The statistics on the popularity of social media networks is staggering. The social networking website Facebook, for example, reports that it currently has more than 500 million active users, fifty percent of which log on to website each day. Furthermore, people spend over 700 billion minutes per month on Facebook. (http://www.facebook.com/press/info.php?statistics)
Initially, Facebook was a website utility that allowed users to connect with other individuals subscribing to the service. However, it has evolved and individuals or organizations are able to create pages promoting something that they care about on Facebook. As a result, Facebook users are now using the website to do things like promote their business, promote a cause for which they are passionate, or promote an event.
With statistics like these, it is apparent that many educators and students are using Facebook, and they are using it often. Today's students find Facebook to be an engaging and useful tool. As a result, many educators have started using Facebook for educational purposes. "Teachers can utilize Facebook for class projects, for enhancing communication, and for engaging students in a manner that might not be entirely possible in traditional classroom settings" (http://www.onlinecollege.org/2009/10/20/100-ways-you-should-be-using-facebook-in-your-classroom/). For example, teachers can create a Facebook page to share multimedia with their class. Or, students can use a class Facebook page to brainstorm and share ideas with their classmates and instructor. Example of some other very innovative ideas for ways to use Facebook in an educational setting can be found at 100 Ways You Should Be Using Facebook in Your Classroom. Facebook itself also has a page regarding can best use Facebook. Visit http://www.facebook.com/education to see examples of topics that include setting up blogs for kids, social networking tips for teachers, and ways that specific Facebook games reward the brain.
Some critics have pointed out potential ethical problems with using Facebook in education. For example, a 2009 New York Times column by "The Ethicist" titled A Facebook Teaching Moment (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/05/magazine/05FOB-ethicist-t.html) discusses a teacher who became privy to her student's underage drinking after connecting with them on Facebook. Similarly, in November 2010, the St. Petersburg Times published an article about a Florida "High School English teacher and cheerleading coach who resigned this fall after buying a "morning-after" contraceptive for a student and having inappropriate Facebook discussions with the girl's boyfriend" (http://www.tampabay.com/news/education/k12/plant-city-high-teacher-resigned-after-accusations-she-gave-student-a/1133893).
Some of the ethical and privacy issues related to using Facebook in education are addressed in at the websites below, which provide educators with best practices for using Facebook in education are:
Educators who use social networking in their classrooms must make good decisions when it comes to using social media in their classroom. In other words, they must remember that teachers are in leadership roles in the eyes of their students, and they are often held to higher standards than people in other professions because they should be role models for their students.
In the case of Facebook, users sometimes feel a sense of anonymity while on Facebook because they aren't face-to-face with anyone. They feel a sense of comfort, and an ability to share things that they wouldn't necessarily share if they were actually face-to-face. However, teachers must remember that they are ethical leaders.
Dr. Chris Unger, Professor of Education at Northeastern University said in his lecture on Big Ideas on Ethical Decision Making for Educational Leaders, "Decisions are driven by what's inside us, but shaped by our context." In other words, the decisions that teachers make are based on their beliefs, knowledge, and prior experiences. However, they are also influenced by the context of the situation as it presents itself. Therefore, whether or not educators decide to use Facebook in the classroom is in somewhat irrelevant because they must be conscious of trying to make the best decisions that they can in all of the different situations that they encounter.
Contexts of Ethical Decision Making by Professor Chris Unger, Northeastern University