Although many teachers agree using social media in the classroom would be beneficial for students' academic engagement, most avoid using those tools for a fear of conflicts that could arise in confrontations with parents and students.
A recent survey from the University of Phoenix College of Education that surveyed more than 1,000 teachers found 47 percent of all K-12 teachers said participation in social media platforms could help enhance their students' education, and about four out of five use social media for personal use. Still, a large majority (80 percent) say they're concerned about separating their personal and professional lives and worry that they haven't been properly trained to use social media in a professional setting.
"With social media becoming more popular in the last few years, it's often uncharted territory for teachers and they often have not set boundaries for its use," says Kathy Cook, the university's director of educational technology. "The line [between personal and professional] can become more blurred."
Controversy has surrounded teachers’ use of social media and whether posts -- both about students and about their personal lives -- can be used as grounds for termination.
Laraine Cook, a former girls’ basketball coach from Idaho, was recently fired over a controversial photo posted on her Facebook account, according to the Huffington Post.
And a special education teacher from California was placed on administrative leave after writing on Facebook that she was meeting with “crazy parents” to talk about an autistic student she referred to as a “hot mess,” according to the San Jose Mercury News.
Of the 80 percent of teachers who use social media personally, 34 percent said they have encountered difficulties when students or parents attempt to connect with them. Overall, fewer than one in five teachers said they use social media in the classroom.
Cook says it's important for teachers to establish clear boundaries for which social media platforms are appropriate for an educational setting, and which are better suited for personal use.
"You could create an account and use Twitter to post information throughout the day to report about classroom activities," she says. "Students could get involved in that in posting the posts to help them practice concise writing."
Other potential uses for social media in the classroom, Cook says, span anywhere from using a Twitter hashtag for following a specific topic, or homework question to setting up a classroom blog, so students can receive outside feedback from professionals other than the teacher.
"Teachers and students could also reach out to authors or subject experts through social media channels and invite them into the classrooms through Skype," Cook says. "Social media provides a way to break down those usual four walls of a classroom to bring a larger, global perspective for the students."
According to the survey, teachers are more often using web tools, such as YouTube videos and podcasts, or other types of technology -- such as laptops, interactive white boards or tablets -- over social media tools.
Teachers might be more comfortable to use social media in the classroom, Cook says, if there was more comprehensive training available in school districts and teacher preparation programs.
Still, she says it's important for teachers to stay on top of different technological developments in the education world, and build professional networks to share best practices.