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5 Tips for Teachers to Navigate Facebook's Features and Risks

Thursday, December 22, 2011 - 01:18 PM

A recent Times article chronicled the struggles teachers, schools and districts are having when it comes to safe use of social media. SchoolBook followed by offering some advice for teachers, and today Facebook's consultant on education and parent matters provides five concrete tips.

Many schools block Facebook in an effort to prevent students from accessing the social network while at school, but their efforts are much like shoveling snow in a snow storm -- simply impossible.

LInda Fogg-Phillips Linda Fogg-Phillips

More than 350 million users have access to Facebook through their mobile devices. Students who have mobile devices consequently have an alternate path to the site in schools, like New York City's, that have blocks on students' Web access. These mobile users are two times more active than regular users.

The people at Facebook recognize the need for educators to understand how to use Facebook safely and effectively, not only for themselves but for their students as well. With this in mind, Facebook commissioned me and a team I chose to write the official Facebook for Educators guide. You can find our guide at FacebookForEducators.org.

Here are five Facebook fundamentals that educators need to know.

1. Privacy Settings
It is no surprise that this is the most confusing area of Facebook for most users. Here are some tips:

Set your default privacy settings to “Friends.” This can be done by clicking on the down arrow next to “Home” on the upper right hand side of your Facebook page.

Once the drop down box has opened, click on “Privacy Settings.” This is where you control who can see what.

You can get more specific with what you share by visiting the other categories labeled “How You Connect”, “How Tags Work,” etc. (You may want to note that this is also the page where you can block people.)

The recent launch of Timeline makes it easier for users to control what they share. With every post, you can specify who can see what. Simply click on the drop down arrow at the bottom of the status box and make your selection.

Be aware that whatever you specify here will remain the level of sharing for all future posts until you change it.

Here are things that are never private regardless of your settings:

Your Name
Profile and Timeline
Cover Photo
The city you live in
The networks you belong to
Your “Likes”

The only one of these “non private” items that is required for you to have a Facebook account is your name. All of the other items on this list are optional, meaning if you don't want them known, don't list them.

2. Develop a School Facebook Policy
Whether your school allows Facebook to be used on campus or not, you do need to have a policy addressing online behavior and the use of Facebook by students and teachers.

I recommend that your policy be updated at least once a year. You can review other schools’ policies here.

3. Set a Friending Policy
A “Friending Policy” is the criteria by which you determine who you will accept friend requests from to include in your social network.

“Friends” have access to you, your personal information that you provide, photos, posts and your other activities on Facebook.

It’s O.K. to not accept every friend request that you get. Teach your kids and students this principle as well.

In the Facebook for Educators guide, we recommend that teachers do not friend their students. When a teacher friends his or her students, it crosses the line of professionalism and creates a feeling of familiarity that can create potential problems for both the student and the teacher.

4. Use Groups and Pages
The use of Facebook Groups and Pages is a more appropriate and transparent way for teachers to interact with students on Facebook without having to friend them.

An example of effective use of Facebook in education using Groups is by setting up a group for a specific class to encourage discussion of the material covered in class.

Let’s take an American Literature class. The teacher, Ms. Brown, sets up the group and gives it a specific name such as “American Literature with Ms. Brown.” Her students can then do a Facebook search for this Group and request to join.

Ms. Brown accepts the requests of her students and can post assignments, videos, photos, links to Web sites and any other information for her students to access.

Groups can be:

Secret: Only members can see the group and what members post.

Closed: Everyone can see the group. Only members see posts

Open (public): Everyone can see the group and what members post

A Facebook Page, on the other hand, is a public forum that is accessible to anyone on Facebook. When someone “Likes” a page, they then receive updates in their newsfeed from the Page administrator and others who comment or post on that Page. Pages are a good way to keep parents and students up to date with school events.

To better understand Groups or Pages, you can visit the resources page at facebookforeducators.org or sign up for the Facebook For Educators newsletter and also receive my Facebook for Educators Webinar schedule.

5. Stay current
In our ever-changing world of technology, staying current is an ongoing challenge. There are many resources to help you with this.

One is Facebook’s official blog. You can find additional help at allfacebook.com, mashable.com and insidefacebook.com.

It is also important to know that Facebook has a “Help” section that can be accessed from anywhere on Facebook. Simply click on the down arrow next to “Home” on the upper right hand side of Facebook when you are logged in. Then click on the word “Help.” The next screen will have a box that allows you to type in your question or a key word.

Lastly, my Facebook for Educators and Facebook for Parents newsletters report new developments and can keep you up to date on things you need to know about this fast-paced social media world.

Have questions now? E-mail SchoolBook and we will try to get some answers.

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