Thursday, December 9, 2010

Administrator’s Dilemma: Facebook-Yes or No?

What good is Facebook in education? That question and several variations of it is what I asked on Twitter two days ago. As schools continue to encounter both teacher and student issues with this social media environment, the pressure to block access is going to get more intense.  (See my previous post “Social Media: Facebook-What Good Is It? All of the Tweets or responses I received about the educational value of Facebook basically can be summarized in the six following items:

  • Facebook as a communication tool
  • Facebook as a tool to teach responsible social media behavior
  • Facebook to teach students about social media advertising
  • Facebook to teach communication skills such as writing
  • Facebook to teach students how to research
  • Facebook to teach students how to collaborate in social media environment

My next question to each of these was, “Is Facebook the best tool for accomplishing that goal or learning?’ I’m not sure I ever received a solid answer to that question, and the reason is fairly obvious now. It is perhaps impossible to argue the value of Facebook from a strictly educational perspective. It’s true value lies in the capability to connecting people, and in sharing information, video, photos, games, and other things. That is what it’s designed for, and educational tasks and learning that call for this connecting and sharing could be facilitated by using Facebook. But, I am still not entirely convinced that this social media platform is the best one for connecting students, teachers, and people resources. I am equally unconvinced that Facebook is the best means of sharing information and media. There are other alternatives much more suited for this.

In face of the pressure to block access, can we justify keeping Facebook access for both teachers and students? Of course there’s the usual arguments that you’ve got to trust your staff to be professionals, and that you shouldn’t punish the whole for the sins of the few. But are these enough to argue successfully for open access? The student argument for Facebook access in school becomes even more problematic. Why should students be able to log into Facebook during school hours? Those of us who have been in administration for awhile have had our share of “Facebook-related” discipline issues, and those alone make us want to curse its existence. It would make our job somewhat easier if Facebook did not exist, but does blocking access to it on our school networks make it go away? Does it lessen in any way my Facebook-related discipline referrals? No, because many students can access it on their smartphones now, and they have access to it everywhere else anyway. Are we going to ban them next because we want to keep schools Facebook-free zones?

Ultimately, I arrive at the following rationale for keeping access to Facebook open: It is a total exercise in futility to try to block access to it. It is waste of time, money, and already scarce resources to try to regulate access. Today we find ourselves trying to regulate access to Facebook, tomorrow it will be some other site. I don’t know about other administrators, but I have enough other battles to fight with a whole lot more severe consequences.


  1. Thanks for the write up on this. I'm in the middle of an action research myself on how educators could use FB in the HigherEd/K12 setting. I'm hoping to facilitate discussions with a network of educators, and to also discuss different strategies for setting up spaces. I guess I'm imagining the filter allowing student access... ok maybe not soon in k12, but obviously in Highered, there might be a better fit/opportunity.

  2. I agree with your statements until the last paragraph. I think it would be a waste of student time and resources to allow it, and I know firsthand that it isn't that "user-friendly" to use on a web-enabled phone. If it's not on school computers, it will be accessed MUCH less in school, so it's not futile. And of course it "could" be used for educational reasons, but I'd guess that might top out at 5% - 10% of use if Facebook is open to students.

  3. Sure, time will be wasted on Facebook, but time is also wasted being on cell phones, reading newspapers, and looking at, but those aren't banned or blocked. Blocking Facebook for employees is a slippery slope. Once administrators learn that staff is spending an inordinate amount of time looking at basketball scores on, is this site going to be blocked next? Besides, blocking the site for staff seems to be taking the easy way out. If it is a personnel issue, you do what you do for all personnel issues, you address the issue with the staff member. The Facebook issue is not a technology problem, it is a personnel problem. For students, the issue is the same. If teachers are monitoring students properly, then they should not be wasting an inordinate amount of time on the site. School administrators use "blocking sites" as a strategy because it let's them attempt to accomplish a goal without confronting the real issue. I have to also disagree with you regarding the "user-friendliness" of Facebook apps on smart phones too. Try the Facebook app in Android. Very easy to use, and looks just like the web app for the most part.

  4. Hey John,
    I was interested in the feedback you'd receive when you tweeted the question the other day. Thanks for sharing the post.

    I guess I wonder if there are not two separate issues at play.

    One issue is whether to block facebook or not. This boils down to a "filtering" issue and I am not a big fan of filtering content at high levels for many reasons. I would echo your point about the issue often being a personnel issue rather than a technology issue. This argument could be applied to many of the sites that are currently blocked in some schools.

    I would add that the second issue may be about whether to "use" facebook in education. A lot of the feedback you received seemed to be about the ways classrooms or schools can use facebook to communicate with students and parents. I am a little leery of this because I think schools and teachers should be careful of implicitly endorsing a site that doesn't have a great record for protecting their users' privacy. I am reminded of a recent brief blog post by Darren Kuropatwa "Why I Don't Trust Faceook"

    So while I am not against the use of facebook to communicate with the community and wouldn't argue the points on filtering, I would be careful how much the school is embracing this platform.

  5. I agree. I think it is two separate issues. I think you have to argue the filtering issue on different merits, because, frankly, I'm not sure Facebook is the best social media environment for educational purposes any way. One Tweeter reminded me of Edmodo, which is an excellent social media-like environment, which has tools specific for teaching.

    Because of my English teaching background, I suppose I feel queasy any time there's talk of filtering and blocking, but I know it's a reality.