Social media has been around for a while now. Yes, it seems like in every professional development workshop you go to some facilitator is making big money to tell you how new and uncharted social media is, but it isn’t 2009 anymore. Grandparents and elementary students are on Facebook and Instagram. In general, most people understand it. With that, most teachers understand the general protocols that go with being an educator on social media too. They may not follow them…but they at least understand.
However, there is a new frontier of legal and ethical standards when it comes to student-teacher relationships: Online gaming.
As the baby-boomers retire from the profession, more classrooms are staffed with Gen-Xers and Millennials. This means for the first-time students have teachers who had a digital childhood, teachers that grew up with smartphones, and teachers who play video games online just like them.
Which begs the question: Is it okay for teachers to engage in online gaming with their students?
The short answer is probably no.
This question is deeper than it looks on the surface because many schools are now incorporating video games into lessons. Some teachers have a school-sanctioned video game club or team, but an after-school gaming club or team is decidedly different than handing out your Gamertag to students and joining their online parties after school hours. Teaching a history lesson using Age-of-Empires in class is not the same as going home and watching your students on Twitch.
Joining parties, exchanging Gamertags, or following someone on Twitch all falls under the category of social media interaction. While this seems like a grey area to some, it is not. Online gaming platforms now allow users to generate content and send messages to each other… the main hallmarks of social media. And if and when that topic is ever seriously debated in court, any judge or jury would see it that way.
So, if you can not ethically or legally engage with students on social media then the same is true of online gaming. After all, the big concern with social media interactions between teacher and students is about lines being crossed and student safety. There have already been cases of teens running away with people they met through gaming, and the FBI has recently warned parents that predators are using online gaming platforms to lure minors. If all the same dangers apply, all the same rules apply too.
Just like with traditional social media, there will be teachers who push the limit and add students to their networks, and schools that for whatever reason allow them. However, everyone should be aware that online gaming just like Facebook or Snapchat can quickly blur the lines between the student-teacher relationship and thus should be approached with extreme caution…if at all.