When Facebook came online in 2004, it was originally a social service for students only. Through 2005, one had to have an email address from a member school to join. A decade later, it’s so ubiquitous that many schools have formal policies governing its use, mostly about limiting social media contact between students and teachers.
There’s no denying it: Facebook is a pervasive presence in education. Every student has it. Most parents have it. Many teachers have it. But there is no solid consensus anywhere on if or how that very pervasiveness should be put to use.
There are obvious downsides. A teacher-student relationship would be markedly difficult to sustain with all your students privy to your slides-how from your brother’s bachelor party or with your teacher witness to your huge blow-out fight with your significant other. But privacy filters are a thing, and they don’t take much practice to get right. With a little attention to detail, there’s no reason why anyone on Facebook, friend of yours or stranger, should see anything you don’t want them to see.
The benefits of interactions between students and teachers on Facebook are plain, though. It gives teachers a greater insight into their students’ lives and into what their honest opinions are and why. It lets students feel more free to ask questions, improving their understanding of course material. In-class groups can easily collaborate with educator supervision (already a common use within college classes), and discussion can be tossed back and forth easily.
That said, if your school is one of those with a formal policy about this, don’t try to get around it. If friending isn’t allowed, a teacher’s fan page might be just the thing. Set up by the teacher, it wouldn’t require any sharing of private things. Only what the teacher chooses to put up would ever appear, but students, teachers, and parents could all easily interact.
We are in the era of social media. Adopting it in our schools is more radical a change than switching from chalk and slate to pen and paper, but it’s just as smart.