Should Teachers Require Their Students to Participate on Social-Networking Sites?
I just read an interesting debate in the National Education Association's monthly magazine, The Advocate, which unfortunately didn't post the article on its website. Whether you take the teacher's or the student's perspective in this debate, the question is whether teachers should be able to require their students to participate in social-networking sites, or whether doing so is an invasion of privacy?
John Damon, a professor from the University of Nebraska-Kearney, argues that social-networking is a private activity that should be kept separate from teaching and learning. Damon admits to "friending" some of his former students on Facebook and MySpace. He says that it would be rude to refuse friend requests and that such contacts "seem to me a normal part of human interaction". However, "requiring such use as a part of course requirements is an entirely different matter".
In the end, he asserts, the downsides for students to online social-networking include the potential for "unwanted entanglements", and for teachers, "unwarranted claims of harassment".
On other side of the debate, Patrick Bishop, a professor from Ferris State University, argues that the question isn't whether to use social-networking technology in the classroom, but how. "As educators, we are called to lead change, not just keep pace," he says, and "navigating the world of social-networking is a necessary skill in the current marketplace". Bishop admits to requiring his Public Relations students to create a Twitter account and join HARO (Help A Reporter Out), and portions of his course are covered via Wetpaint, a wiki-blog hybrid.
He quotes one of the best education blogs, The Fischbowl, in saying, "We are living in exponential times... preparing students for jobs that don't exist yet, using technologies that haven't been invented, in order to solve problems we don't even know about".
So which side do you come down on in this debate?
I, for one, believe the answer lies in the specific details of the class in question. If someone asks a great chess master, "What is the best move possible to make in chess?", the truth is that there is no one move that can be deemed The Best; there are only moves that might be better than others given the particular circumstances that a player finds himself in at a particular moment.
Thus, in a vacuum, you might argue that teachers absolutely should be able to require their students to participate in social-networks, or, conversely, that they absolutely shouldn't. However, when applied to a particular circumstance, the answer might become a lot more clear. For example, should a Computer Science class on Web Programming require that online social-networking be integrated into the curriculum? Absolutely. Should a fourth grade English teacher require the same thing? Absolutely not.
As always, teachers need to strike a delicate balance between empowering their students while simultaneously acknowledging the other responsibilities their positions afford them as well.