Should Teachers And Students Be Allowed To Communicate Via Social Media?

steve olenski
Steve Olenski Sr Creative Content Strategist , Responsys

Posted on September 9th 2011

A state law in Missouri, which would have prevented teachers and students from communicating privately over the Internet on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter was temporarily blocked, but if the injunction is lifted, it could have national implications.

The law, also known as Senate Bill 54 or the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act, aims to fight inappropriate contact between students and teachers, including protecting children from sexual misconduct by their educators and is named after a Missouri public school student who was repeatedly molested by a teacher several decades ago.

The use of social media as a teaching tool is growing in popularity around the country as teachers continue to seek out new ways to communicate and educate their students. It seems however that at least one person, Missouri state Senator Jane Cunningham, a St. Louis Republican and key sponsor of the aforementioned law is not all that enamored with social media use between students and teachers. Although for her part, she's more concerned about the secret discussions that can go on online between teachers and underage students... "It (the law) doesn't stop any avenue of communication whatsoever, it only prohibits hidden communication between educators and minors who have not graduated,"

For their part, the Missouri State Teachers Association (MSTA) who contended the new law would violate free speech and other rights, disagreed with the senator. saying in their lawsuit among other things... "The act is so vague and over-broad that (teachers) cannot know with confidence what conduct is permitted and what is prohibited and thereby 'chills' the exercise of first amendment rights of speech, association, religion, collective bargaining and other constitutional rights." the star group

The judge who issued the injunction - Cole County Circuit Court Judge Jon Beetem, seemed to agree... ""The court finds that the statute would have a chilling effect on speech."

There also appears to be a bit of he said/she said going on as senator Cunningham said the teachers' association supported the law and helped draft some of the language. However a spokesman for the MSTA disagreed, contended the MSTA did not review the final language regarding social media and that the use of social media was just one part of a much larger bill designed to discourage private relationships between teachers and students that have sometimes led to sexual abuse.

The injunction is set to expire on February 20, 2012 and from now until then all parties involved will work to come to a happy medium.

I wanted to dig a little deeper... I told you I'm naturally curious and love to "go behind the numbers" if you will and so I reached out to the MSTA and spoke with Aurora Meyer, Online Community Coordinator from the MSTA to get her thoughts on the judge’s ruling.

SO: Why is this issue of such importance to the MSTA?
AM: Our biggest concern was that the bill was so unclear as to define what a teacher could and could not do, that teachers started to ask questions that no one had answers to. When districts are telling their teachers to delete their Facebook pages and warning coaches to stop texting players to tell them a bus will be late, we knew wecouldn't wait for a special session of the legislature.  Additionally, this particular issue took a national tone, and we started to hear from teachers not just in Missouri but from throughout the United States.

SO: What message do you think this injunction sends to teachers, students and anyone else who uses social media?
AM: To quote from the injunction: "Social networking is extensively used by educators. It is often the primary, if not sole manner, of communications.”

To quote from our press release: "This gives everyone time to debate and discuss the issue to come to a proper resolution rather than rushing to piece together language that doesn't resolve the concerns of educators or allow time for teacher input." - Gail McCray, MSTA's legal counsel

SO: Do you think student/teacher interaction via social media should be monitored under any circumstances?
AM: Most school districts already have policies in place to deal with social networking sites and how teachers and students are using social media. Many teachers also have personal policies. We want to allow the districts to determine their own needs.

Ok, your thoughts...

What do you think of the use of social media in the classroom?

Is it ok to use it as a tool?

Should teachers be allowed to communicate with their students via social media as long as it's for educational purposes?

Source: Reuters, Google Images, Should Teachers And Students Be Allowed To Communicate Via Social Media?, The Star Group

steve olenski

Steve Olenski

Sr Creative Content Strategist , Responsys

Named one of the Top 100 Influencers In Social Media (#41) by Social Technology Review and a Top 50 Social Media Blogger by Kred, Steve Olenski is a senior creative content strategist at Responsys, a leading marketing cloud software and services company, and a member of the Editorial Board for the Journal of Digital & Social Media Marketing. He can be reached via TwitterLinkedIn or Email

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Comments

My intial response would first be no, not without a more overt marketing effort to highlight the seperation of the concept of "Friending". This gives the wrong conotation to school administrators, parents and students. If there were a more overt using of a phrase like "Student Of" or "Teacher Of" a la "Friend" couple with the restrictions of not seeing the "Friend" wall but rather the "Teacher" wall I believe this could work very well. It's a matter of establishing, dare I say it, building more "types" of walls to discern a relationship between friends and those of children. This way school administrators could openly and actively monitor those "Teacher" type walls and feel comfortable promoting those Teacher walls as they relate to the school and/or courses.

 

I think I sense a killer facebook app coming along! ha!

 

Jose

Steve,

 

I don't feel as though the setting of the communication is relevant.  It has more to do with the content of the conversation.  Is a private Facebook message any more of a risk than a private email?  Should a teacher be meeting with a student in an environment with a closed door?

 

My point is not to show distrust for teachers.  At times, they need to close the door and have private conversations with students that should not be shared with anyone, including other faculty members and the parents of the student. 

 

The onnus is on the teach to keep the conversation and actions professional at all times.  Once this is broken, it really doesn't matter where the communication takes place.

 

There should be strict rules about what the teacher can state publicly concerning students and the inner workings of the school, but that is another topic.

 

I think Jose is on to something with the Teacher Wall concept.  In fact, I do think that teachers should not be friending students rather they should have a fan page that allows students and parents to like them.  Now the teacher can have a stream of conversation with all interested parties.  There is no reason why they couldn't use fan page for things like letting athletes know the bus will be late or giving out the homework assignments.  They could answer questons and give home work help.

Overall, I think that this move would be a punitive one that punishes guilty and the not guilty.  Instead of trying to shut down all teachers from talking to their students in ways that students can understand why not put more effort into trying to find out who is applying to teach in our school systems.  What more could be done to collaborate accross state lines in order to prevent an abuser from going to another state to continue teaching.

If not for educational purpose,  communication between students and teachers via social media is not a good idea because of two reasons:

First, personal conversation between a teacher and a student is uncalled for -- unless the teacher also acts as a guidance counselor, which is unlikely.  Besides, personal conversation is kept in private cubicles in guidance centers.

Second, teachers and students need privacy.  Students, and perhaps some teachers, normally go to the social media to "be social" by disclosing 'hidden' aspects of their lives and personalities. When teachers are given access to students' "personal sides" and when students get to step on the imaginary boundary that separates teachers from them through the social media, more personal relationships could possibly develop. And that could later result in the blurring of identities, in which teachers could lose its status as being "teachers" who are seen more on a professional level, not on personal side. 

In one way or another, a more personal conversation could lead to some sort of "information leak", e.g. how teachers evaluate student performance, how students perceive their teachers' capability, how other teachers teach, how they both perceive the dean's leadership, etc. Social media is for "social" networking, and part of it is personal disclosure which seems inappropriate and unnecessary in any teacher-student relationship.

I taught in a university for over 11 years, and I did not attempt to accept any Facebook invitation from any of my students because of these reasons I cited; when I left the academe and went to the social media industry, most of my former students became my friends in FB... :-) 

Great article, thanks for sharing!

It may not be a good idea, but each school should make their own policy on it. No need to make more and more laws...

~Tammy

Much of the coverage of this issue has been incomplete and/or inaccurate, which has led to significant misunderstanding and misplaced anger. I've also been disappointed to see attorneys, judges and other leaders both talk and act without full knowledge of the facts. Although I agree that additional debate is a good idea, I think many folks who have resisted this law are promoting an inappropriate solution to a much larger problem.

I’ve written a post that offers a broader perspective on the law and the potential benefits of restricting interactions between adults and minor children in cyberspace. This piece also provides an alternative that enables individuals and organizations to reap the benefits of digital interactions while better managing the risks. It’s entitled “Can We be Friends? In Cyberspace, ‘No’ May be the Right Answer” and can be accessed via http://tiny.cc/Friends-PDNs.

Courtney Shelton Hunt, PhD - Founder, Social Media in Organizations (SMinOrgs) Community

As long as they keep the teacher-student relationship then I don't see any reason why teachers shouldn't be allowed to communicated with their students through social media. In fact this should be a natural process and the social media could actually enhance the teaching-learning processes. I am preparing to get admitted in a human servicers online degree and knowing that I'll be able to communicate with my teachers through social media among others is a comfort for me.