Ethical Dilemmas

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One of my big passion areas is ethics and the ethical dilemmas we continuously face both as educators and citizens living in todays ubiquitous age of technology.  So, when scanning through some of the readings for the week, I was immediately drawn to the topic of social media and education.  Do we embrace the pervasive nature of social media and utilize it to further enhance our teaching and the learning done by students, or are we jumping on a bandwagon too fast without a thorough understanding of the ramifications this could have. What are the true benefits of using social media? What are the true costs? Do the benefits outweigh the costs in such a significant manner that they need to be included?  Are we unable to provide a meaningful educational experience without the use of social media?

To be clear, my concerns are primarily directed towards the K-12 educational system as it is my belief that post secondary ethics are a different beast than the ethics that need to be considered within a K-12 system. My objective, therefore, for this post, is to explore these ideas further in connection to research on either side, perhaps to come to a conclusion. Hopefully to further discussion and debate around these ideas.

The topic for my blog post was sparked while reading through, “Social media in K-12 schools”.  This blog post, by Rothwell, D. (2017) discusses the potential benefits of using social network sites (SNS) in education,  the minimal use of SNS in education and the lack of understanding by teachers with regards to; if they should use it and if they do use it, how to use it effectively. The big question asked was:

Should school policies be framed in safety (to monitor and block student access to new technologies) or should policies be framed in media literacy (to integrate and teach students how to utilize new technologies within the classroom)?”   

What a great question!

According to the research they examined, there are benefits to using SNS:

  1. The supporting of “collaborative knowledge construction”
  2. “Timely access to information” and “academic help-seeking”
  3.  The “development of communication competencies”
  4.  “Blurring the lines between learning, social, and leisure spaces” (Intro; para 2)

However, the benefits discussed with regards to learning in an informal environment were mixed, with some studies recording positive results and others recording negative results, due to its ability to distract students.

Within a formal learning environment, the studies reported on showed positive results, however they noted that less than a third of teachers “integrated SNS into their teaching” (Section 2).

With regards to connecting students pervasive learning, connecting at school and at home learning, the research indicated that students would benefit from using SNS and would experience higher levels of engagement. However, teachers primarily used social media for “grade management and submission of assignments” ( Section 3).

Both pre-service and in-service teachers seemed to exhibit a willingness to try to incorporate these technologies; however, it seems that the training that may be required is lacking.

Within their conclusions they noted that while the benefits to using SNS has been recorded, little data/research exists on the  “social impact of SNS”  and there were few studies that established that the use of SNS increases student learning. I imagine Clark would have a few words to say about this. In fact, they noted that a current hole in the research is that there are no studies that show, ” ‘best practices’ for integrating this social media into pedagogy, tied to student learning outcomes” (Greenhow & Askari., 2017, p. 642).

So my takeaway from this is that while there are potential benefits to using SNS, there is little research to fully support the use of it at this time and little training to teach teachers how to use it in a manner that will increase student learning and engagement. Is this then just another “technology push” that will lead to teachers adding tech just for the sake of adding tech? Is this another strategy that may or may not be effective for already overworked teachers to try to figure out? Or is there, in fact, a whole avenue for student learning that has yet to be throughly explored? If we choose to explore this avenue, what are the potential ramifications?

This segways nicely into a discussion on ethics and SNS. While I wish I had more time to delve deeply into this research, I chose one article that seemed appropriate. Written by Keith Howard (2013), the article “Using Facebook and Other SNSs in K-12 Classrooms: Ethical Considerations for Safe Social Networking” discusses some of the very topics that we as educators should be concerned about.  Howard examines the risks through “the lens of Moor’s (1999) just-consequentialist theory” (p40). Howard discusses and acknowledges the benefits of using SNS in the classroom as well as the differences in understanding between the students (digital natives) and the teachers (digital immigrants).  Howard notes that while the use of SNS may lead to students who are more prepared to live and work in the 21st Century there are associated risks, as there is the potential for, ” SNS to provide an avenue for bullies, pedophiles, and other antisocial individuals to gain access to students who, while digital natives with technology, may be naive and unsuspecting from a social standpoint” (42). He then goes on to discuss the risks that may occur if SNS are not included in the classroom stating, “if schools block access,….only those with home access to the Internet will be in a position to develop proficiency in using them, leaving an element of the digital divide intact” (42). Below are some of Howard’s arguments for the use of SNS in education followed by some identified risks.

Benefits of use:

  1. Teacher’s have the opportunity to instruct and guide students in the appropriate use of SNS.
  2. Teachers can instruct students on the ” how to’s” of building an online identity.
  3. The use of SNS can create deeper engagement and higher order thinking skills.

Risks of use:

  1. Psychological safety
    1. Offensive content (while blocked at schools, can be encountered at home) I wonder…How do we ensure that filters are set up in homes?
    2. The self-regulation nature of many SNS. It is left up to the individual to “report threats, promotions of self-harm, bullying and harassment, hate speech, sex and nudity and violations of identity privacy” (p 45). In addition, while SNS sites may remove offensive images, text etc after the fact, students have already viewed them and the damage is still done. With school districts lacking control over these sites, how do we protect kids?  Howard mentions the use of education specific sites as possible alternatives; however, this does not take away from the exposure of students to offensive content found in the SNS they use at home on their own time.
  2. Appropriateness of student-teacher interactions.
    1. The use of SNS opens up more opportunities for inappropriate communication. This can be teacher to student OR student to teacher OR student to student. When student to student interactions at home occur using SNS, is it the schools responsibility to step in if the use of SNS is promoted? Or is it a parenting responsibility? What about the right to free speech?
  3. Protection of privacy.
    1. The use of SNS may lead to the sharing, OR “unintended sharing of information with unknown people” (49).

Howard’s concluding thoughts are connected to the following:

1. How to prepare whilst protecting.

2. How to prepare teachers.

3. Implementing policies.

4. Weighing the risk and reward.

Overall, between these two readings, it seems fairly clear that many of the risks can be mitigated and the rewards are many. However, if teachers are not properly prepared, if students do not have internet access/technology at home or do not have filtering settings on their home devices, (and this doesn’t even address phones), if school districts do not implement policies that keep students safe but also allow for the development of necessary skills, the benefits may be small and the risks large.

When going back to the original question posed in Rothwell’s (2017) blog,

Should school policies be framed in safety (to monitor and block student access to new technologies) or should policies be framed in media literacy (to integrate and teach students how to utilize new technologies within the classroom)?”   

I wonder if it has to be one or the other. I wonder if aspects of both should be included. Part of ensuing the safety of our students is making sure that we teach students how to navigate and effectively use the SNS that they are already investing so much of their time in; teaching students safeguards, teaching them that SNS are more than just a place to post engineered pictures and to give and receive likes and that they are places to engage, to learn, to inspire and to potentially evoke change. Perhaps, I as a digital immigrant, do not have the capability to see or understand technology in the same manner as my students. Perhaps students as digital natives, do not understand the potential risks of their SNS usage; perhaps they don’t understand the impact it can have on relationships, self-esteem/mental health and their understanding of the world around them.

What may be deemed a much larger concern, one that I started to wonder about as I read through these articles, is the potential for the further use of technology in our teaching, including SNS, to increase the digital divide.  While Howard (2013) might argue that including this in our teaching decreases the digital divide, given the ubiquity of technology, students who only have access at school to a technology designed for use both in formal and formal learning situations will still be at a great disadvantage.  It is evident, in our current COVID 19 educational system that those who have technology access have a huge advantage over those who do not, and this divide has been further exacerbated.  Perhaps we should be more concerned about addressing the digital divide issue rather than the issue of to use or not use SNS in our teaching.


Below I have included a few other connected articles and a video that piqued my interest.  ……..Perhaps the makings of a future blog post…….

Rowsell, J., Morrell, E., & Alvermann, D. E. (2017). Confronting the digital divide: Debunking brave new world discourses. The Reading Teacher, 71(2), 157-165. doi:10.1002/trtr.1603

Van Den Beemt, A., Thurlings, M & Willems, M. (2020) Towards an understanding of social media use in the classroom: a literature review, Technology, Pedagogy and Education, 29:1, 35-55, DOI: 10.1080/1475939X.2019.1695657




Greenhow, C. & Askari, E.  (2017).  Learning and teaching with social network sites: A decade of research in K-12 related education.  Education and Information Technologies, 22(2), 623-645.  Retrieved from

Howard, K. E. (2013). Using Facebook and other SNSs in k-12 classrooms: Ethical considerations for safe social networking. Issues in Teacher Education, 22(2), 39-54.

Rothwell, D. (2017). Social Media in K-12 Schools. BOLT Multi-authored Blog. [Weblog]. Retrieved from

1 thought on “Ethical Dilemmas

  • I agree it needs to be a mix of both approaches. Digital citizenship needs to be scaffolded. Maybe it starts as blocked and moves into modelled, then monitored, then independent. All the while, building the appropriate skills. Media literacy can also be integrated in stages, moving from learning the tools, to play, to consumption, to creation.

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