Argument: Social networks are incredibly powerful websites that can increase and improve communication with all stakeholders. Facebook is a websites that falls into the category of social networks. Facebook is extremely important to school relations with the community for many reasons.
Facebook has over 500 million users. This means that a very large percent of Morris County residents likely have accounts. Students have accounts to talk to their friends. Parents and community members have accounts to talk to distant family members. Alumni often like to connect with people that they went to school with. Since people are already on Facebook, it is easy for the be updated on important information.
What kind of information will be disseminated on Facebook? While there is the possibliity that some teachers may want to create Facebook pages for their classrooms, the idea here is that the school would have an official Facebook page. Mostly, this would be used for school news, such as updates about events, snow days, game cancellations, and the like. Similarly, it can be used to publicize the work that students are actually doing in the classroom, outside of school, and in extracurricular activities. This serves a dual purpose. First, it promotes self-esteem and confidence among the students by highlighting the good that they are already doing. This often has the effect of making them want to continue to excel. Second, it helps to brand the school. What that means is that by maintaining an online presence outside of our school website and by using that to highlight the types of things that the school finds important and worthwhile, it cements the reputation of Frelinghuysen Middle School, as well as the district that it operates in, as a place with high standards that does all it can to reach students.
The world that students live in is often not the same one that most of their teachers seem to live in. To reach the students, we need to meet them where they are to bring them where we know they need to go. Students are already on social networks; the social network with the largest amount of young people is Facebook. Having this network to connect students with things going on at school will help promote buy-in among the students.
Risks: There are some concerns that some people may have. I hope to address them here.
- Bullying: Cyberbullying is a real threat to our students. However, I maintain that by not maintaining a presence online, we do the students a disservice. Many schools look at how the students behave online as beyond their jurisdiction. What would be better, though, is if we taught them how to use the network properly and safely. We need to setup clear expectations about online safety and how students can behave on the Frelinghuysen Middle School Facebook page. Anything said on the Facebook page is no different than something said at school and, thus, falls under the school’s jurisdiction.
- If a student acts inappropriately on the school Facebook page, Facebook does provide us with a measure of control. We can remove students from the page (We cannot delete their Facebook account, but we can prevent them from interacting on the Frelinghuysen Middle School Space.) and we can delete anything that they have posted that may be inappropriate in any way. Once those actions are taken, the appropriate consequences can be determined by the school administrators depending on the severity of the student’s action. If we set clear expectations at the beginning of the year, then the likelihood of this happening is very small. Furthermore, what is posted on the page will be monitored by Jason Bedell, the educational technology specialist.
- Experimentation: Some people may have concerns that we may be embarking on territory that has yet to be proven effective by other schools. That is simply not the case. New Milford High School is a local New Jersey high school that started a Facebook page at the request of its student council. Eric Sheniger contends that it has made a great impact with his students and has helped him to communicate with all of his stakeholders. You can see the New Milford High School Facebook page as an example here: http://www.facebook.com/pages/New-Milford-NJ/New-Milford-High-School/114382501908040. Van Meter School District, a revolutionary 1:1 school in Iowa, uses Facebook with the entire district. Shannon M. Miller, the district librarian at Van Meter, even uses Facebook to help connect students with things happening in the library.
The Van Meter page is here: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?ref=profile&id=100000402775620.
- Inappropriate Conversation: In the past, in other districts, it has been a concern when students interact on Facebook with teachers. That is not going to be the case here. The Facebook page will be the official page for the school; it is closer to a public relations position than a teacher. Also, everything said on the page will be public and transparent.
- Teacher Pages: If a teacher wants to setup a Facebook page for his or her class, it is recommended that the teacher have a separate, professional account just for that reason and only post public, not private, messages.
- Privacy: Facebook has terms of service that no one under 13 can use Facebook without a parent’s permission. The school will not advocate that students sign up for Facebook. That is the decision of the parent. However, the school will provide training on cybersafety for all students through its new advisory program.