Facebook and Student Communications… things to consider.
In a recent email I received from one of our school’s Educational Technology Coordinators, she asked my opinion on creating a Facebook page for the following year’s Senior class. She wants to use the page for communicating all of the things they would need to do that year. The thought was that it would be a great place for the student to connect with one another and collaborate, but there were a number of other concerns and questions that came up.
Would students want to use Facebook in this way? While the growth of Facebook as a tool for communicating within schools have grown, it has generally been within the alumni, admissions and communications departments, in areas of communicating with current students it is not something that I have seen much of or read much about. For current students Facebook has been a way for them to interact with their classmates in their own “walled garden” outside of school. This would need to be a discussion to have with them about “their” space.
While Facebook would offers faculty and students a great place to meet and share certain types of information online it does present a level of exposure for both that can be a Pandora’s Box. If you are going to use Facebook as a tool for use with current students you need to be very careful to protect aspects of your profile and have conversations about what you post on your online profile. Also, there is the fact that all students may not have a Facebook account. While I don’t have any statistics on the number of students at our school with Facebook accounts (this would be a good survey to conduct) in order to use it in the way we were talking about with every Senior.
While Facebook has introduced a number of Privacy Settings that allow you to control the level of access to the various aspects of their profile, this requires some work to set up. Faculty and students would need to go into each of the setting areas and configure access at the individual friend level or by creating “Lists” of friends and allowing access that way. This, to me, creates a great deal of work on both the student’s and faculty member’s part in order to use Facebook as this type of communications tool.
Assuming you have answered all of these questions and concerns, there is the now the question as to create a fan page or group. Each have their own strong points, but we would want to make sure that we were protecting the students identity and their affiliation with the school. Privacy matters and our school (The Montclair Kimberley Academy) has a policy of never posting a students picture and name on the Internet and by the nature of a student’s profile this would fly in the face of that policy. A private group where students needed to be invited would have allowed us to create the space and protect the student’s identity… our own “walled garden” within Facebook.
In the end and after talking through all of our options we elected to go in a different route.
We have been using Moodle for a number of years as an online course management tool, for communications, calendaring and document storage (as just a start). We know that every student has an account and that it is used for academic purposes. We decided to create a Moodle course for our Senior’s and post all the relevant information there.
Please don’t misunderstand what I am saying; I think Facebook offers an incredible tool for connecting people and for facilitating communications. Our school’s alumni office, the school as a whole and our Irish Studies Program maintains an active presence on Facebook and it has become a large piece in our communications effort. It is in the area of communicating with current students and faculty that I think you need to tread lightly and consider all of your options. If you decide to use Facebook in the manner I have described you will have an excellent opportunity to talk to students (and faculty) about their online presence, what they share with the world and their friends and the realities and consequences of that.
You can follow Bill on Twitter @wstites