We’re all moving into summer mode, but before we completely abandon the academic year, I wanted to share some interesting outcomes from my students’ final ethics papers.
As you probably remember, I asked my students a weekly question and they were to write a position paper, supporting their views with one of the ethical theories we discussed in class. The students wrote 13 such papers during the semester. We discussed them in Ethics Friday sessions.
The final ethics question was: Should teachers/professors interact with their students via social media?
The question was inspired by stories like this one in USAToday about the topic and the continuing national discussion about whether such relationships should be regulated legally.
Ten students in the class thought educators should interact with their students via social media. Five did not. Interestingly, three of those five follow me on Twitter, Instagram or both.
I have specific social media policies outlining how I interact with students online. Generally, students can follow this blog’s Facebook page or my Twitter account. I do not “friend” students on my personal Facebook account. I also allowed students to live tweet my classes for the first time this semester. You can read more about that here.
Not too close
The students who did not support academic social media connections were concerned that the potential negative consequences outweighed the positive ones.
A couple of them wrote about a psychiatrist in Beverly Hills who claimed one-on-one relationships outside of the classroom led to inappropriate behavior; likening these relationships to the student and teacher being together at a bar.
Assisting the educational process
Proponents of the online engagement saw it as a back channel in the classroom, allowing students and educators to embrace and incorporate new learning styles. The students said social media allows for the extension of classroom discussions, learning and advising. They also saw it as a good method for the instructor to communicate class-related announcements to students in a medium they already were using.
One student wrote that it is unfortunate when academia is slow to adopt new technologies, as using them properly becomes part of educators’ teaching task. Instead, they said teachers should embrace these new technologies and use them to their advantage. They thought this was especially relevant since students are using these tools as their primary forms of communication.
Another student thought considering the purpose was an easy way to determine the line of what is appropriate. “Education must always be the No. 1 priority,” she wrote.
Age is key
Most students saw a difference between social media engagement in high school and college.
They found it more acceptable for professors to engage with students via social media than high school teachers because of the maturity level of the students. As one student wrote, “There is a substantial difference between interaction between minors and their instructors and adults and their educators.”
The students also thought college professors were more likely to respect their privacy and withhold judgement on their social media interactions.
Social media not equal
Perhaps one of the most interesting outcomes of the assignment was that the students did not view all social media equally. Specifically, they thought it was acceptable for students and educators to interact via just about every social medium except Facebook. The students saw Facebook as more private than other mediums and thought Facebook should be used for educational purposes only if a special page was created for the course.
I should, however, mention that this reflects my personal social media policy. It could be that the students’ opinions were influenced by what they know was allowed in the course.
I almost didn’t ask the students this question, but I’m glad I did. Their answers gave me a lot of insight into how they view student/teacher interactions and where/how they prefer learning to occur. I still think there is a strong case for social media engagement in and out of the classroom, I’m just not entirely sure that best practices in doing so have evolved.
Let’s Talk Nerdy!
What do you think? Should educators interact with their students via social media? If so, what are the parameters of these interactions?