Tuesday, May 4, 2010

social networking, internet safety, and schools

Last week I brought my netbook to my jump rope team's practice so I could continue to work on scheduling my unending amount of IEPs for the week. My jumpers, somehow enthralled by the tiny computer (despite the fact we have a whole set of them in the library they use every week) crowded around it to see.
"Wow, you could check facebook on that!" one crowed, an innocent statement that opened a whole can of worms...

"Isn't facebook bad?" one girl asked, and I tried to explain that if you are on it you should only be on it with your parents, and that when you use it you have to be very, very careful.
"Yeah," one boy agreed, "'cause I had some crazy girl I didn't know as a friend and then she started writing all this bad stuff on my wall so I had to de-friend her."
I was curious about "all this bad stuff" but I didn't ask. Others chimed in,
"I'm a good girl, I'm not on facebook"
"Can we be facebook friends?"
"What about when I'm in middle school? Then can we be facebook friends?"
"I look at my teacher's picture every day."
"Oh yeah, me too- Ms. _____ is so cute in her new picture!"
"I look up all the teachers. But I never friend them. I mean, that would be like being friends with the principal!"
"Yeah, then the teachers would know what we were doing! That would be terrible!"

The conversation went on and on, until finally we started jumping.

I of course, raced home and, using facebook, alerted my co-workers that our little ones spent their free time stalking us on facebook. Always a good thing to be aware of when posting facebook profile pictures...

This got their teachers thinking. If the kids rushed home to look at our profile pictures, we could possibly look at their profile pictures.
And so the searching began- and once one's profile was discovered it wasn't long until we could link to all of them- even the ones with fake names. A few smart ones had their profiles marked as private, but most did not. Although, based on what they wrote on their walls- they clearly thought no one else could see.

As teachers we were horrified, saddened, and, to be honest, scared. We spend all of our time teaching our hearts out to better these little people, to make sure they learn to read and write and show common sense. We monitor their behavior within school walls, guiding their social decisions, scaffolding them to being productive independent thinkers. Then we found proof that outside the school we had no control.

Some of the profiles I stumbled across were my former first graders. I remember their smiling faces when they read a difficult book successfully, or wrote a story they were proud of. I certainly didn't teach them to write so they could write THOSE words on someone else's wall. I didn't spent hours modeling problem solving behaviors to have them lose all common sense on the internet. We found some current second graders. We found innocent pages, not so innocent pages, pages where they were friends with their parents (good job parents!) and pages where they clearly were not friends with any adult whatsoever.

It became an interesting debate- what should happen next? What's our role as educators? Our first instinct, our mama-bear drive, made us want to shut them all down. Take away their computers. Take away facebook entirely. Then other ideas came- how to educate them? How to scare them enough to let them know we can see EVERYTHING they put up? How to educate them to use social networks properly?

Can we write on their walls? Can we correct their spelling, remind them or proper grammar? Should we just begin posting their homework on facebook every day? "Liking" their status updates, just to remind them that we're out there?

I first got on facebook because I knew my younger cousins were. I knew the temptation of thinking what you put on facebook is private, and I wanted my presence to be a reminder to my young cousins that anything they put on facebook could be seen by family- and later told to my grandmother. If you didn't want Nana to know about it- don't put it up there for the world to see.

How could we deliver that message to them?

Ironically, the conversation we had as teachers about what to do about facebook was held almost entirely over facebook- through status update comments and facebook chats. We were using social media to problem solve what to do about social media.

I left Thursday to go out of town, so I don't know the final solution, but I know there was one, and that the 4th and 5th grade teachers took care of it. The whole incident represents a broader question- how do we productively teach internet safety so that children actually listen and follow it? How do we protect our children and keep them safe on the internet? Can we allow them to use social media without it getting out of control? And is it appropriate for us to be a presence out there? Can we use it to post homework, remind about school assemblies, and as a way to communicate with our students? Would knowing that we are out there keep everyone honest?

Yet I say that knowing full well that I DO NOT want my students to see my facebook page- if we used facebook for homework I'd want to have a teacher-identity page. Which, of course, would be sending a double standard to the kids. And then, most likely, they'd have 2 pages too. One we knew about and one we didn't... and we'd be back to where we were when we first discovered this mess.


Sarah said...

You raise some interesting points here that certainly do need to be addressed. A close friend of mine who teaches at a primary school in London recently told me how a Year 6 pupil set up a Facebook profile posing as a female member of staff. He used a random photo of a woman with the same hair colour, but from a distance so her face remained unclear. He then added all teachers in the school that had Facebook profiles, gaining access to their private information and personal photos. He was found out when a member of staff commented to the teacher in question about their recent ‘friend request’, as she replied in a confused manner that was not even on Facebook. Teachers at the school have now been asked to check that any ‘friend requests’ are genuine by asking staff members in person. Very worrying indeed!

Sneaker Teacher said...

I recently found out that some third graders at my school have their own accounts. From what I could see, the privacy safeguards were in place, but I think that kids that young have no need for facebook. I have also come across some girls who used to be in the dance class I taught (I was in HS and they were about 3 or 4) They are now in HS and the pictures they post and the words they write shock me! I think it's best to not be aware of that area of our students' lives!!! It's scary!

The Science Goddess said...

I remember a time about 5 years ago (pre-FB) when I made the mistake of searching MySpace and LiveJournal for students. I saw lots of things I really didn't want to see. I never told the kids about it---wasn't sure what to say. With high school, I worried that they would think it was too creepy.

Did you see these posts (One and Two by Brian Smith on Twitter? Thought it was an interesting idea to have an "analog" facebook as a safe place for students and adults in the school to interact and also an opportunity to teach about norms and expectations.

luckeyfrog said...

I'm now friends with some of my former teachers, as an adult. Honestly, it's still something I think about- would I want my teacher to see that?

I think it would be interesting to ask these kids to go to Facebook and log out, and THEN look up their profile. Would you want your grandma to see that? :)

(My grandma actually IS my friend on Facebook, haha!)

I think there definitely needs to be some instruction on social networking, but I think it needs to be by someone who truly gets it and doesn't treat it as 'evil.' The kids need to realize that it CAN be cool, but it can also be bad.

Anonymous said...


brainrubbing said...

It seems it would be a good idea for adults to learn how to use Facebook safely as well. Based on some of the comments regarding worries about students stalking teachers, that teachers need to learn how to effectively use Facebook's privacy settings. The concerns are valid -- especially given the latest controversy over Facebook and privacy -- and everyone should educate themselves and others about how to safely use social networks.