Social Media Is a Minefield for Educators

Lynn ZimmermannBy Lynn Zimmerman
Editor, Teacher Education

Friend Your Students? New York City Schools Say No“* focuses on the new social media policy put in place by the New York City Department of Education. The policy, which establishes guidelines for teacher use of social media, allows educators to use it to enhance their students’ educational experiences and to be more accessible to them. However, this policy and others like it raise concerns about the potential for social media to blur boundaries that should not be crossed in teacher-student interactions.

As I was reading this article, I found a link to another All Things Considered post related to a new technology segment that began in May 2012. It is a social media advice column, and the plan is for pros to answer listeners’ questions. This in itself is a 21st century approach to advice columns. Listeners can email their questions or post them to the site’s blog.

The first column addresses the question Should You Friend Your Boss on Facebook?, and two experts on social media offer their opinions. One issue is that social media uses a different meaning for the word “friend” and the types of boundaries that word implies. In a workplace relationship, you may ask yourself, “Are there items that I would normally share with a friend that I really don’t want the boss to see or know about?” One expert suggests putting the boss in the “safe zone” to create specific boundaries for your social network. In that way you still come across as a team player without opening up your personal life in a way that may be uncomfortable for you.

However, one cannot ignore that there are power issues inherent in any boss-employee relationship. Depending on the situation, some of your actions can be misinterpreted or used against you. Linking to a competitor’s website, for instance, may be interpreted as a lack of company loyalty or as possible interest in moving on. If the boss links to a site that lists donations and learns that you haven’t donated, how will s/he interpret it? What happens if the boss finds that you have linked to a site with political views that he opposes? In my opinion, this issue is a minefield, better to be avoided.

Educators are even more at risk in the social media minefields than professionals in other fields because they are connected to a larger pool of stakeholders – other teachers, their students, the students’ families, the community, administrators at various levels, the state legislature, and the public at large. Teachers are also under scrutiny because they interact with and are responsible for what is considered a vulnerable population – children.

A December 2011 All Things Considered article, Friendly Advice for Teachers: Beware of Facebook, addressed some of the problems posed by this blurring of boundaries in social media. Teachers have been fired over comments posted on their personal Facebook pages. The right to free speech has been invoked with supporters saying that what teachers do on their own time and in their own space is not to be confused with what they do as public servants. Some school districts are seriously considering whether teachers should be allowed to use social media at all, even in their personal lives. These issues are also related to growing concerns about the effects of cyberbullying. At question are: How do such incidents affect teachers’ classroom performance? What kind of role modeling do they represent? Do they reflect or create a negative atmosphere in schools?

Some of these issues can be generalized to most workplaces. The pervasiveness of computers and Internet access on the job has created new problems that must be addressed as part of any discussion about employee rights and responsibilities. Most organizations, including universities, have policies that address these issues, and Clemson University’s Acceptable Use Policy is an example. The issues are critical, and at this point we have more questions than answers.

* National Public Radio’s (NPR), All Things Considered, May 2012.

4 Responses

  1. I suppose I should not comment on this piece as I am engaged in a digital citizenship piece that is all about creating change for preservice teachers and students. The digital citizenship piece is about creating a space for teachers to be knowledgeable about social media and not to be scared off. There are modifications to the use of Facebook, and frankly it is where kids and the people we want to teach go. THere are
    ways to use Facebook that are teacher friendly and not in the main space.

    Let’s tell the truth about technology. We make it so hard to do that most people become customers and receivers of information. Facebook and other social media are ground truth based.

    When we first introduced the Internet to schools, the Pope, Oprah Winfrey, Miss Manners and a host of others ran up the red flag and decried the use of it. When we proposed to network the schools there was angst and anger. Anything new to education is often pushed aside with fear. Kids, communities and organizations in the meantime are using , using, creating speaking , learning , creating apps with their introduction to technology being social media, gaming and
    Youtube. Gamins is a bit harder to construct, and learn, but kids take to it like ducks on water.

    What is not to like? The founder of FACEBOOK came to the AAAS meeting several years ago to talk with scientists and to explain social media and possible use and the democratization of learning. The scientists tried to razz him, but he was academically prepared to answer questions and to talk about his efforts.

    Your thoughts?

    Bear in mind that my organization has a funding of $200,000 to create a pre-service initiative for teacher understanding and that I am on Google, Facebook and a few others.

  2. Here is a resource from Cyberlearning professionals that gives their take on social media. Hardly a minefield.
    but reflective change.

  3. Thought you might like this.

    Big Idea

    Social media applications support communication within and across networks of people, encouraging sharing of information, ideas, practices, and experiences without the time lag of traditional publication or broadcast media. Fast and focused communication of text, images, movies, music directly or via web links supports collaboration, whether that collaboration is a trivial decision on where to dine or a more sophisticated back and forth around an ongoing project.
    The content of communication can be directed to a single person or group, but it can also take the form of a broadcast to the general public or a collection of unknown followers/readers/listeners. Social media makes everyone a reporter. A tremendous variety of software applications serve in this function. Some are asynchronous personal spaces, such as Facebook or blogs. Others support instant, brief streams of communication, such as Twitter. Some support geolocated networking, such as Four Square, which lets you tell friends when and where you’ve “checked in” to a location such as school or the local museum.
    Social media is about conversation, relationships, user-generated content, and immediacy. Many web applications have social media potential. Flickr, Blogs, Wikis, Twitter, Four Square, MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, social bookmarking sites, YouTube, and podcasts,are generally considered social media. In these social spaces or web destinations, a user can fashion an identity/profile, create a network of ‘friends,’ and in many cases also passively “follow” or receive the activity feed or postings from unknown others who choose to make their output available to the public. These different sites are “open” and walled-off in different ways. This is something important to consider in the understanding of social media.
    Social networks that form and engage via social media can support the creation of groups that distinguish between friends, and closely knit networks or large, loosely coupled networks. Closely knit networks are small, typically family or long time mutual friends. Loosely coupled networks are typically made up of people who may not know each other but rather who share an interest, e.g., Occupy Wall Street. Members of large networks don’t communicate directly with each other as much as they address the network at large, where everyone is an audience member for everyone else.
    Social media also refers to the leveraging of social networks to create, share, and steward content. That content can be as diverse as a book review posted on Amazon or a home made movie uploaded to YouTube. Content sharing spaces, content vendors, and “news” aggregators make use of social media applications or applets to perform these functions by allowing visitors or members to rate and comment on what they find on the site or ‘in the stream’, and share what they out to other social networks.
    While social media use continues to grow in the public-at-large, the world of education is still determining how to use social media to engage students in learning while keeping them safe. Perhaps their most potent offering is the creation of social capital, that is, the potential to connect people to very useful other people who they might not otherwise find or know. In addition, engaging students in a real conversation about real issues is a powerful way to make learning authentic. Social Media potentially can bring new issues, people, and connections to typically closed classrooms.
    Transformative Potential

    Social Media is an important, but broad, concept, and consequently, the ways it can impact learning and education vary a great deal as the “what are we doing” of social media changes. For example, Social Media applications range from blogging, to pictures (Flickr), to short tweets, to connecting with others in social networking spaces, the particular benefits one receives will most likely be tied to a particular web application, with overlap between the tools. For example, of Twitter, instructors often discuss the value of students learning to express themselves in short, concise statements while in blogs, the benefit is on learning to express oneself and communicate effectively in writing. Both tools require the learner to understand the audience perspective to enhance communication. In Flickr, one can see how sharing pictures and learning from comments relates to the topic of visualization.
    Social Media can benefit students at learning level, and a social level. Potential impacts on the learning process include: increased opportunities for feedback from other people in the social space; authentic conversations with “others” outside of the class; more learning from deeper engagement; and opportunities for reflection. Potential impacts on the social part of learning include much of what comes from collaborative learning projects: deeper engagement in the subject; thinking about the subject in a variety of ways; more feedback on thoughts from both instructors and students; reduced isolation; developing identity and ownership of a problem; increased efficacy and sense of achievement.
    Perhaps one of the most potent benefits social media brings to learners (and all users) is the creation of social capital, that is, the potential in the connections of people to other people who they might not otherwise find or know. The potential in the connections includes, access to the other’s knowledge and their connections.
    Maybe the minefield is getting connectivity and professional development for social media use.

  4. I think social media is a goldmine for kids.. some things to think about .. but an attention getter.

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