The National Honor Society advisor at our high school asked me the other day how I felt about Facebook in school. I didn't go into my entire internal conflict over the use of Facebook and related social media with students and staff because, 1) she's not terribly savvy (but has forgotten more American history than I'll ever know) and 2) because her question specifically related to using Facebook to communicate and friend students.
What she really wanted to know was whether it was a good idea to "friend" the Honor Society students and use that as the organization's primary means of contact. As she noted, the students universally reported that they just don't check their email, but they are on Facebook all the time. "Email is a hassle."
As regular readers know, I'm not entirely convinced that Facebook shouldn't be one of a vast set of communication tools that we employ to reach out to students, parents, and the community. Certainly among non-business users, social media have replaced email as the communications venues of choice. Even business users are increasingly using Facebook, Twitter, etc. Have you read Jennifer Leggio's blog? Social media are everywhere.
However (and this is a really important "however"), email is not going anywhere anytime soon. When our students go to college and into the workforce, they are going to use email. When they want to buy a house, they are going to email their mortgage broker, not post something on their brokers' Walls.
We can't (and shouldn't) avoid social media. We need to embrace it, if we can cover ourselves legally and be smart about how we use it, especially when there are kids involved. Yet students also need to embrace email and the power of documentation via that medium as well. As Google puts it, they now talk about sharing documents and resources in terms of "associating documents with an email address." Email remains a key medium for real world communication, even in the land of Web 2.0+.
My answer to the teacher? We're giving them Google Apps. They should be checking their email. Apps can sit open in a tab or two right next to Facebook. They'll be using Apps all the time to email and share documents with teachers and each other. There's no excuse for them not to use email. I also told her that we might need to revisit that particular way of thinking in a couple of years, but for now, email remains a useful tool that should be central to their communication within school.