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Schools weigh risk, benefit of Facebook

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Those sorts of scenarios are one reason that statewide education groups in states such as Ohio and Massachusetts have created model policies – in many cases adopted by individual districts – that vigorously regulate social media use by educators.

In Dayton, Ohio, which this fall approved a ban on teachers "friending" students on social networking sites or contacting them by text or instant messages, the head of the local teachers union welcomed the restrictions. This is in marked contrast to the case in Missouri, where the state teachers union sued to block the new law there.

The problem, say critics of such restrictions, is that far-reaching bans – even if they create exceptions for the sort of educational uses Collins set up in his environmental sciences class – often discourage teachers from attempting to use digital media in class at all.

Collins doesn't usually accept direct friend requests from students, but he does often send private messages to them via Facebook to give feedback on their analysis of articles. Any other means of feedback would be cumbersome, he says. "Students don't check e-mail regularly. That is not a part of their world as much as texting and social media messaging," he adds.

Collins and others note that concerns about inappropriate communication often blur the medium with the message, and that teachers' judgment is the key, not how they converse.

"Banning certain forms of communication isn't going to stop predation of children by bad people," says Collins.

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