From education to employment

How do FE practitioners get the best out of using social media and insure against social media slips?

With the new academic year in full swing, Katie Ancliffe, head of marketing at student and academic insurance specialists Endsleigh, looks at what practitioners can do to protect themselves when using social networking sites and why social media should be embraced and adopted in both vocational and classroom learning.

Most of us are already using social media in our personal lives. Whether we read news and blogs online, have a Facebook account or even use Virtual Learning Environments at colleges and learning institutions we are engaged and consuming vast amounts. Equally, you can bet the majority of your learners are well ahead of the curve in terms of their social media usage. So why isn’t it being fully embraced in FE learning and why are so many practitioners scared of using it?

One leading newspaper ran a story stating that educators ‘fear Facebook more than Ofsted inspections’ and we’ve all read horror stories of teachers falling foul of employers and parents due to a rogue status update, Facebook comment or negative tweet. Private lives become a lot less private if social networks allow everyone to view your profiles, interests and updates. Practitioners also face a minefield of rules, ethical decisions and confusing advice on how best to integrate social media in their teaching and practical learning and so it’s no wonder that there is scepticism and a nervousness to adopt it widely in their learning environments.

Whilst the relationship between a teacher and pupil at primary and secondary school is often more formal and regulated for good reason, FE practitioners still have to be accountable and responsible for their learners and should still be careful of how they use social media in their workplace as it could affect their position and credibility if students get hold of incriminating social media content.

There are no laws or specific insurance products here in the UK but is it something that could follow soon? We do have guidance from the main unions and colleges are beginning to implement social media policies and best practice guidelines but teachers and practitioners need to be personally responsible for their own online behaviour and ensure that they are able to protect themselves whilst using social networking sites.

So what can practitioners do to protect and insure themselves online? Is there not an argument that if we are giving young people vocational skills for the future then an understanding of current technology trends is essential for employability? If that is the case, how then do practitioners use it responsibly and walk the fine line between protecting themselves and using social media as a learning tool. Here at Endsleigh, we regularly analyse and monitor social networking sites whilst handling claims for our customers and we speak to a lot of FE practitioners (as well as students leaving university to take up academic or teaching positions). With that in mind, we have provided some top tips for those working in the FE sector to help avoid pitfalls and social media mishaps but also prepare their students for the future:

  • JISC ( is tasked with leading innovation and technological advancement across the education sector. They have valuable information and discussion documents on the subject of social media in the FE sector so it’s a good place to start.

  • There is no longer a distinction between offline and online. If you are going to tweet, post on a Facebook page or contact a learner online, it has to be no different to what is appropriate when speaking to them directly.

  • Check if your college or institution has a social media policy. Many colleges are starting to wise up and have institution-wide policies which staff and students must sign. Find out if your college has one and ensure that you are adhering to any requirements and guidance.

  • Social media should not be seen as a negative thing. There are sites and tools that can seriously enhance a learning environment and provide an excellent way of communicating with learners. Whilst its essential to be cautious of personal information, embracing new ways of helping students should not be shied away from.

  • If you do need to use sites such as Facebook, Ning or Twitter to create learning networks or to demonstrate media capability then think seriously about having a professional profile and strict guidelines for use.

  • Privacy settings are your friend! They provide an excellent way of controlling or displaying information. If you are worried that students can view information then often you are able to control what is seen.

  • Discuss and engage your learners in a discussion about privacy. If you will be using social media with your students, let them know the parameters of how they can interact with you and other students. Lead by example.

  • Being up to date with social media and technological advances can often be seen as highly desirable skills when it comes to employability in both a vocational and office environment. Think carefully how the use of social media could benefit your learners when they leave learning and are on the hunt for a job.

Ultimately, there is a risk for those who take the plunge and invest in using social media for learning purposes. The line between personal and professional can often become blurred and FE practitioners should exercise restraint, common sense and caution but the pay backs can be superb. Here at Endsleigh we use it proactively and are advocates that educators across the board should embrace it. We can’t insure you for any social media slips but the above pointers can give you some valuable tips on best practice to ensure that you are using it constructively and to the benefit of your learners.

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