Facebook–to Filter or Not to Filter?

In November, 2009 we created a Randolph Facebook page and we opened Facebook in school for everyone. We’re four months in and there’s some good news and some bad news about Facebook and it’s use in our District.

So what do you want first, the good news or the bad news? The good news is that our RCS Facebook page is 540 members strong and has proven to be another route of communication within our community. We post everything from news about our students’ success to when and where to go for Little League sign-ups. There’s not been one single problem or inappropriate comment left. Our extended Randolph family has found a place to connect.

Some of our teachers also have Facebook pages where they’re communicating with their students and parents about homework and class news. Sure they have the school website but I commend those teachers for meeting our students and parents where they are, on Facebook. The FB pages should all link from the website and should ALWAYS include parent access.

Another good thing is that complaints about texting in class are almost non-existent now. We’ve somewhat replaced texting as the mode of communication with Facebook. As one of our teachers noted, “this is the modern day passing of notes.”

Here’s the bad news. Overwhelmingly, our teachers report that Facebook is consuming our kids. Our labs are overflowing with students who want to get in there to do Facebook, not class projects or research or homework–Facebook. We have students with some serious academic needs who aren’t using school time to get any work done because they’re on Facebook every possible moment.

And who’s going to take an elective class when offered the option to go to a lab and talk to friends on Facebook instead? They’re teenagers. Social connections are more important to them than anything else, just as they were when we were in school. Sorry Teacher, but sometimes my friends are just way more interesting than your subject.

So how do we find any balance? We can’t easily filter by user. In other words, if you’re in good academic standing, you can be on Facebook during your study halls. If not, get to work. (Maybe that would be a great motivator!) We can’t filter by time of day–to have it open during the early morning and again at the end of the day. I’m thinking of this especially for our teachers who have no time at home to manage their school Facebook page due to family responsibilities. If we block it completely, they lose the time/convenience/ability to get on and update for their students and parents.

Teachers responded to my question of “how’s it going?” with endless comments about what a distraction Facebook has become. I think part of this is that our kids are able to work in multiple windows at the same time, working on a paper, checking Facebook for a few seconds, back to another source for the paper, back to writing and that’s hard for us to understand. The trouble seems to be that while some of our kids are really good at materials management—paper or on-line–others just aren’t. They’re not good at prioritizing or time management or work completion. Are we making it even harder for those students by offering them another distraction?

If we choose to block Facebook, you realize it’s a temporary “fix”, right? As our kids become more and more ‘wired’ with their own blackberries and ipods, they’ll be accessing Facebook and the web 24/7. At least when we battle the “no cell phones during my lesson” fight, we’re helping them learn that NOW is not the time. We have a lot of kids who aren’t figuring that out on their own.

Can’t wait to see the comments this post solicits. 😉 Our students will be leading a revolution over this–but you know what I suspect–most of them know that they or their friends are focusing way too much on Facebook and way too little on learning. What’s wrong with connecting on Facebook outside of the school day?

  1. My brother teaches high school. When he takes his class to the computer lab (they are not a 1-to-1 school), he has an agreement with his students that they may use the first 5 minutes to check Facebook and then they may not check it again during the class. Students who arrive early to class get extra FB minutes. He has found that by giving his students dedicated time to check up on what they have missed and to update their friends keeps them from checking surreptitiously during the class.
    He also created a Facebook group for his students where he posts homework and the like. After the first week, nearly all of his students had joined.
    If you can’t fight ’em, join ’em!

  2. I’ve worked with many adults in an office setting who didn’t handle internet use properly at work: playing games, internet shopping, reading blogs, emailing friends, paying personal bills, etc. all on company time while not doing the work they were paid to do. Hopefully with teacher and parent guidance our children and teens can learn to manage their time and will internalize a proper understanding of appropriate use of the internet including social networking that will carry over to their college experience and to the workplace. If it’s completely blocked in school, this opportunity to learn a valuable life skill is lost.

  3. I see Facebook at RCS as entering the 21st century. This can work in the school with boundaries. I am aware that computer use differs in the h.s., but access boundaries are set in the Elementary Library and seem to work well. Students are aware that their time is to be used for research related endeavors.

  4. In my opinion, blocking Facebook doesn’t really teach the kids anything. In High School we should be preparing students for college and the real world. By just blocking facebook, we aren’t neccesarily helping them. In college they won’t have someone to tell them to not get on Facebook and do their homework instead, they are going to have to manage their time wisely. I think instead of blocking facebook we should teach them time management skills. There are times appropriate to use Facebook and times that are not. And it all comes down to the fact we are living in a world where communication is very important to the kids. Once you block Facebook they are just going to find something new to communicate on, wether it be their cell phones or through the internet. We need to advance and think forward instead of having a backwards way of mind. And wether you like it or not, the future is going to contain Facebook so the best option is just to embrace it.

  5. Great Post, Kim! As I said when you first opened facebook to the whole school..I am still on the fence about how I really feel about it. I certainly have no solutions. I am reminded of when I was a teenager, some 45-50 years ago. My parents ranted at me that I simply could not do homework with a radio on (transitor radio’s were brand new then). It was hard for them to argue with the straight A’s that were on my report card, though. I have every confidence that our faculty and administration and our students will work out some amicable working arrangements.

  6. I think it’s great that you have 540 people connecting. Enthusiasm is a great thing and I think you should enjoy it while it lasts. People will eventually tire of Facebook per se and move on to something else, but you’ve tapped a real avenue of communication that is apparently two way and reasonable and that’s generally a good thing. I’m sure you’re aware of Facebook’s Education page, but if not then let me recommend, http://www.facebook.com/education. I find it very useful and recommend it often.

    I think you also have a teachable moment to invite a commentary on how to use social network positively. I don’t connect with students but know teachers and at least one administrator who does. I commend your decision not to filter it and to teach instead responsible use. Congratulations!

  7. Hello Shaughn,

    I agree that FB (and texting) to kids is like email to adults. It’s definitely their preferred method of (written?) communication. However, like Kimberly suggests in her post, kids have a very difficult time with balance; and let’s face it: sometimes they just can’t handle it.

    At this point, I think there are three potential solutions to the “problem” here:

    Embrace FB as a teacher. Use it heavily in your instruction, and come to grips that quite often Farmville is going to win out over you and your instructional agenda. This option must also include a heavy dose of PD – for all teachers – on the dos and don’ts of social networking in education.

    The next solution I see is to find a technological solution in the form of some sort of filtering mechanism that is controlled by the classroom teacher. I haven’t seen such a tool yet, but know that the teacher must have the keys to the filter and must be able to apply them instantly, at appropriate times during the class period. There are times when using FB in class are appropriate. The teacher should be savvy enough and trusted enough to know when to flip the switch.

    The final solution, as I see it at this point, is to block FB altogether until we’re ready as a school or district to fully implement door number 1 or 2 above. That’s where we’re at in our district. Don’t worry, though, because I’m with you: it’s simply not an option to leave FB blocked for good and live out our careers with our heads in the sand, ignorantly thinking that all of this stuff will go away.

  8. Darren,

    I just read your tech learning blog post. I shared the same concerns over the ethical issues. As a teacher I did not want to put myself out there to students as anything but a professional. My facebook rule is “we are not friends.” Students only join my group, we do not friend each other. Also, I have them set all of their settings to private. This way I can not see anything they have on facebook. I only see what they add to our class group.

    What made me decide to use facebook:

    We (meaning adults) use email to communicate all day long. I would send assignments, notes, etc. to my class list serve, but the kids would not check their email regularly. That’s when it clicked with me facebook IS their email.

  9. I was pleased to read the comments from Trey and Penny. I agree, this is a classroom management issue. My school just opened facebook after Christmas. I decided this could be a long and ugly battle. Instead, I jumped on board and I am using fb in my classroom. At first, the fascination with facebook drove me crazy. I too felt like they were never going to develop the management of fb the way I had expected. I had to remind myself not to throw in the towel MANY times. I knew if I did it would only be a temporary relief for me. However, I can say things are turning around. I am still figuring it out, but yes it is totally a classroom management issue! I have a fb group for all of my classes online (it is our communication tool) and as Penny said incorporate it into your curriculum!

  10. Perhaps we, as teachers, need to find ways to incorporate facebook into our Literacy program, not just a a form of communication with parents.

  11. We are battling the same issues as you with our Facebook policy. I have argued with the administration that arbitrary blockage of sites is not a good policy.

    I believe it is my responsibility as a classroom teacher to monitor the computer usage of my students. If they are on FaceBook when they should be doing schoolwork on the computer, then I am not paying close enough attention to my students.

    As computers have become more and more common in our classrooms, schools have felt the need to lock up huge parts of the Internet in order to “protect our children.” By federal policy, to be eligible for federal e-rate funds, public schools are required to block images harmful to minors; not social networking sites, blogs, games, or other sites that may bothersome to classroom teachers.

    Over the past year, my school district has opened up more and more sites (including FaceBook) and in the end, although it may make our jobs as classroom teachers a little more difficult, it is good for our students.

    See: http://www.e-ratecentral.com/CIPA/cipa_policy_primer.pdf for a copy of the federal government’s “Internet Safety Policies and CIPA: An E-Rate Primer for Schools and Libraries “

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *