EducationTechNews.com has a report on Facebook friends: Is this principal going too far? by Claire Knight dated 3rd October last. The report refers to a school principal, John Hoving of All Saints Central School in Bay City, Michigan, who created a facebook profile to "promote the school...connect with alumni,... and increase communication with parents". Hoving accepts "friend" requests from students, but some parents say that he is using facebook to "to monitor students’ online activity". Knight's report asks some serious questions - for example, what would happen if "parents who have an issue with the principal’s actions really want him to ignore potential problems — especially when he has an opportunity to protect their children before something happens?".
facebook is not a dangerous technology - as some would have it. Today in a tutorial I was checking on two students who were working on a group project to create a marketing campaign. One student practically ignored me while he was reading and adding messages to his facebook page right in front of me. First, I am impressed by his student's ability to multi-task. I chose to ignore the rudeness of his actions and also not to read his messages, but instead turned this event into a project related matter - I said "why not use facebook for your marketing campaign?". A blank look immediately followed! We then discussed how to use facebook Advertising to target people with certain profiles (eg - a marketing campaign by a wedding dress shop aimed at young single women in Ireland aged 25-35). For a few minutes I felt cool! And I'm sure the students will use facebook for their project.
My own personal rule is that I never accept facebook friend requests from my students - regardless of age. I just don't feel comfortable doing this. Most of my students are in their late teens or early twenties, and I don't accept that it is right for me (more than twice their age) to be their "friend". When they graduate - maybe. I don't use facebook, other than that my Blogger and Linkedin posts automatically update my facebook page. I feel that it is more a young person's technology. Hey entrepreneurs - how about a facebook for older people?
Despite his best intentions, I feel that Principal Hoving has got his facebook strategy wrong. He can use school based tools such as Blackboard, Moodle, or Elgg to set up a school-based social network to "promote the school...connect with alumni,... and increase communication with parents". facebook is personal and is, I believe, for young people. They need their space and privacy - we educators should step back from joining such student social networks.