Across the United States, schools examine policies on social networking between students and teachers
Starting last year, English teacher Karen Comstock found a new method to make sure her students turn in their assignments.
“I provide my cell phone number to my students. This has dramatically lessened the number of situations where student either don’t have work or have another excuse,” Comstock said. “My unofficial motto is `If you need me, text me and save your sob story.’”
One of these students is freshman Claudia Hurley. Comstock isn’t the only teacher she communicates with through social media, however.
“I talk to Mr. [Kalani] Lancaster. He’s my percussion teacher and I have to ask him a lot of questions about the work and the music we’re playing,” Hurley said.
Students have begun using social media, including Facebook, Twitter and texting, to interact with their teachers and other students about schoolwork.
Recently, school districts and states have been questioning whether private teacher-student interaction over the Internet should be permitted.
Missouri has been considering a state law prohibiting private communication over the Internet between teachers and their students. The law was originally going to take effect Aug. 28, 2011, before a preliminary injunction was placed on the law through the request of the Missouri State Teachers Association (MSTA) until Feb. 20, 2012.
The law would restrict teachers from having any interaction with children who are their students over social media, or any outlet that is not open to the public, due to the cases in which social media interaction has lead to inappropriate relationships, particularly sexual misconduct, between teachers and students.
Between 2001 and 2005, 87 Missouri teachers lost their licenses due to sexual misconduct, which included the exchanging of explicate messages with students online.
Under this law, schools would need to define their policy on social networking between students and teachers, in addition to the restrictions that the law itself places.
MSTA has been challenging the law, saying that it is an infrigment of the First Amendment rights of the teachers. Missouri teachers also complained that the law would restrict their ability to keep in contact with students when it comes to school work, personal problems, or emergencies.
Some school districts in Indiana are considering similar policies, such as North Putnam School District in Mooresville, Indiana. According to WRTV 6 News, the Putnam School District has been making revisions to their guidelines for the use of social media by staff members.
As they are trying to restrict the use of social media for their teachers and staff, part of the new policy would be disallowing teachers from interacting with their current students on a social media site.
While the idea behind restricting communication with teachers through private interaction is for the student’s benefit, Comstock believes that students are at a disadvantage when access to their teachers outside of school is restricted.
“I think if they have the tools at their disposal, they should take advantage of them. This is how the real world works,” Comstock said.
Lawrence Township Director of Technology David Hunnicutt agrees that students should be able to use technology to further their education.
“It can be a great way for students and teachers to connect. However we need to be sure that any site or form of social media is limited to interaction that only pertains to the classroom. I would never want a teacher using a personal website to interact with students,” Hunnicutt said.
According to Hunnicutt, social media has provided a new platform for teachers to communicate with their students.
Students like senior Kayla Dick have been using that platform to interact with LN teachers.
Dick likes to interact with science teachers over Facebook, asking them about questions relating to their subjects, but not always involved with a course she’s enrolled in. She believes social media interactions between teachers and students should not be limited.
“Teachers can give advice on jobs and personal life,” Dick said.
Libertyville High School of Chicago, Illinois, agrees with the positive effects of social media on education, and is encouraging the use of social media for teachers, not limiting it.
According to TribLocal, a branch of the Chicago Tribune for the town of Libertyville, the school is asking their teachers to open up Facebook pages for their courses. This helps the teachers, and other students, help students taking the course by answering questions and giving advice on assignments.
While the teachers are encouraged to form a bond with their students, Libertyville is still defining a boundary line between teachers and students. Teachers are instructed to never add a student as a “friend” or to use their class Facebook page to have personal conversations. However, teachers are still made to sign an oath to report any suspicious or illegal behavior that they see.
Despite being encouraged to use social networking in educating their students, guidelines are still in place to keep the enviornment safe,
Libertyville has found social media to be an effective and timely way to get information to students, with social media being a primary method of communication for this generation.
Another goal of Libertyville is to encourage students to learn to use social networking in a more professional way, by being more careful about what they are posting online.
North Putnam and Libertyville had two very different reactions to the issue of using social media with education. When it comes to Lawrence Township, Hunnicutt believes that the use of social media for educational purposes will continue, as it has already started, to an extent.
Currently, LN teachers have already begun to use social media, such as Twitter, to keep students updated with coursework. In addition, Lawrence Township as a whole has a Twitter to update students and parents on events in the district.
“We use Twitter to convey good news going on in the district. Our premise is that the news is quick to put education in a bad light and we try to prompt all the great things that students and teachers are doing,” Hunnicutt said.
According to Hunnicutt, Lawrence Township will continue to support online interaction between teachers and students, but not without restrictions and guidelines to keep the educational environment safe.
“I only see it growing, but the challenge will continue to be that we expect a safe environment at our schools and we expect a safe environment online for our students.”