tMI – Students’ Personal Lives and Twitter in the Classroom

While presenting to a group of elementary teachers about possible ways to use Twitter in education, lots of concerns came up about student uses. I told the group that I’m not a big fan of the idea of students using Twitter in elementary school, although grade 7/8 might be okay (depending a lot on the particular students). When I finally had a chance to read @acampbell99’s new, blog-killer post on tumblr I saw that he has similar reservations. In fact, he used the same phrase in his post that I did in my session, referring to social media as the “wild west” right now.

One of the participants brought up a concern that I didn’t think too much about at the time, but have been mulling over since then. She said that she didn’t want to see all the personal stuff from students that they regularly post as Twitter users (weekend activities, language that wouldn’t be appropriate for school, etc.). For some of the classroom uses of Twitter, the teacher might have to “follow” or at least “list” the students in order for the techniques to work (often a hashtag is sufficient, and would be preferred, to get around this). Following students has two potential drawbacks that are kind of bothering me now.

First is the concern identified by Andrew Campbell: that adults and school are encroaching into teen havens. He says

Teens are using social media as a proxy space for this process of self-definition. The intrusion of adults and schools into teen social media prevents this from happening. To facilitate proper social development of students schools need to steer clear of teen dominated social media spaces. (http://ascampbell99.tumblr.com/)

Second is the concern that as teachers we might become privy to information about students that we would be forced to act upon. For example, if I believed a student was suffering some form of abuse, I would be bound by the standards of my profession to pursue the claim through the appropriate channels (and morally bound, besides). The problem with the information I might find in social media is the question of reliability. I don’t know whether the information disclosed by a student in an online space is more or less reliable than my observations of or conversations with a student, and so I feel more hesitant about the idea of acting upon it. It’s something to think about, at least, and I’m just starting to.

Do you have your students tweet in class? Do you follow them? What would you do if you learned something that concerned you?


2 thoughts on “tMI – Students’ Personal Lives and Twitter in the Classroom

  1. Interesting post, Brandon. I think you’ve both asked and answered some questions in the post. In light of the fact that the Ontario Curriculum has yet to prescribe the use of social media, it is currently just another tool that a teacher may elect to bring into her or his classroom. I think that there is a good argument for it once a teacher gets his / her head around it. As I would imagine that you’re summizing, I’m in favour of its use, where appropriate. Schools didn’t have internet access when I started teaching but many of my students were connected and connected to me – I ran my own Bulletin Board Service and students were able to dial in and talk on chat boards, ask for homework help, and even upload programs for solution.

    To this end, I’m a real fan of a student-created Acceptable Use Policy rather than the legal ones that are so often used. Of course, the teacher drives the policy!

    You used the term “wild west” in your post so I’ll throw back another popular analogy that we don’t ask students to drive without teaching them first. What better way to teach the effective and, yes, appropriate use than in the classroom of a professional educator that knows the tool and what it’s capable of.

    There are so many “social networks” that are available including the Ministry’s LMS that a mere mortal teacher wouldn’t be able to monitor them all. But, we’ve all been in situations where we see things and we do need to act on them. I can remember, as a football coach, going into the stands to break up an altercation or, as a hockey fan getting involved for no other reason that it’s the right thing to do and one of the participants was wearing a school jacket. I would hope that anyone would do the right thing whether or not they were on the clock.

    I think that it’s a good conversation to have and that people aren’t running and hiding. You know that, with the proliferation of services, that it’s going to happen. We’ll look back on these conversations with a smile wondering why we spent the time to comment.

    We just need to come to the understanding that we are who we are. Heck, even your blog is letting me know “dougpete: You are commenting using your WordPress.com account.”

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