Thursday, January 8, 2009

Psychology Today Talks Social Networking Issues

The Nov/Dec 2008 issue of Psychology Today discusses results of a study into gender, education and social networking "The New Rules of Social Networking":
Teacher's Pet

"OMG, r u kidding me? My prof just friended me on FB!" One-third of surveyed students believe faculty should not be permitted access to Facebook, citing concerns of identity management and privacy. Males are more than twice as likely to be OK with faculty presence on Facebook.

Leveling the Field

Despite students' reluctance to integrate teachers and professors into online social networks, instructors who disclose information about their social lives on their Facebook profiles increase student motivation and create a more comfortable classroom climate.
This brings up a lot of issues. I had a MySpace profile before I started teaching, and while I didn't remove it upon starting, I did take all of the privacy precautions I could:
  • I had control over new comments posted and even went back and deleted anything that could remotely be considered questionable.
  • I used a non-school email address.
  • I wrote about what I was going through in my first years of teaching on my MySpace blog, but did so without using names and leaving out telling details. I enjoyed talking with other teachers who sympathized with what I was going through, but it wasn't long before the blog was limited to my "friends," and later deleted altogether.
  • My profile could only be viewed by approved "friends".
  • I had no student "friends" (nor would I approve it if requested) or communicate with them via the website.
I constantly read about teachers getting fired because of MySpace, and I wasn't going to take any chances. Later I changed my name so I wouldn't be searchable and at one point even removed my picture. I know it was worth it, because students told me how they had actively searched for me but couldn't find me.

When students asked if I had one, the answer was no. I am a proponent of using social networks to engage students, but if I was to do that, I would create a new profile exclusively for that purpose. School and district officials were never on the same page with me no matter where I taught, and so I never did it (although a colleague of mine did with nothing bad coming of it). I would really like to have one for former students to keep in touch with me, especially those who have gone off to college. Knowing that they are succeeding now is important to me, but unfortunately I don't know what's going on with any of them.

More recently I joined Facebook, still keeping all of my privacy and content controls on tight. Luckily though, I've never heard of current or former students using Facebook; MySpace is the place to be until you're out of high school, for the most part. Hopefully it stays that way.

I will probably delete my MySpace profile soon, as I rarely use it anymore. If it came to it, I would delete Facebook as well, but in that case I do actively use it to keep up with many friends and acquaintances in a way that would be difficult if not impossible otherwise.

So I have a few discussion questions for all of the educators out there:
  1. Do you have any personal (not meant to be seen by students) social networking profiles? If so, what sort of privacy controls do you use?
  2. Do you use social networking in your classroom?
  3. What do you think about social networking with current students for relationship building (as the article above mentions)? What about using it for teaching?
  4. Do you think about social networking with former students?
  5. Should teachers be checking up on their students' personal profiles to help keep them out of trouble/report to parents or school officials?
Please share your thoughts in the comments section.