My Guidelines for using Digital & Social Tech in the Classroom and Beyond

images (1)I recently started collaborating with a good colleague, Allison Currington of the University of Alabama’s School of Social Work, on a project to develop tools and resources for social work field educators about the professional use of social media in social work practice.  After several conversations, we realized we need to walk the walk, if we are going to talk the talk. So, we each decided to take a little journey to explore our own guidelines for using social media in the classroom and in our practice as social work educators.  Our end goal is to encourage social work students and field instructors to develop their own professional social media guidelines.

I started by reviewing what was others were saying about personal social media policies and practices.  I reviewed several policies, infographics (such as Social Worker’s Guide to Social Media from the University of Buffalo’s School of Social Work), articles, blog posts with recommendations (such as Dr. Julie Hank’s post), and even my own syllabi.   What follows is a set of guidelines that represent my own practices for using digital and social technologies as a social work educator.  I would love to hear your comments about these guidelines and would be very interested in any other social workers, students and educators who would be willing to share their own best practices or guidelines for using digital and social media.

Dr. Laurel Hitchcock’s Guidelines for using Digital & Social Technology in the Classroom and Practice

These guidelines outline how I strive to interact with students, colleagues and other professionals when using digital and social media.  Digital devices are laptops, tablets, smart phones and any form of wearable technology. Social media are websites and applications that allow people to create and share content and/or participate in social networking.  

To ethically use social media as part of my teaching and other scholarship, I am continuously balancing ethical standards from the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), NASW Code of the Ethics, the NASW & ASWB Standards for Technology and Social Work Practice, and my institution.  Examples include weighing the possibility of dual relationships and privacy violations with innovative teaching practices, student engagement and professional networking.  I believe social workers, educators, and students can respectfully and conscientiously use digital and social media to connect, learn, and contribution to public conversations of importance to the profession and vulnerable, oppressed and under-served populations that we serve.

For me, the some of the benefits of using social media as a social work educator include showing students how to ethically and competently use social media for their own professional development; meeting and networking with social workers and other professionals from all over the world; keeping up-to-date on news and scholarship; sharing information and ideas with students and colleagues in real time; and participating in public discourse.  Some of the risks might include committing privacy and confidentiality violations; developing or having the perception of a dual relationship with a student; exposure to electronic aggression from students or colleagues; and posting comments and content in a thoughtless, unethical and/or unprofessional manner.

Here are my guidelines: 

I will work to maintain and model virtual boundaries by:

  • Accepting requests to connect or follow students only on Twitter and LinkedIn, my professional social media accounts.
  • Not connecting with students on FaceBook, Instagram and other social media accounts that I use for socializing.
  • Maintaining and updating my professional social media profiles and accounts (Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, ResearchGate, and
  • Monitoring my screen time in personal and professional settings and taking breaks from social media.

I will keep information and content private and confidential by:

  • Asking permission to post students’ or colleagues’ pictures, images, videos or other content on any social media platform, including my blog.
  • Not sharing others’ mobile phone numbers and email addresses unless I have permission.
  • Following FERPA and institutional polices to protect the privacy of students’ educational records by not revealing information about grades, course enrollments, class schedules and other confidential information on any social media platform or through electronic communications such as emails or text messages.
  • Using and staying current about the privacy settings with my social media accounts.

I will promote integrity and accountability among students and with colleagues and other professionals by:

  • Using internet search engines such as Google, scholarly databases, and citations managers to check for signs of plagiarism, falsification of information and other forms of academic and scholarly misconduct.
  • Abiding by copyright laws, Creative Commons Licensing and other ethical guidelines when citing, acknowledging or hat-tipping the work of others.
  • Not posting negative comments about work matters, students, or colleagues on social media.

I will strive to be accessible and model professional digital communication with students, colleagues and other professionals by:

  • Responding to emails and text messages in a timely, respectful and efficient manner.
  • Answering direct messages in Twitter and LinkedIn in a timely, respectful and efficient manner.
  • Explaining my preferences for digital communication with students and colleagues.

Here are some course and classroom specific guidelines for students: 

What is okay in the classroom? 

  • Bringing and using your digital devices to take notes and search for course related content.
  • Keeping your mobile phone on silent in the event of a personal or professional matter that requires you to be accessible to employers or significant others.
  • Alerting the instructor in advance that you may need to take a call and stepping outside the classroom to answer your mobile phone.

What is not okay in the classroom? 

  • Using your digital devices to do anything other than class related activities as it is very disruptive to your classmates and the instructor.
  • Not silencing sound notifications on devices such as ring tones or text alerts.
  • Answering a mobile phone, emails or text messages in-class (breaks excluded).
  • Taking and/or sharing photos without the knowledge and permission of the instructor and, if appropriate, the knowledge and permission of other students in the classroom.
  • Recording audio or video of any activity in the class and/or sharing those recordings without the knowledge and permission of the instructor, and if appropriate, the knowledge and permission of other students in the classroom.

What is the best way to use email as part of this course? 

  • Use your University email address (via the web, your email management software or the University’s Learning Management system).
  • Be professional.  Include a greeting, a brief discussion that includes why and what you are emailing about, and a sign-off with a signature line.
  • Use complete sentences and proper punctuation.
  • Use jargon, emoticons or emoji sparingly.
  • Expect a response from the instructor within 24 -36 hours, between the times of 6 AM and 10 PM CST.
  • Respond to my emails (the instructor), as needed, in a timely manner.

What is the best way to use text messages as part of this course? 

  • When texting, please identify who you are and the class. I do not respond to texts from unidentified persons.
  • Be professional and brief in the message by using close-ended questions and keeping jargon, acronyms, emoji and emoticons to a minimum.
  • During normal business hours, I typically respond to texts within minutes, but it can take longer. I do not respond to text messages between 10 PM and 6 AM.

Students should be aware that: 

  • Location-based services on social media and other sites may inadvertently divulge your whereabouts such as the location of the classroom on campus.
  • Posting negative comments about classmate and professors on social media may not remain private and confidential.
  • Sites that allow users to rate their professors and/or University may also compromise a student’s confidentiality.

Because digital and social technologies are constantly changing, I will review and update this policy at least annually, if not more frequently.

Dated: February 12, 2016
Revised: March 15, 2016

I am also including Allison’s professional social media policy that she uses with students and colleagues as part of her work as a Field Director.

Allison Curington’s Social Media Guidelines

The social media policy refers to the use of online sites including, but not limited to: Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Photosharing, Snapchat, Instagram, Blogs, SMS/texting, and other websites. Digital and social media are valuable tools as practitioners and educators; however, they can also present challenges such as dual relationships and conflict of interest. In hopes to decrease challenges, I have developed my own social media guidelines.

In considering the salient points in this document I relied on the following resources to guide me:

Privacy and confidentiality:

  • I will ask permission to post content (pictures, images, video, text) of students, agency constituents, and colleagues on any social media platform.
  • I will follow FERPA and institutional policies to protect the privacy of students’ educational records by not revealing information about grades, course enrollments, class schedules, etc. on any social media platform or through electronic communications.


  • Friending: I do not accept friend requests from students on social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram that I use for socializing.  I will accept friend requests from students on LinkedIn, my professional social media account.
  •  Use of Search Engines: It is NOT a regular part of my practice to search for students on Google or Facebook or other search engines. However, many of our agencies do search on these sites for student information prior to field placement interview. If an agency, student, or colleague reports content concerns on social media, I will search. These situations do not occur frequently. However, please keep in mind that when this type of circumstance arises, I will fully document it and discuss in a field staffing with student.


  • I will use your University e-mail to contact you.
  • I will respond within 24 -48 hours, between the times of 7 AM and 7 PM CST.
  • If you do not receive a response from me during this time frame please e-mail again.


Author: Laurel Hitchcock

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