Monday, October 10, 2011

Looking at the other side of things

I vowed - VOWED - to myself that I wouldn't do the usual holiday-related "I am thankful" post today. Instead, I caught up on polishing lesson plans teachers and I have co-planned, creating SMART board files for use this week, cleaning my house, and preparing for some of the four (yes, four) presentations I'll be doing over a three-day period next week. My blog composition came late Monday night, because forcing myself not to do a gratitude-themed post meant I needed a new idea - and fast - for my post.

I already mentioned my initial and subsequent reaction to reading the Ontario College of Teachers professional advisory on the use of social media. I wanted to ensure I understood both sides of the issue and when I visited my parents for Thanksgiving, they handed me articles they had saved from The Toronto Star on "bad teachers" who often use social media to groom their victims. It was very distressing and disturbing, although many of the cases I was familiar with because they appeared (anonymously) in the "blue pages" of the OCT magazine. My parents worry about me - they don't want my activities online to harm my career.

I also read a depressing account of a teacher's foray into provincial politics. This teacher is a podcaster and many of the things he's said online were mis-quoted and used against him in the campaign.

To be more educated about the rationale for the OCT's advisory, I read the backgrounder article; I had always wondered why the time of day for online interaction was such an issue, and they explained:

"Communicating with students or parents late at night, for example, may be misconstrued and considered inappropriate. E-mails drafted late at night can instead be sent the following day using the “delay” option in the toolbar."

A slideshow elaborating on the advisory said that all communication be kept professional and formal, with the example "Please come to room 204 at 3:30 for help with your homework" instead of "c u 3:30 @ my room". I admit that I've shortened my "you" to "u" when I didn't have enough space in my tweet. I've sent direct messages to students when I had a concern that I was uncertain about (e.g. I thought a student was bad-mouthing a teacher but it was unclear - I direct messaged her and it turns out I misunderstood her tweet). Does that mean I'm flirting with danger? I don't think so - but it still makes one worried.

I wanted to ensure I saw "both sides of the story" so I could provide a balanced overview of the issue but ended up depressing myself. I need to remind myself that the message is not to stop using social media, but to be careful and wise in its use. To paraphrase a friend, "let's not even step into that 'social media is bad' debate." It's not going away, it's part of our students' lives, and by using it appropriately, it will do more good than harm.

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