Ethics, Risk and Social Media in Education

alert squirrelThis little fellow is on the alert. 

Watching and listening, attentive to any risks or issues that present a threat. 

Technology…..  Cyberspace…..  Risk….. Professional Practice in the digital age.

What are the ethical considerations when using social media in Education?

What are the privacy and conflict of interest risks that present themselves when a public, accessible venue is used for sharing information between student and teacher?

Current media is rife with reports of inappropriate behaviour in cyberspace — more recently being deemed criminal with the introduction of legislation to stem cyber bullying.  A recent US News article states “Beyond the threat of inappropriate relationships, some experts believe developing these connections on social media will tarnish a teacher’s authority in the classroom. Iris Fanning, a family-counseling provider with more than 20 years of experience for school districts in Albuquerque, N.M., says major concerns arise when students begin to see teachers as peers”.  This article does not focus on adult educators, however there are parallels particularly considering the authority an instructor needs to retain and the power dynamic that continues to exist between a teacher and student regardless of their respective age.

What are the liability issues that educational institutions expose themselves to when they use social media tools in the educational process?

All interesting and thought provoking questions.  As part of my work on PIDP 3260 we are required to develop a blog.  Good practice given this is the age of electronic communication.

I wonder, as part of the requirement in the course delivery if a disclaimer should be required for the blog owner to indicate “all entries are the responsibility of the author”…or something like that, with all due respect to anything already covered by creative commons.

Whether it be Facebook, Twitter, or texting by telephone — channels exist that require sober second thought by the end users.  This is particularly critical where misinterpretation of communication can occur and professional distance is required.

If what you post is not suitable for tomorrow`s headlines — or in the case of the student-teacher relationship — outside the boundary of acceptable professional communication and practice — then ethical issues arise, let alone the potential for liability which can be significant.  In this brave new era, where we are only recently enacting legislation to deal with cyber bullies, how much legislation really protects both the schools and the teachers (let alone the students) in cyber space?  Yes, schools may have established codes of conduct and these policies may be handed out as part of a package of material when new instructors are hired.  But, I pose the question —  how often are the “rules of engagement” reviewed, and refreshed commitments made between the educational institution and the instructor regarding ethical behaviour and use of social media channels?  Are the ethical standards reviewed along side current legislation?

Other jurisdictions have developed workshops and staff training events to tackle the issues of ethical and professional dilemmas.  One example is the workshop developed by the Conneticut Teachers Education and Mentoring Program.  They acknowledge “educators must develop a keen awareness and sensitivity to a variety of dilemmas and circumstances they may encounter in their daily contact with students, families and the community. It is vital that educators make conscious ethical decisions to ensure that their professional practice meets the highest possible ethical standards of conduct and responsibility”.  Their facilitators guide includes training scenarios involving social media.

On the flip side of the social media coin, this link takes you to a best practices summary for use of Twitter.  Should Twitter be promoted as an educational tool?

In Section 5 of the Okanagan College Social Media Policy it states:


The College expects that:

a) employees will exercise discretion, thoughtfulness and respect for colleagues,
associates, students and the College community when using social media; and
b) employees be mindful that all posted content on social media may be subject to
review in accordance with the College’s policies.


Employees may be subject to discipline for conduct on social media relating to their Employment, the College or other employees, which violates College policies while using social media sites.”

Is this enough? How do we ensure ongoing policies and standards are robust enough to provide the guidance and level of protection needed in an education environment where there is a power imbalance (teacher vs. student)?  Traditional dynamics experienced in an education setting are exacerbated by the ballooning use of cyberspace for all aspects of our social engagement (work, home, school, entertainment).  Just makes me wonder when there will be a remake of the 60’s classic “To Sir With Love”….including twitter and Facebook in the classroom.  Yes, there was “To Sir with Love 2” set in 1996 – but the digital revolution was just starting to evolve…….



Connecticut Teachers and Educators Mentoring Program, Facilitator’s Guide – Understanding the Code of Professional Responsibility for Educators (January 2012)  retrieved February 21, 2016 from

Educase Review, Tweeting in Higher Education: Best Practices, Amy L. Chapman, September 14, 2015 retrieved February 21, 2016 from

IMDB “To Sir with Love” (1967) retrieved February 21, 2016 from

Clavell, J., Sloan, J. R., Woollard, T., Whittaker, I., Wilson-Apperson, J., Carpenter, J., & Glasow, B. (Producers), Clavell, J., Grainer, R., Martell, P., Beeson, P., Thornton, P., Campo, D. D., . . . Karnon, T. (Writers), & Clavell, J. (Director). (1967). To sir with love [Motion picture]. United States: Columbia Pictures Corp. presents.

Okanagan College, Okanagan College Code of Ethical Practices and Policy (November 6, 2014) retrieved February 21, 2016 from

Okanagan College, Okanagan College Social Media Policy (January 7, 2016) retrieved February 21, 2016 from

US News, Student-Teacher Social Media Restrictions Get Mixed Reactions By Ryan Lytle Aug. 10, 2011 retrieved February 21, 2016 from







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