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My proposal for a new social media policy

August 2, 2011

A while ago, we had a very lively discussion on both Shawn and Myele’s blog about whether one should friend students. Yesterday, I saw Kate Nowak simply facebooked her crew of (former?) students to get feedback on an idea she and and I thought—”that’s awesome.” I want to do that.

Problem is, I’ve been afraid to open up my facebook account and friend students, and even though I think twitter is awesome, and use it all the time, I’ve worried about what will happen if students were to find my account and start to follow me. But why? Other than the fact that it’s stocked with photos of the cutest 9 month old you’re likely to see, it’s as boring as they come. And twitter? What salacious gossip could a student discover about me by reading my twitter stream? That I’m a big physics geek? That isn’t really news to my students.

Here’s what I think they’ll see. They’ll see that I’m still learning, just like they are. They’ll see that I’m trying to connect with people all across the world to learn about physics, and maybe this will push them to try to build connections beyond their school, community or city.

But really, this isn’t about me and my facebook or twitter page at all. It’s about the student. And how in not friending and following my students, I’m passing up an incredible opportunity for learning. I want to learn who my students are as people, and observe how they interact when they aren’t in my classrooms. And I want to help them grown outside my classrooms as people who get social media, and use it to help develop and project their best selves forward. And I’m not all that afraid of what I’ll see. Kids do, say and write dumb things. I did this, you did this, we all do this. And yes, with the internet, there’s a chance that some of those dumb things will stick around forever, and there may be ramifications later in life, but I think, if we as adults can get involved and help kids learn from mistakes when the mistakes are small, there will be much less of a chance of this. I don’t see this as being the net nanny for my student’s social media presence—that’s not what I want to do at all.

I am so much more interested in helping my students to see social media as I see it, as in incredible tool for connecting with people to change the world. Just one example—through twitter, I meet Megan Howard (@mmhoward), an administrator at a nearby K-6 private school, after tweeting her following the screening of Race to Nowhere back in October. Turns out Megan is an alum of the school I teach at, and even though she lives less than a mile from my school, we likely never would have met were it not for twitter. Now, she has become a wonderful friend. And while that’s great for me, what is really important is that she’s also helping me to change the world—it was her tweet and my response that launched the edu180atl project, which is, in my humble opinion, doing a wonderful job of sharing stories of learning around Atlanta, and it’s only just beginning. So I think it’s great that students are using social media to connect with their friends, but that’s just the start—I want them to use it to build bonds with artists, musicians, scientists, athletes and learners from all across the world, and use those bonds to make the world a better place. And more often than not, I think it’s going to take a teacher working with students to make this happen, or at least expose students to the possibility.

So in that spirit, I’ve written the following proposed social media policy for interacting with students:

I will accept all friend requests with the following understanding. I view “friending” me as a reqest to mentor you. This means I will read your page. I will read your page to get to know you better and offer you specific feedback in the hopes that you will use social media to create a digital presence that captures both who you are and who you can be at your very best, and that you will reach out to connect and share with people from across the world in order to change the world.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. August 4, 2011 6:22 am

    Social media is not going away. It is becoming a primary means of learning, doing business, etc. If we teachers don’t model and guide wise, responsible use, then who will? We teach young people to drive by driving in the car with them. We teach them to talk and walk by talking with them and walking with them. For positive habits to develop we need mentored guidance and direction (feedback) when we slip. Thanks, John. Great post.

    • August 4, 2011 7:24 am

      Great points, Bo! I’m working on a piece about Facebook now. Do you mind if I take that?

  2. August 4, 2011 7:34 am

    You (and others) are starting to make me rethink my “no students” policy on Facebook. But Facebook seems messy to me, because I use it primarily for contact with family. And not all of my nieces and nephews are always properly modest online… I mean there’s some messy family stuff that’s not a big deal, but not part of my interaction with students (for a variety of reasons)–not secrets, really, but personal things that I wish they wouldn’t put online, but they do. This is really the only part of my Facebook experience that I would rather not share. I like the circles idea of Google Plus for this reason.

    Also, my students, when asked, unanimously say that they don’t want me to talk physics on Facebook. Facebook is for friends and fun, they say, not for work. They don’t want work, or school, interspersed within a wall of “friend stuff.” They want it segregated. Google Plus again, I’m thinking.

    • August 4, 2011 6:07 pm

      I think my students tend to view facebook as a place for friend stuff too. Though this year, they did on their own accord form a “physics” group for sharing information about the class. Also, I think we all have people we’re friends with who’s behavior we’re occasionally not proud of. The idealistic part of me thinks for the kid who is really struggling at home with family stuff might benefit from seeing that all our families have their moments. And my work on the edu180atl project, especially our efforts to start a social media campaign usign facebook have given me some home that facebook might be used to transcend the banal. Of course, Malcolm Gladwell would disagree.

  3. August 4, 2011 10:11 am

    So what to make of the new law in Missouri about teachers and social networking, that very few people understand

    • August 4, 2011 5:50 pm

      I think honestly the loaded word “friend” is a large part of the problem. Lots of people cringe at the thought of adults being friends with kids. “Parents shouldn’t be friends with their kids”, etc. But when you really think about your friends on facebook, I think almost all of us have people on facebook that don’t fit the traditional definition of friend. So I’d like to choose to redefine the term.

  4. August 4, 2011 11:02 am

    This dilemma of the limits of social media interaction between students and teachers is one that I’ve been experiencing the other side of all year. Should I follow the teacher at my school whose class I’ve never taken, even though he or she is constantly spreading good ideas? Should I send that friend request to a friend of mine, who also happens to be one of my teachers? I’ve tended to lean on the side of caution here, even though this may be a mistake.

    I can also attest to the power of teachers to mentor me about my mistakes. Early on in my Twitter career, I sent two incredibly common-sense lacking tweets. Had a teacher not come to me and pointed this out to me, I could easily be experiencing the ramifications today.

    Michael A. Rees

    • August 4, 2011 5:56 pm

      Thanks so much for the comment. I think you are right, this is a potential minefield, but then again, what isn’t in education. And don’t get me wrong, for the longest time I’ve held a “not until you graduate” policy on facebook, and even then only allowed students to see a locked down part of my profile. But I’m beginning to be more open to the possibility mainly because I see students like you who are doing such extraordinary things and I want my students to do the same.

  5. William M. McClatchey, MD permalink
    August 20, 2011 2:40 pm

    I have enjoyed these two blogs by Bo and John, two colleagues whom I deeply respect and admire, and I wanted to provide some additional perspective as feedback in their respective blogs.

    My perspective is that of a longtime technogeek doctor who has overseen the deployment of extensive technology in my industry, and faced the piques and arrows of many people who became uncomfortable with change. I am now a board member of a large K-12 school that is embracing a huge technology deployment for the future of its kids, the future of pedagogical excellence and the transformation of teaching itself. I am a passionate enthusiast of this transformation and all it will mean in the lives of our kids and the profession of teaching.

    But I must take some pause with the notion of Facebook and Ttwitter as required or endorsed parts of this educational experience. Far too many educators and others continue to equate social networking, the concept, with Facebook and Twitter, the brands. They are not the same, either in motivation or function. Twitter has the capacity for a little more security, but like Facebook, was designed with only a modicum of concern for confidentiality.

    I love the metaphor with training wheels which Bo develops. Sending our youngsters to Facebook feels like sending them on to a busy city street at rush hour using training wheels. Its dangerous, and there will be some kids that get to their destination, some skinned knees, some broken arms, and an occasional fatality.

    Facebook and Twitter are for profit applications that make their profits from their advertising revenue and the number of users they can demonstrate to their customer advertisers. Facebook has an incredibly diverse audience of users, the vast majority of whom use it for the wonderful capacity it has to link people together. But there are many instances of perverse behavior on Facebook. The problem is that its users are not authenticated in any way. It is filled with much of the good, some of the bad, and a dollop of the ugly.

    There is a simple and effective solution: use one of the many social networking tools which allow the control of access within a private community. Indeed, build the social network in which you would want your family and yourself to live. Diigo and SocialGo are but two examples, there are others. Give these kids some training wheels. Let them experience social networking in an environment where the others in their community can be authenticated as being legitimate parts of their community. There will still be occasional problems, usually the result of bad judgment or unintended consequences. But it is hard to imagine the awful outcomes that have been occasionally seen in the wild, wild west that is the open internet. The most recent example of many:

    As to the understandable desire to socially network between faculty and students, this could be a wonderful process of developing learning partnerships between students and teachers. But do it within the walls of Fort Apache rather than the open plains. I think there is great danger for everyone when faculty “friend” students on Facebook who are in their current charge and mentoring. I would be very fearful of this were I a young faculty member. The motivations that guide the development of Facebook pages are too diverse, and the potential for unintended mischief too great. For many twenty something young faculty, Facebook is a place to seek out dating relationships, bar hopping locales, and keep up with lost friends and lovers. For many students it is a place to play out their adolescent anxieties and nurture their burgeoning identities. How many of us in retrospect would want our adolescent foibles published for the world to see? The collision of these two sets of understandable human goals by two very different groups of people in terms of life experience seems guaranteed to misfire in some terribly unintended ways.

    There is another missing piece in this discussion: the parents and students.

    Twenty years ago there was little angst over privacy and confidentiality within the health industry. Doctors generally were not concerned, nor was much of the hospital industry. In the early nineties a concerted effort at engaging the public entered the discussion, and it turns out that much to our initial surprise and dismay, there was a great deal of angst and concern in the public about the confidentiality of their health information. This ultimately led to the passage by Congress of HIPAA, which legislates rigorous standards surrounding the confidentiality of health information, including the prohibition of email for the transmission of health information. When the public weighed in, an entire industry ultimately got it and changed their views and their thinking. And all for the better. This one technogeek doctor finally got it, and thinks about the preservation of confidentiality of health information and identity in everything he does professionally.

    I mention this because the academy, like the health industry, runs a very real risk of missing the mark on the use of social networking by not engaging the parents who entrust their kids to us on a daily basis or the kids in whose lives they play such an important role. This type of dialog can be off-putting, noisy and chaotic, but real wisdom generally emerges. We need to create such a forum, not blogging, where parents, students, and their teachers can share their enthusiasms and anxieties around social networking. And certainly we need to nurture the conviction by all parties that their voice has been heard, a feeling that leads to a sense of confidence that everyone did their best, when the time of trouble comes, as surely it will.

    So embrace social networking!

    But do it within a controlled environment, using privately controlled applications, where the identity and motives of all who can participate are clear and transparent.

    I believe that we can have a controlled social networking environment, consistent with our obligation to our youngsters and to our communities, to provide a safe environment for the growth of our kids, truly preparing them to enter the greater world with a balanced foundation of knowledge and experience on the appropriate use of these wonderful tools.

    Let the kids learn digital citizenship as the foundation of all they do using technology.

    But give them some training wheels before they find themselves on busy highways fumbling for their lives.

    • August 20, 2011 9:18 pm

      I’ll have to look at the responses. I’m not sure I saw many differences in reading over their responses.

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