Student-Teacher Interaction Online – Another Perspective


Sameer and I have talked a lot about this issue in recent months, and while we both basically agree that teacher-student interactions online are risky business, we struggle with how to best approach the issue.  Earlier today he posted his thoughts on the issue.  I would like to take this opportunity to re-articulate mine to continue the dialog.

As I have argued here before, most will agree that a lot of value could come from teachers interacting online in a professional/educational manner with their students.  Again, assuming teachers and students both establish and maintain appropriate boundaries, these interactions could be very positive.  The most serious risk would be if teachers failed to preserve proper limits or if students misperceived the online attention as something more than educational.  In his earlier post, Sameer points out several terrible examples of these – though we all agree these are extremely rare.  Of course these potential concerns are also present in off-line communications between teachers and students that occur as well (both in school and outside of it).

To be sure, teachers should refrain from friending students on social networking profiles they use for personal purposes.  Clearly separating their work and personal lives is important.  Moreover, teachers have an obligation to intervene if they see inappropriate content or evidence of a violation of school policy (or the law) on a student’s profile.  That is a cost of engaging in online communications.

Instead of prohibiting good teachers from utilizing all available tools to educate their students and promote their healthy development, focus should be placed on informing both students and staff about these concerns and fire or discipline teachers who engage in inappropriate behaviors, no matter where the occur.  Sameer theorizes that online interactions make it easier for inappropriate relationships to develop between students and staff.  That may be true, but we shouldn’t hold that against the vast majority of great teachers who will do the right thing.

Schools probably should have a clear policy that establishes the professional standard in online student-teacher interactions.  But they shouldn’t outright prohibit it.  That said, many teachers may feel, for whatever reason, that interacting with students online just isn’t for them.  Either way, it should be their choice.  But they need to be made aware of the issues so that they can make an informed decision.

Sameer and I agree that this issue is complicated and demanding of public discourse.  You have our thoughts, what do you think? Here’s another poll!


  1. This is a very complicated subject and no simple answer to the solution. I am a teacher, in secondary, at risk program. I do believe in the benefits of connecting with students online. I do believe in guidelines and remember that I am representing and that I am a role model to my students. Only appropriate material is on my site and appropriate language and photos as well. If I have a student (mind you older at risk students), that is too vulgar on their site, I block them from my page and let them know why.

    Because of the social network, and monitoring of it, we've even been able to prevent fights and problems at our school. Problems we wouldn't have other wise known about, if I hadn't been monitoring students through facebook.

    The very way those teachers took advantage of those students via internet, was horrendous and morally corrupt. Yet, it's not technology that did this, it was a teacher and if we didn't have the technology, they would find another way, that is for sure.

    We need to embrace technology and catch up with the knowledge our students have about technology and inform them how to use it wisely.

  2. I aprreciate the common sence approach from Justin. Sylvia also made a good point about the people who commit the immoral acts, not the technology. I really get frustrate when I see our culture more and more try to cater to the "least common denominator" and try to "idiot proof" society. If teachers don't want to get involved in on-line communites that's fine. But we can communicate with our students outside of school in a professional manner.

    I have kind of a unique situation because I'm a youth minister and a teacher, so I have lots of contact with students outside of class. What I've done, and I know several others do this too, is sign up for 2 facebook accounts. One is just for students with very few other adults. Then I have a personal account to keep in touch with my family and friedns. This works well. But I am still unsure of what to do with students of mine who have graduated. Some "kids" are sophomores and juniors in college now. At what point do they cease being kids? They have little brothers and sisters that are on facebook too. So it may not matter what kind of account I have for them, as long as I have at least two seperate ones. I have also heard educators talk about having a different facebook group or account for each class or section. This could be a lot of work, especially since most schools block facebook so you couldn't do any of this at work anyway. What would probably work is having a graduating class of 2010 acount, then 2011, etc. But that wouldn't help me as a youth minister either. For now I am just going to keep it the way I have it set as it seems to be safe and effective.

  3. There will always be people who choose to do things they shouldn't. Technology may or may not make this process easier. With each new development in our world people have new ways to make bad decisions. A lock on a door only keeps the honest people honest. Generally speaking, a new temptation will only affect those already headed down a shaky path.

    I think responsible adults need to be responsible adults. There is now way to ensure that teachers or other adults won't do things they aren't supposed to do. There will always be a way to do something you shouldn't. As the world continues to evolve there will always be ways for people to get in trouble. The solution isn't to block it out and exist in a bubble, the solution is to educate so people can make better decisions.

  4. I think as long as all interaction is done through collage/school website and systems and not through public social media such as facebook or twitter interaction between student and teacher should be fine. therefore I think there should be a policy where it is agains school policies to contact students or techaers through public networks

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