The problems surrounding teachers using Facebook seem to be getting more and more complex. I’ve written before about how teacher’s private use of Facebook can impact their jobs, whether justly or unjustly. The issue that was brought up recently involves teachers’ use of Facebook on private mobile devices during school hours.
This is a tricky issue. We want teachers to be doing what they are paid to do – teach their classes and monitor their students. But how do you keep this in check?
We have Facebook blocked in our district because of some of the discipline issues is creates with students. It was suggested that we consider adding restrictions on Facebook usage on private mobile devices to our Acceptable Use Policy. I flatly disagreed with that. Our AUP regulates acceptable use of district-owned equipment and services, not private equipment. I don’t think should or legally could use a policy written for district equipment to be applied to private equipment.
If there is a problem with a teacher using Facebook inappropriately, then that has to be addressed on an individual basis. And Facebook isn’t the only problem. With today’s smartphones a teacher could just as easily be doing online gambling, surfing porn sites, or a whole host of nefarious activities. For that matter, they could have been listening to an iPod with ear buds, or even something as low-tech as reading a paperback novel when they shouldn’t have. The issue is not technology – it’s discipline. However, technology, and more specifically social network takes on this other-worldly aura as something to be feared if used incorrectly. Facebook in particular seems to come under fire because of recent press about privacy concerns and inappropriate posts.
I don’t know if this has happened in our district, and it may be an apocryphal account, but it was said that one principal friended all of her teachers on Facebook, then set it so that their updates came to her Blackberry via e-mail. If the principal got an e-mail during the school day, she would say something to that teacher about it.
First, as a teacher I would un-friend that principal as fast as I could. Secondly, there is no way this could be used as proof of inappropriate use. Let me give you an example – I’ve got my Twitter and Flickr accounts linked to Facebook so that it is updated when I post new photos or when I send out a Tweet. I’ve got a slow Internet connection at home, so I may set a batch of photos to upload, then head on to work. The photos may not load until later in the morning, and then even later than that update my Facebook page. The time-stamp on the status update doesn’t accurately reflect when the activity occurred. Even then, there is a time-lag between when various RSS feeds update Facebook, and there is another time lag between when a status is posted and when it appears in e-mail. An e-mail on a Blackberry is NOT a good indicator of when the activity actually took place.
Rules of common sense and professionalism have got to prevail. If you’re supposed to be teaching, you’re not supposed to be updating Facebook, listening to an iPod, or engaging in a whole host of other distractions. Unfortunately, Facebook seems to be singled out as the scape goat.
Personal technology is more and more of an issue as people become hyper-connected. Sometimes, though, old concepts of discipline and what is appropriate in the classroom work best. Evaluate the issue based on its impact on teaching and learning, but don’t use technology or a total ban on it as a quick way out.