I don’t like it and/or remove them from my friends list.

  • Another teacher and I had a long conversation about this after we found out about a NY private school that proudly prohibits its staff from interacting with students in any non-school-hosted online forum. This is a firing offense.

    I believe online spaces are frequently analogous to “real-life” spaces. A school should no more prohibit online interaction than they prohibit interaction off school property. I live in the same town as my school; I frequently see students at the library, local restaurants, the grocery store, and even when I am out running. I can’t imagine living in fear of firing for saying hello in a public space. I’ve accepted invitations to eat at the homes of my students and occasionally been hosted by a family at a restaurant. It’s nice. It doesn’t make us friends, it makes us friendly. Myspace, Facebook, and the like are no different. This is even more true since there is a digital trail online – I can PROVE that nothing untoward happened, and similarly I respect the importance of behaving above reproach, since there’s less context and more ability to be quoted.

    The only exception I see has to do with one’s responsibility if one sees inappropriate material. As a middle school teacher, the most risque information I’ve seen from a current student has to do with heartbreak over a boy. (And I find it useful to keep track of what’s going on with them since it DOES affect their school life!) I know that high schoolers post about drugs, drinking, and other things I wouldn’t want to know about as their teacher. I might feel differently about being an online friend if I felt I might be held responsible for doing something with that information.

  • I think this issue gets even thornier when you apply it in a boarding school setting. I graduated from a Massachusetts boarding school 25 years ago, when computers were just beginning to come online (pardon the bad pun). I was recently invited back to address the entire school (faculty and admin included) about the intersection of online and offline behavior and some of the things to think about as all of us live more and more of our lives online. The reason for my visit was the school had recently decided to permit the kids to go on facebook, etc. from the school’s network, something the administration had made a futile attempt at preventing. They felt that a few tips coming from an alumnus who works in the field of social media might resonate more than a finger wagging session from the Headmaster. (I hope they were right…)

    Privately, the issue of friending came up among the faculty and my school, like most boarding schools that I am aware of, has a strict “no friending” policy with both students AND their parents. I think the added wrinkle of living side by side with your teachers presents a different layer of complexity to the issue.

    Most schools seem to permit e-mail conversations among students and faculty, but that’s as far as it goes. Despite what all of us blog readers and commenters might think, there is still a TREMENDOUS chasm in terms of what a lot of parents, and quite frankly a lot of kids, know about best practices with all of these media. Fear of the unknown, not surprisingly, plays an overemphasized role in policy making and it is our job as digitally savvy adults (natives or immigrants) to educate ourselves first, so that we can be a part of the conversation and help guide our kids.

    Teenaged kids are just beginning to find their way, learn who they are as people and need the room to grow and express themselves. My personal opinion, not borne out of any research or empirical findings, is that most kids will reach a point where they may tire, however briefly, of living out their lives online and need time for introspection and growth. When I was in college, this was called “a semester abroad.” (LOL) Constant scrutiny, whether self inflicted or not, retards personal growth. I realize I am getting off the original topic here, but my sense is with time, some of these problems will resolve themselves.

  • I think this issue gets even thornier when you apply it in a boarding school setting. I graduated from a Massachusetts boarding school 25 years ago, when computers were just beginning to come online (pardon the bad pun). I was recently invited back to address the entire school (faculty and admin included) about the intersection of online and offline behavior and some of the things to think about as all of us live more and more of our lives online. The reason for my visit was the school had recently decided to permit the kids to go on facebook, etc. from the school’s network, something the administration had made a futile attempt at preventing. They felt that a few tips coming from an alumnus who works in the field of social media might resonate more than a finger wagging session from the Headmaster. (I hope they were right…)

    Privately, the issue of friending came up among the faculty and my school, like most boarding schools that I am aware of, has a strict “no friending” policy with both students AND their parents. I think the added wrinkle of living side by side with your teachers presents a different layer of complexity to the issue.

    Most schools seem to permit e-mail conversations among students and faculty, but that’s as far as it goes. Despite what all of us blog readers and commenters might think, there is still a TREMENDOUS chasm in terms of what a lot of parents, and quite frankly a lot of kids, know about best practices with all of these media. Fear of the unknown, not surprisingly, plays an overemphasized role in policy making and it is our job as digitally savvy adults (natives or immigrants) to educate ourselves first, so that we can be a part of the conversation and help guide our kids.

    Teenaged kids are just beginning to find their way, learn who they are as people and need the room to grow and express themselves. My personal opinion, not borne out of any research or empirical findings, is that most kids will reach a point where they may tire, however briefly, of living out their lives online and need time for introspection and growth. When I was in college, this was called “a semester abroad.” (LOL) Constant scrutiny, whether self inflicted or not, retards personal growth. I realize I am getting off the original topic here, but my sense is with time, some of these problems will resolve themselves.

  • rob

    I used to add students all the time to MySpace and FB. I am considered older, but I live part of my life in the digital domain. I just love computers! I as well as millions of others like to have the avenues of communication open with, um, well, EVERYBODY! That’s kinda the point…right?!? I very rarely actually use these avenues of communication with students, except when it might matter. A student was distraught and came to me for advice one time. I was glad to help.

    Then one day, my wife who is much younger than me and *supposed* to be more technologically entrenched than me, was having a conversation with older teachers and they all spoke of adding students to FB being like inviting them to a party with drugs and alcohol. I even casually mentioned that I add students, and I got bombed with “concern.” I went home and deleted all my students and have denied them since. I think its disgusting that I would need to shut myself off like this… and the students who trust me and no one else in their lives think its disgusting that I have to shut myself off like this. But as long as there are adults who make superficial judgments about situations they don’t comprehend, then I guess there is a reason to “play it safe” as I am doing. And hopefully some teenager who only knows communication through web media does not “need” my help any time in the future. I have had to virtually turn my back on them.

  • Hi, you ask

    What do you think is the best advice for other teachers when it comes to interacting with students on social network sites?

    This is a challenging question and I think a reasonable answer is with ‘high standards’

    Schools in Ireland, where I teach at secondary level (high-school), have some way to go in terms of online communicative activity between students and teachers.

    That said, the school I teach in, has have rolled out out a collaborative online learning environment (Moodle) and interaction on that is governed by our school’s Acceptable Usage Policy. This is a sensible policy and not restrictive as such.

    By and large all posts are visible to your class so there is an amount of ‘self-moderation’.

    In terms of email, students are not hugely into emailing teacher, except when they want something 🙂 – and thats fine by me – I always ask them to address me by name and they expect the same from me – we keep the level of language use reasonably formal and very occasionally address issues in class raised by an email (with student’s permission).

    In terms of social networking sites this is the student’s territory – they don’t seem to want teachers in their space (BEBO is the favourite here) – I ‘threaten occasionally to ‘invade’ their space and they are aghast at that!

    (by the way we put huge emphasis here, on keeping privacy settings as ‘private’).

    I have been invited a number of times as a ‘friend’ to follow a student – I generally decline (why? I now ask myself)- as students have other ways of contacting me online – a few do follow me on twitter and I follow one or two also –

    The important point of this debate, is that teachers are interested, as they are engaged with their students – perhaps the word ‘friend’ is not the correct one in this context but certainly the act of friendship is what is required.

    In general I find that students like that you as a teacher, are digitally aware and I find that they approach me personally (not online) when THEY have a problem on their social-networking sites – it seems there are few enough adults to help / advise when they have issue online – they are relieved that someone is there….

  • Steve

    Let me begin with a story.

    Some years back I occasionally listebed to a popular talk radio show hosted by Dr. Dean Edell. On one memorable occasion he had gotten on the subject of “good samaritan” incidents – where a doctor would stop by the side of the road and give assistance to an accident victim – and perhaps get sued for their trouble. Dr. Dean was emphasizing the pitfalls of being a good samaritan, and basically saying that doctors should no longer be expected to do this. Near the end of the show he received a call from a retired physician who appeared to be a regular caller – identified only as “Doc”. And Doc said something like “I can’t remember how many times I’ve stopped by the road to assist an accident victim…”. And Dr, Dean said something like, “It’s sad, but that world is gone”.

    Needless to say I was and remain both saddened and outraged.

    Fast forward to the issue at hand. Does anybody but me see it as the same issue?

    The commenter who told of being trained to “let them bleed” was at least taught by those who had the perverse virtue of being honest in their outlook. But the plethora of rules, restrictions and formalities around teacher/student contact on a human to human basis is a less forthright way of saying the very same thing. Let them bleed!

    May I suggest that rather than being a trend to which one must adapt this deserves to be seen as a pressing and urgent problem to be solved, a dysfunction to be corrected?

    When I was a high school student in a small midwestern town during the early sixties there was a young, hip, socialist band director (Mr. Dolan) who would meet 3 or 4 of us kids after school at the local burger joint for snacks and conversation. None of us were “at risk” (well, looking back, maybe I was – but neither I nor those around me recognized it). It was informal intellectually challenging conversation and nobody thought anything bad about it.

    Am I to be told, like Doc, that such a world is gone forever? In the words of Joe Hill – “Don’t Mourn – organize!”

    Just a thought,
    -Steve

  • John Heffernan

    I wonder if Socrates was walking in the Agora, would he stop and talk to his pupils outside of teaching time?

    Teenager’s Agora is now predominantly online.

    If Socrates was alive today, where would he sit and would he still be charged as “corruptor of youth”?

  • Vicky

    I teach at a community college. I am connected to former students, many of whom are working professionals and were when they took a class from me, at LinkedIn. My FB page is for family and friends, and I wouldn’t feel particularly comfortable about connecting with students there. I teach online and I have email addresses for each class I teach, so I sometimes maintain email contact with students long after a class (the address persists and I tend to teach the same classes for a while), but that mail is in a different place than my personal mail.

  • Therese B.

    I prefer email to communicate with students. Students email often with concerns and they know it’s private. As a general rule, I don’t “friend” current students on social networking sites, but I am “friends” with many former students and it is really nice to keep in touch. My husband and i are both teachers and have the “pleasure” of teaching our own kids. “murky” is a great way to describe it.

  • My attitude is similar to Philip and Donal. I would like to stress that extended student contact with teachers correlates highly with achievement. (That’s one secret weapon of the XO project.) When I was in first through sixth forms, contact with masters was horribly extended through the dinner hour and into the evening for those assigned the dreaded study hall. They HAD to maintain their persona as professionals until they closed the front door at home.

    I’m teaching at what is described as an inner city school. I open my classroom/lab at 6:45 AM and it fills up with students till they leave. On Tuesday, the Go club and iClub stay till 4:45. My professional persona is modeled on the ones I learned from those worthy progenitors, not that I am particularly bright, but that it extends throughout a carefully limited persona that can be contacted through IM clients, blog, Moodle, FaceBook, and the occasional email for those who enjoy antique modalities. Google email and collaboration tools are mandatory in class. Not because we can’t do it with another application but because we need to act as evangelists with technology at our institution.

    I understand that my students have multiple personas and they understand that I do too. Online we meet in the middle, the same way we do at school. We don’t go to inappropriate places online or otherwise.

    Maybe one of the problems is that some schools can’t judge what is safe and what isn’t. [ Anecdote: A district (we are one of the huge ones) committee met to “help” me design a student portal some years ago. The library representative needed reassurance the educational games for k-6 kids wouldn’t have gateways to porn sites. She had “seen it happen.” ARGH ] Thank goodness portals are dead.

    FaceBook is seen as a private space by some schools/districts. Personally, I think it’s nowhere even close to private. Of course some people treat it as if it were, but that’s dangerous. Students can friend me there but I am essentially passive on FaceBook.

    My advantage is that my curriculum allows me to help students shape their social behaviour on the Internet, helping them become aware that it consists of a vast number of social groups and that they can control the experience.

  • eggy

    In Response to Wicked Teacher of the West:

    I do not believe that �online spaces are frequently analogous to �real life� space.� Virtual communication and interaction through public, online networking sites spatially, aurally, and visually cannot be compared to the �in-town� interaction you write about. When you log into facebook, you do not see a student who is studying, eating, shopping, or walking; you see a student who may have studied, eaten, shopped, or walked in a two dimensional space, where people may tag and untag photos based on the way they seek to represent themselves. Just because you can prove that �nothing untoward happened,� this doesn�t mean that the two differing ways of interaction rest in analogous spaces.

    I agree that teacher/student relationships in a non-professional/academic sphere is nice. I, too, have many teachers who I am still in contact with today via email or facebook. However, I argue that it�s important to make the distinction between two fundamentally different modes of communication for the purpose of procedure on what is appropriate in real-life spaces versus virtual spaces.

    Re: Exception�one�s responsibility upon viewing inappropriate material

    In many high schools in the United States today, when a teacher sees a student wearing a t-shirt with verbal obscenities, a general rule of thumb is to ask the student to change into more appropriate attire.

    On facebook or myspace, how could you regulate this? When high school students post pictures or comments about drug or alcohol usage, and you, as the teacher and an online friend, see this, you have visually become a part of that information just as the teacher seeing a tshirt with verbal obscenities has. Therefore, you, as the figure of authority, are held responsible. If every student and every teacher is not modifying his/her privacy settings to be conducive to an academic environment, I believe the lines are too easily blurred between a friend/teacher relationship making it very difficult to discern when to be held accountable.

    I, personally, am only facebook friends with teachers whose courses I have already completed. Similarly, with these teachers, I will eat lunch or grab a cup of coffee only when I am not an official student of theirs. I, as a student and a teacher, choose to do this voluntarily because I do not want my learning to be influenced by a personal relationship other than that of respect, and admiration for the professor. This is not to say that teachers do not learn from students. But, viewing myself as a scholar, as I think the professor does as well, he/she, likewise, respects and admires me as someone willing to learn, critically think, and bring new perspectives to an academic body. I understand that not everyone takes this approach to learning, but it cannot be disputed that the role of the teacher and the student is made very clear in my situation, thus, leaving no question as to the meaning of �friends� as opposed to �friendly�.

    If I see a current professor on campus or in an alternate public arena, however, neither of us are afraid to say hello or make small talk (unless I am doing poorly in the class, of course). We are friendly. I think it�s a slippery slope to assume that one limitation on interaction would lead to absolute paranoia of dismissal.

    Yet, I do believe my relationships with my former teachers have been strengthened through the usage of facebook. Educator-student relationships, by any means, should be strengthened fervently. Yet, I found it necessary to make the distinction between these two spaces in order to exhibit some clarity on the new teacher-student relationship in light of a new communication medium.

  • eggy

    In Response to Wicked Teacher of the West:

    I do not believe that �online spaces are frequently analogous to �real life� space.� Virtual communication and interaction through public, online networking sites spatially, aurally, and visually cannot be compared to the �in-town� interaction you write about. When you log into facebook, you do not see a student who is studying, eating, shopping, or walking; you see a student who may have studied, eaten, shopped, or walked in a two dimensional space, where people may tag and untag photos based on the way they seek to represent themselves. Just because you can prove that �nothing untoward happened,� this doesn�t mean that the two differing ways of interaction rest in analogous spaces.

    I agree that teacher/student relationships in a non-professional/academic sphere is nice. I, too, have many teachers who I am still in contact with today via email or facebook. However, I argue that it�s important to make the distinction between two fundamentally different modes of communication for the purpose of procedure on what is appropriate in real-life spaces versus virtual spaces.

    Re: Exception�one�s responsibility upon viewing inappropriate material

    In many high schools in the United States today, when a teacher sees a student wearing a t-shirt with verbal obscenities, a general rule of thumb is to ask the student to change into more appropriate attire.

    On facebook or myspace, how could you regulate this? When high school students post pictures or comments about drug or alcohol usage, and you, as the teacher and an online friend, see this, you have visually become a part of that information just as the teacher seeing a tshirt with verbal obscenities has. Therefore, you, as the figure of authority, are held responsible. If every student and every teacher is not modifying his/her privacy settings to be conducive to an academic environment, I believe the lines are too easily blurred between a friend/teacher relationship making it very difficult to discern when to be held accountable.

    I, personally, am only facebook friends with teachers whose courses I have already completed. Similarly, with these teachers, I will eat lunch or grab a cup of coffee only when I am not an official student of theirs. I, as a student and a teacher, choose to do this voluntarily because I do not want my learning to be influenced by a personal relationship other than that of respect, and admiration for the professor. This is not to say that teachers do not learn from students. But, viewing myself as a scholar, as I think the professor does as well, he/she, likewise, respects and admires me as someone willing to learn, critically think, and bring new perspectives to an academic body. I understand that not everyone takes this approach to learning, but it cannot be disputed that the role of the teacher and the student is made very clear in my situation, thus, leaving no question as to the meaning of �friends� as opposed to �friendly�.

    If I see a current professor on campus or in an alternate public arena, however, neither of us are afraid to say hello or make small talk (unless I am doing poorly in the class, of course). We are friendly. I think it�s a slippery slope to assume that one limitation on interaction would lead to absolute paranoia of dismissal.

    Yet, I do believe my relationships with my former teachers have been strengthened through the usage of facebook. Educator-student relationships, by any means, should be strengthened fervently. Yet, I found it necessary to make the distinction between these two spaces in order to exhibit some clarity on the new teacher-student relationship in light of a new communication medium.

  • sunday holt

    this seves now perpise

  • Hello from Germany.

    In Germany teachers haer about the Internet or Social Network Sites, but they dont use it.
    It’s sad.