Social Networking Ethics for Teachers


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  • Online social networks are internet sites where users post profiles that serve as “personal web pages.” The two largest of these sites are MySpace and FaceBook, although there are a number of others such as Hi5, Friendster, and Orkut that offer similar services. Many people belong to more than one. The user can post a variety of information about themselves, including autobiographical data, photos, videos, music, and blogs. They can accept other users as “friends.” Users can connect to their friends through comments posted on the person’s webpage or by email sent through the hosting service. While FaceBook profiles can only be viewed by “friends,” the majority of these sites are public in nature and can be seen by anyone, unless users set their accounts to private. This means that if a teacher maintains a public profile page, it is possible for any school staff, community member, parent, or student to access the information contained on his or her page.
  • The National Education Association’s “Code of Ethics for the Education Profession,” states that “The education profession is vested by the public with a trust and responsibility requiring the highest ideals of professional service.” Teachers are expected by the public to conduct themselves professionally. Because they work with people who are in their formative years, teachers are looked to as role models. They are considered examples for their students. When teachers post personal information that is accessible to the public, they must keep in mind their professional status and the expectations of the community. Some teachers feel that what they do in their personal lives should escape scrutiny, and that their personal lives are somehow separate from their responsibilities as a teacher. However, the news media is full of stories of teachers who have been disciplined, or even terminated from their positions based on content that they posted on sites such as MySpace. In a recent Sun-Sentinel article, Stephanie Horvath searched online for teachers in the Palm Beach school district and came up with numerous examples of questionable behavior by teachers. She found teachers making vulgar gestures in pictures, or using profanity and sexually explicit language in their postings. She found pictures of teachers using alcohol and dancing with male strippers. While no teacher would stand in front of his or her class and present themselves in this way to their students, these sites are just as accessible to students as they were to the reporter who documented these cases. As you will see in the attached news clip, teachers need to be aware that behavior that would be considered unethical in the classroom is considered equally unethical if accessed on the internet by school staff, parents, or students. (Play video.)
  • A recent study found that the use of social network sites is prevalent among pre-teen and teen students. 96% of 9-17 year-olds interviewed have used some type of social networking technology. Surprisingly, 50% of the online students say they talk about homework on these sites. Some teachers see no harm in using these sites to connect with and communicate with their students outside of school. They maintain that they keep their pages and manner professional while online with their students. They argue that, if used properly, sites like Myspace are an excellent tool to encourage academic success.
  • While some teachers feel that utilizing online social networks to communicate with students is beneficial, others see it as unethical. The educator’s code of ethics clearly states that it unethical to unfairly grant any advantage to a student, or use professional relationships with students for private advantage. Those who think teachers should not have online relationships with their students consider such relationships as unprofessional fraternization between student and teacher. This type of relationship can cause preferential treatment. It also can lead to an inappropriate relationship between the student and teacher, or allegations of one. Opponents maintain that teachers must draw a clear line between personal and professional relationships. At this time, there is no absolute consensus as to whether communication with students on social networking sites is ever appropriate. Based on my research for this presentation, it appears to be safer to not engage in online “friendships” with students. While some school districts have enacted policies against teacher/student contact on social networking websites, the majority have not yet taken a position on the subject. If your school district has no such policy, I caution you to thoroughly research the issue before deciding to “friend” students on myspace or any other networking site. Here is a video that discusses one school district’s position on the subject. (Play video.)
  • Most schools have no clear policy that specifically addresses online social networks. Lately, school districts are beginning to see the urgent need to address this subject. In Jefferson City, MO, A bill has been proposed to prohibit teachers from using a “non-work-related internet site to communicate with students.” ( The school board of Scituate, MA has drafted a policy that advises employees to avoid any inappropriate interaction with students who are also posting to social network sites. ( Two separate school districts in Mississippi imposed a ban on text messaging and online social networking between students and teachers. ( Many of these policies come in response to scandals about teacher site content, or charges that teachers used these sites to abuse children.
  • According to a review of state teacher discipline reports conducted by The Associated Press, one out of every five Ohio teachers disciplined for inappropriate sexual behavior misbehaved using computers or the internet. Daniel Corvino, a New Jersey teacher was arrested for sending sexually graphic pictures to a 14-year-old girl through MySpace. A female teaching assistant in St Helens, OR was arrested after a student’s mother found disturbing messages from the woman on her son’s MySpace page. These are just a few of the tragic examples of child abusers using this medium to prey on their victims. Social network communications are commonly cited in cases such as these. While these are clear cases of immoral and illegal activity, there are also considerable areas of gray in this new medium. It important that teachers are cautious in regard to social networks, and the ethical concerns that they present.
  • Social Networking Ethics for Teachers

    1. 1. Online Social Networking Sites: Ethical Concerns for Teachers Christiana Byrne February 10, 2009
    2. 2. Rationale <ul><li>The purpose of this presentation is to inform teachers of the </li></ul><ul><li>unique ethical issues posed by their participation in online </li></ul><ul><li>social networking sites, such as MySpace and FaceBook. </li></ul><ul><li>These sites are incredibly popular, and many teachers, as well </li></ul><ul><li>as students use these services. As this is a relatively new </li></ul><ul><li>phenomenon, there is currently much debate in regards to its </li></ul><ul><li>ethical use by teachers. In order to increase teachers’ </li></ul><ul><li>awareness, this presentation will address the key areas of </li></ul><ul><li>concern, discuss trends in school policy, and highlight </li></ul><ul><li>examples of clearly unethical teacher behavior in relation to </li></ul><ul><li>these sites. </li></ul>
    3. 3. Objectives <ul><li>Teachers will recognize the public nature of online social networking websites. </li></ul><ul><li>Teachers will understand the relationship between the material they post online and the teachers’ ethical code of conduct. </li></ul><ul><li>Teachers will be able to judge whether it is appropriate to maintain online relationships with students. </li></ul><ul><li>Teachers will be able to give examples of recent trends in school policies and cases of unethical teacher behavior concerning online networking websites. </li></ul>
    4. 4. Contents <ul><li>What are Online Social Networks? </li></ul><ul><li>Code of Ethics and Online Postings </li></ul><ul><li>Online Teacher/Student Relationships </li></ul><ul><li>School Policy </li></ul><ul><li>Examples of Inappropriate and Illegal Online Teacher Behavior </li></ul><ul><li>Conclusion </li></ul>
    5. 5. What are Online Social Networks? <ul><li>User posts profile </li></ul><ul><li>MySpace and FaceBook </li></ul><ul><li>Public </li></ul>
    6. 6. Code of Ethics and Online Postings <ul><li>“ The education profession is vested by </li></ul><ul><li>the public with a trust and </li></ul><ul><li>responsibility requiring the highest </li></ul><ul><li>ideals of professional service.” ( </li></ul><ul><li>Teachers are role models. </li></ul><ul><li>Teachers disciplined for offensive, crude, and sexually oriented web postings. ( </li></ul><ul><li>Video: </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul>
    7. 7. Online Teacher/Student Relationships <ul><li>96% of students have used social networking technology. ( </li></ul><ul><li>50% of online students talk about homework. </li></ul>
    8. 8. Online Teacher/Student Relationships <ul><li>NEA Code of Ethics: </li></ul><ul><li>The educator... </li></ul><ul><li>6. Shall not unfairly-- (c.) Grant any advantage to any student. </li></ul><ul><li>7. Shall not use professional relationships with students for private advantage. ( </li></ul><ul><li>Video: </li></ul>
    9. 9. School Policy <ul><li>Most schools have no clear policy. </li></ul><ul><li>Districts recognize a need. </li></ul><ul><li>Jefferson City, MO- Bill proposed. </li></ul><ul><li>Scituate, MA- Policy drafted. </li></ul><ul><li>Two Mississippi school districts imposed a ban. </li></ul>
    10. 10. Examples of Inappropriate and Illegal Online Teacher Behavior <ul><li>1 in 5 teachers in Ohio disciplined for inappropriate sexual behavior used the internet. ( </li></ul><ul><li>Teacher sent sexual images to a 14-year-old over MySpace. ( </li></ul><ul><li>Teaching assistant posted disturbing messages on student’s MySpace page. ( </li></ul>
    11. 11. Conclusion- Teacher Ethics and Online Social Networks: <ul><li>Online social networks are public. </li></ul><ul><li>Do not post inappropriate material. </li></ul><ul><li>Be cautious about online relationships with students. </li></ul><ul><li>Follow school policy. </li></ul><ul><li>Be aware of the rampant unethical use of these sites- do not do anything that can be misinterpreted. </li></ul>
    12. 12. References: <ul><li> </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul>
    13. 13. Online Articles for Further Reading: <ul><li> </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul>
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