Monday, October 6, 2008

Creepy Trees, or Networking Tools?

In full disclosure of my views, I am networked on MySpace, Facebook, and many other social networks, in some cases, with students. At the end of the article, I'll share some of my tips for avoiding "awkward situations".

According to an article in the Dallas Morning News, written today, students are upset at the thoughts of teachers and other adults using popular social-networking sites like MySpace and Facebook because it interferes with their privacy and personal lives. Students have created the slang term, "creepy treehouse" to refer to, well, creepy interactions between students and professionals.

Students believe the sites were designed and created for them (and originally, they were!) and that adults don't belong. With teachers as "friends" (Alright, folks...let's call them "contacts", okay?), students can't possibly post pictures of their parties, relationships, burning class notebooks at end-of-term, etc. If you're a teacher with students as contacts, how can you possibly post those bar shots, or pictures from your friend's bachelor's party, or a status update that you're moonlighting as a stripper to make ends meet! KIDDING!

Okay, so I'm all for social networking, with or without students. I've used Facebook groups to share worthy, educational YouTube videos, links to orchestral sites and events, practice tips, and so on. I've gotten and shared gigs via MySpace. AND...I've done it all without changing my personal life. My take on social media sites, is that while they may have been created for students or "kids", adults need to be aware of them, and maybe even know how to use them. Students should be worrying about colleges and employers researching their online profiles. (How's that for "creepy treehouses"?).

My tips: (as a teacher who's had successful network experiences with family, friends, colleagues, and yes, students)
  1. Don't initiate a friend request. If students feel comfortable "friending you", let them. Then you have the power to accept, or deny, as you choose.
  2. Be smart with what you post. While I was joking about the bachelor party pictures, or posting about your *coughs* second job, some adults aren't smart, and post those things anyway. Model good online behavior, and your connected students will hopefully learn what's appropriate to post online. 
  3. You can't require students to sign up for social networking sites for assignments, can't, can't, can't. Some students (and more importantly, parents) choose not to use the internet for privacy reasons, previous bullying issues, and more. Refer to #1...
  4. Appearance is everything. If all your contacts are students, it looks scary! If you're going to learn and use Facebook, get some friends on it with you, or even better, fellow colleagues! (likewise, if you have one student, it'll look creepy as well.)
  5. Finally, talk to the student if they request friendship. What is their reason? If it's to get help on assignments outside of school, awesome! If it's to share great educational links/news with you, awesome again! If a student can't give you a valid reason, maybe it's best to decline the request. 
What'd I miss? Think the article is right-on, or way-off?
photo credit: Ward