I agree Facebook is not an appropriate platform for education. Ning is certainly better. ManyOne.net just launched out of beta and in addition to the social networking features, is a strong content management system which was designed for academic publishing.
I do feel as though it is OK to become "contacts" with students on social networks. Social networks allow us to build stronger relationships with more people...I find that I'm able to get to know people better through social networking. Social networks allow our relationships to be freed from the boundaries of time and space. We just don't have time in a typical f2f conversation to share little thoughts, pictures from last weekend, our latest news stories that we're interacting with, and our latest triumphs and challenges. But social networks allow us to do all of this and much more. For me, they help build stronger relationships. And in schools, strengthened relationships = better rapport with our learners.
I completely understand a teacher's reticence to connect with students in online networks and I'm respectful of the personal choice that each individual makes in this area...but at the same time, I would submit that you are missing the opportunity to build stronger relationships with your learners.
I maintain facebook connections with well over 30 of my current students and a handful of my past students (I never "friend" students, but will accept friend requests initiated by current/former students). I've discovered positive things about my students that I simply wouldn't have found out via a traditional, analogue student-teacher relationship.
On my facebook profile I have a note that reads, "Please keep it clean on facebook, otherwise I'm not able to maintain the connection...thanks!!" This goes for anyone, adults and minors alike. Over the past few years, I have had to break my connection with only a handful of people due to foul language and/or inappropriate content posting.
A quick poll for you...do you think that majority of people I've had to break facebook connections on account of foul language/inappropriate content posting have been adults or minors??
also, teachers unions are going to complicate this issue even further (if they aren't doing so already). Teachers unions were built to support an 8:00 am-3:00 pm school learning model, not a model that supports 24/7 anytime, anywhere learning that is now possible via inter-networking/social networks, and other platforms that break down the time and space. But I don't know, perhaps teachers unions are on the cutting edge with regard to the learning potential associated with these platforms. Have any of your teacher unions come out with policy one way or the other about connecting with student in social networks?? I'm quite curious...
As a rep of our teachers local I have been told that we are to discourage our teachers from having facebook or myspace friends lists with students. The liability risks towards yourself are troublesome to say the least. While the possibility for building stronger rapport with students is great, the downside is the exposure you have on the Internet.
Anything that might be misunderstood, misconstrued, could be grounds for action against a teacher for inappropriate conduct and they could have their teaching certificate revoked.
Teacher student relationships have to be kept within the context of school and any online networks that are set up to help promote learning should be moderated with that in mind, and parents/administrators should be aware of what is happening.
I read Mike Umphrey's comment on peoples' reactions to the negative connotation of friend from these social networks. I completely agree with his observation. However I have to disagree about it being "too bad." Of course, these are exactly the images that will come to light when and if something does go wrong.
As for his student that wrote that powerful essay, I am glad she was able to reach out to someone and communicate about this traumatic experience.
I am not saying that we should clamp down on collaboration but it has to be approached cautiously. Facebook, Myspace and other social networks truly blur the distinction between personal and professional relationships.
I'm not sure whether this answers your question but it is only a humble opinion flawed as it may be.
your post is very interesting for me: when you wrote "Anything that might be misunderstood, misconstrued, could be grounds for action against a teacher for inappropriate conduct and they could have their teaching certificate revoked.", do you know any case in USA for action against a teacher for this kind of "inappropriate conducts" ?
about "friends" label, maybe you know that on ning social network you can easily change "friends" into something else, more appropriate for an educational context". here for example "colleagues" instead of "friends"... any idea for my own network where we host in the same time teachers, students and parents ? "correspondent" ? "pen friend" (again friend...) ?
I think people react to the "friend" label, and I also think they are imagining MySpace pages in terms of sexualization and predators etc. That's too bad.
Reading young people's personal essays can take teachers into areas that require some hard thought about roles and relationships. In my last set of essays--handed in only as a hard copy--one sixteen year old girl told a powerful story of being raped by a step-father when she was eleven, and the turbulence of her emotional life since.
I thought it demanded of me more than a grade and some comments about style and form.
I'm often struck both by how many young people are suffering from a great collapse of family and community that happened before they were born, and also by how intensely they are pursuing new forms of community and relatedness on MySpace and via cell phone texting.
I think responsible and loving adults need to be a part of those new forms of community, though this does raise all sorts of questions and creates all sorts of potential for trouble. I don't pretend to know the answers.
i agree with you Michael, teachers need to accompany children and teens in those new forms of community via safe and kindly educational social networks... it is the goal in my experimentation... And what you said about fear in terms of sexualization and predators is true, too... For example, in France, from december 10th to december 25 thr on all french TV channels, people watched a new video-clip promoted by french government about security of children on the internet... too bad... Only a negative approach (violence, neo nazis, porn prostitutes, pedophiles...), far from a responsabilization of parents and children about a positive approach of what parents, teachers and students can do with the internet...
I think that even online teachers need to keep a professional distance with students. The word "friends" has a connotation that suggest more than a professional relationship. With that being said, students and teacher should extend the learning outside of the classroom. If this can be accomplish via a social networking site I think it is a good Idea.
Actually, I think that facebook has changed what "friends" means, at least in a social networking sense. Does anybody really think that a particular individual has 1,352 "friends" in the older sense of the word?
As others have noted, there are concerns related to professional conduct that are very important, but the same types of unplanned interactions can happen in real life. Going to the beach, seeing a student in a revealing swimsuit,and saying "Hi, have a great day and see you in class on Monday." and walking away to be with your actual friends is very different than seeing that same student at the beach and inviting him or her to lie down next to you on a blanket for a couple of hours.