Response to @dougpete and using Social Media with students

Once in a while I like to go back an arbitrarily-round-number time in my posts to see what I said. Today I returned to about a year ago and saw a post called tMI – Students’ Personal Lives and Twitter in the Classroom in which I shared some concerns that a teacher brought up during a professional learning session. I quickly read it over, and then tweeted it out again:

Then Doug Peterson (@dougpete) commented on the post, which got me thinking some more. We had a brief Twitter exchange, prompting more firing of neurons. I started to reply with a comment, but I’ve changed my mind. I think I’m ready to paste my new-and-improved-but-still-not-final thoughts in this new post. First, here’s…

Doug’s comment

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.”

And My Reply

Thanks for commenting, Doug. I keep returning to the idea that teachers need to develop some comfort with some platforms so that they can engage with students meaningfully. Part of that is for the learning at hand (the science or philosophy or whatever), but another significant part is for students to learn how to interact appropriately (learning to drive, as you say). I don’t think any more that we should ignore the activities of our youth online just because their virtual personas may be “unreliable”; instead we need to be careful in how we interpret their interactions. The teacher I spoke with wasn’t concerned about whether they were on the clock (teachers are always on the clock), but rather whether they would know what was serious or truthful and what was joking or dishonest.

I’m planning to engage with students online next year, and I’m trying to decide where the boundaries should be. I won’t be using Facebook with students (family and friends only, thank you), but Twitter seems very useful as a learning tool. I’ll be teaching high school students as well, which might make a difference; I just don’t know what kind of difference. I see examples of teachers (like Danika Barker, @danikabarker) using Twitter to engage and interact with learners, and I see a place for that in my own teaching. I’m also a relatively experienced Twitter user, so my comfort with the platform takes away some barriers that another teacher might still need to overcome. As I mentioned in the original post, I believe hashtags are a good way to interact without interfering too much in students’ lives.

So I don’t think we need to protect our teens from social media as though the platforms themselves are evil. Instead we should be working with our youth to understand the place of social media in their (our) lives with a mind to positive, thoughtful interactions and the legacies we leave. We don’t want a young child to be on Twitter, but I think we need our teens to be on Twitter or something like it. How else will they develop the skills and the resiliency they’ll need in other parts of life?

I’m thinking that the “right” approach is to treat online communication much like offline communication. The main differences are that it’s more transparent, more public, and definitely more permanent. Those differences are mostly strengths, but they should inform and temper our uses. The challenge is to be wise in applying these technologies to our communication without introducing a chilling effect. And I think teachers will best be able to meet that challenge if they’ve taken some time to learn a platform well.

Figuring out how to make that happen isn’t easy, of course. I’ve given workshop sessions and written blog posts galore on how a teacher might use Twitter for professional development (this is both to improve their PD and also to help them consider other uses for Twitter). I’ve encouraged my local colleagues to use social media for their learning. I’ve commented on blog posts, invited people to EdCampSault, and offered one-on-one time to learn tools. But teacher need will win out over everything else in its own time: the need to connect with colleagues or the need to improve student learning. When a teacher becomes aware of the power of social media for learning, they’ll see the importance of figuring it out. So I try to be an awareness builder, because these tools are a major part of our lives.

Doug, I really like your last paragraph: ‘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.”‘

We are developing online presence all the time, and remembering that online presence is a real-life presence should go a long way towards ensuring we make good choices in our interactions with students.

Thanks again for commenting!

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One thought on “Response to @dougpete and using Social Media with students

  1. l follow both of you on twitter and your blogs as well, you make me think all the time. I love using twitter in the classroom, but so far it’s been more me, less them, but I like the possibilities. Thought provoking post.

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