Friday, May 11, 2007

The Facebook Saga Continues...

I awoke this morning to a front-page story in the Halifax Chronicle-Herald - "No classes for no-class acts". Four to six students at a local high school have been suspended and are under police investigation for remarks they posted on a Facebook page about one of their teachers. The remarks were inappropriate and insensitive, and personally I agree with the actions taken - users of social networking sites should still maintain some level of decency and common sense.

The Halifax Regional School Board (HRSB) has blocked Facebook, MySpace, and MSN Messenger (and probably many other social networking sites) from all school computers due to the "distractions" that they cause and that school computers are only for school use. They have also been blocked to attempt to reduce cyber-bullying, where students gang up on each other online, a noble intent.

As posted by Randommind, the Ontario provincial government has banned Facebook, and now along with it, so has the city of Toronto, and Parliament Hill in Ottawa, both in an attempt to stop workers from "wasting" their time at work.

I see two issues here, but that may not be the case. In the case of the HRSB banning social networking sites, they are dealing with a constituency of primarily school-age minors. But does banning sites send the right message or should these students be educated in their use, so that when they become adult workers they won't "waste" time? For all of the parents out there - what age is the right age to allow access to social networking sites? Are they something only adults should have free and unfettered access to? Do they need parental controls or some similar way to limit access and functionality?

I teach at a community college where the learners are adult, both in age and in the way they are treated. What rules apply for Facebook et al? Free access or banning? Does the college need a policy for proper use? Is that even feasible or realistic? How do I react if a learner posts something insulting or inappropriate about me?

The second issue is the continuing banning of Facebook by public agencies whose main function is dealing with the public. Wouldn't it make more sense to use Facebook and other social networking tools to increase access? Hmmm...

Lots of question, and not lots of answers. The saga continues...

4 comments:

Carolyn said...

Banning is one way to deal with bad behaviour online. Here's another from a great teacher, David Truss.

I have a couple of thoughts about the Facebook ban in Halifax. First, why aren't we giving teachers the option of using David's approach? That might have been a more reasonable response in this case since, even though the Board labeled the post a "threat", the teacher in question said that she didn't feel that her safety was in question. There may have been an opportunity here to grab the teachable moment rather than the RCMP hotline. After all, we are learning organizations. Our job is to prepare students to be engaged citizens in the world. Like it or not, the internet is part of that world.

The second thought I have is that teachers have an impossible job. They have to engage students who work very hard to stay disengaged. The School Board has taken away an avenue for productive use of technology and a chance for teachers to "meet students where they're at". And as most educators know, students these days are online and they're in social networks. What kind of positive conversation can we have about technology if we're always turning off the switch?

Third, I get the sense that the decision makers didn't really understand what they were dealing with. I wonder how many are participating in these sites and learning about how they can be used for teaching. Yes, even Facebook. What do teachers and administrators need to learn in order so that decisions are reasonable and informed rather than reactionary. I get the sense that the decision has been alienating for some students.

Again, Ian, thanks for the wonderful post & the provocative questions.

Ian H. MacLeod said...

If only HRSB had read what David Truss had to say - what an amazing learning approach. Now the learning moment is long gone, never to return.

I am so excited about Facebook because I see it as a way to get learners engaged. Administrators banning it and similar sites just tie the hands of innovative educators trying to reach their learners.

Your third point is bang on Carolyn - the decision makers need to be educated too. But how do we do that? Hmmm...

Anonymous said...

In regards to the facebook controversy, personally i don't feel it is appropriate for teachers and students to be "friends" on facebook. I think it has the potential to open up a whole can of worms the profession isn't ready to deal with. people on facebook can access your friends list so any student can access your profile and read comments made by other "friends", post comments of their own, view pictures etc.. You have no control what your friends load on their sites and may not be aware of whayt comments are being made on your site. Do we really want students having access to all the information? I think there are other ways to safely engagte students in learning via technology. teachers can set up their own websites and blogs that students can respond to. In that way it is a more controlled situation. Personally i don;t feel comfortable with parents and students having access into my personal life and I feel it is not appropriate professionally to contact students in that manner. You may be setting yourself up for trouble. Just a thought

Ian H. MacLeod said...

I appreciate and understand your concerns. I work in an adult education environment where along with teaching subject-specific curriculum, we are also delivering professionalism, and life skills as well.

One way to deliver these critical skills to my learners is through using the tools and technologies they use (be where they are at). That includes sites like Facebook.

Will everyone always act responsibly and professionally? Probably not, but my experience is that most will. I want to engage my learners in their learning - Facebook is a good way to do that...