School Bans Teacher-Student Communication on Social Networks

A Milwaukee-area school district has enacted a policy banning communication between school staff and students on social networking Web sites and instant messaging services.

According to this report, the school board seems to be concerned over the fact they can’t provide “adequate oversight” for these communication methods. Since communication between school staff and students are generally considered to be public records and are subject to public inspection, the district apparently wants faculty to only use district-sponsored applications/devices, which presumably provide better archiving and auditing of communciations.

Missing from the article, and perhaps the overall debate, is the question of whether faculty and students should be “friends” on social networks in the first place, regardless of the security & auditability of the communication. Does “friending” change the traditional teacher-student relationship? Should teachers have access to personal details, photos, news feeds, etc that come with “friending” on Facebook? Should a student have access to a teacher’s profile?

I’m hoping to start a project on the ethics of faculty-student relationships on social networking sites, and welcome any comments.


  1. I agree that becoming “Facebook friends” changes the student/teacher dynamic. It would make the students privy to information about you that might impact their own opinions on things that educators ought not to influence, like religion, politics, etc. Maybe a professional network like LinkedIn poses fewer issues of that type?

  2. I think this is part of a larger problem – loss of contextualism on an integrated network.

    I’m a college student, and it used to be that LinkedIn was a good arena for professional, more-manicured behavior; Facebook, though, was a more social platform where norms of behavior were driven by friends, not what is professionally acceptable.

    As Facebook becomes the de facto standard, and as it extends its reach outward via Facebook Connect, those norms (which are not necessarily compatible with LinkedIn-appropriate behavior) are placed under stress. That’s why there has been the discussion of having multiple accounts on Facebook – it’s an effort to recapture the different contexts that are being unified as the social layer of the net is built.

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