Thursday, December 9, 2010

Social Media: Facebook-What Good Is It?

Just Google “teachers, facebook, inappropriate” and a flood of articles appear relating the indiscretions and sins of teachers who have overstepped the bounds of propriety by posting inappropriate statements, pictures, and videos on Facebook and other social media accounts.

This past October, three teachers in New York were fired for having inappropriate relationships with students on Facebook. One of those relationships led to a sexual relationship. In November 2008, five North Carolina teachers got into hot water for posting inappropriately on Facebook. The phenomenon is not limited to the United States either, nor is it limited to just Facebook. In May of 2009, a teacher in Scotland used Twitter to post inappropriate Tweets. She criticized the school’s management and tweeted about personally identifiable information about individual students in her classes.

When you read these news stories your immediate reaction is to question the sanity and intelligence of people who do these kinds of things, yet, what schools are struggling with is a very unique 21st century problem: the power of social media to connect people in ways that once was not possible, and the ability of individuals to share information in and about their lives on a scale not possible before. The knee-jerk reaction of school administrators in response to these kinds of incidents is to simply shut down access to all social media in the schools with the belief that will resolve the issues.

Added to the concern about teachers using social networking inappropriately, is the concern about loss of productivity. In August 2010, the Tech Journal South stated emphatically that “Social Networking at Work Leads to Productivity Loss.” In Europe, the concerns are echoed where it is believed that billions are lost through social media. Wading through these articles makes you wonder if there is any redeemable quality for social media at all. In article after article, the “evils of social media” are reiterated over and over again. Then there’s the studies. A Nucleus Research study found that nearly half of office employees access Facebook at work, and that companies lose on average 1.5 percent of total office productivity when employees have access during the workday. According to a study performed by the British employment law firm Peninsula, “about $ 264 million is lost per day by British corporations due to office workers dillydallying on Facebook.” This same study also said 233 million hours are lost every month as a result of employees “wasting time” on social networking.

With all of this negativity, is there any value to be found in social media beyond its ability to connect people in ways and on a scale never before possible? If social media causes all these problems, then how can we argue that teachers and students need access to these during the school day?  Based on the problems that Facebook causes with both students and teachers, do you think school administrators are justified in blocking all access to social media in schools? Is there any rationale to offset the compelling argument that social media only causes “people to dillydally” and waste time?

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