The Wrong Message

Social media are here, regardless of whether we like them, dislike them, use them, or don’t use them.  They’re also becoming a part of education, and school districts and colleges and universities across the country are struggling with policies that allow constructive use of social media while curbing abuse.  Some school districts prohibit their use in education entirely, while others range from restricted use to almost unrestricted use.

Time will tell, as with many things, just what uses will be allowed, but there’s one aspect of all of this that, I must say, troubles me greatly.  One educator, cited in a recent article in The Christian Science Monitor, made an observation along the lines that he had to give feedback on assignments to students through Facebook because students never checked email since email just wasn’t part of their world.

I relayed that comment to my wife the college professor, and she nodded sagely, informing me that a growing percentage of college students simply never check their email or answer telephone messages. She should know, since her university system will inform her whether any email she has sent has even been opened – and many aren’t.  An increasing number of students only respond, and not necessarily reliably, to text messages and Facebook postings.

What?  Since when are students determining what forms of communication will be used in education?  The issue here, it seems to me, is not just whether social media has a place in education, and what that place should be, but also who exactly is setting the standards and the ground rules.

To begin with, for a teacher to reach a student through a social network, the teacher must belong to that network, and depending on the settings, etc., must request of the student to be accepted as a “friend,” or request that the student contact them and be accepted as a friend. In short, either party can refuse communications, and, in effect, the students are effectively setting the requirements for what communications they’ll receive and how.  I can certainly see students – and parents – rebelling if teachers required communications via FedEx, UPS, or carrier pigeon, but not accepting emails as opposed to Facebook messages?  Email is a non-obligatory electronic communications system far more open to all users and recipients, and takes no more time or equipment than does Facebook or any other social network. Also, teachers should be teachers, not “friends,” because even the most brilliant of students should not be encouraged to think of themselves as the equal of their teachers, no matter how much greater some of them may doubtless end up.

Again, I may be antiquated, but at this point using social networks for any form of “official” communication, whether educational, governmental, or business, raises questions about security, privacy, scholastic policies, discipline, and propriety that certainly have not been answered.


11 thoughts on “The Wrong Message”

  1. Joe says:

    Using Facebook is consistent with the idea of education as a service and students as customers — devaluing the knowledge being imparted, keeping the customer happy.

    This is not a new problem. Tibetan buddhist teachers were admonished not to sell teachings as if they were mere milk in the village market, since it would reduce people’s perceptions of their value. Much the same thing is happening to our young people’s view of Science and Math… not revolutionary, ordinary.

    But should we be all that surprised if the dominant world view is that people are tools to be used for the skills they have today, and discarded tomorrow, to maintain profits? Ye shall reap as ye sow.

  2. Like your wife, I am a college professor – part-time/adjunct. I too will nod sagely. I’ve been told by colleagues that I should use Facebook to reach my students, for much the same reasons you gave. But I feel as you do, that I should set the medium of exchange and that email is not unreasonable. So I tell them that I will contact them through email. I also use Springboard!, my university’s learning management resource system (which uses email) to get assignments, instructions and other information to them. I do have a Facebook page, but I make it clear to students that I will not friend students currently taking classes with me – I reserve Facebook for keeping in touch with family and a FEW friends whom I see rarely. This seems to work. I get some grumbles, but most of my students comply.

  3. Matthew Runyon says:

    Um…What? As a recent college grad, if I didn’t respond to e-mails from my professors (or consistently checked whatever site they chose to use, as there were several that different teachers required), then I would fail that class. And I have friends that are attending or have attended a couple dozen colleges across the United States (and a few elsewhere), and I’ve never heard of this (and expect that if it had happened to any of them, I would have).

    I really wonder how common this is. Everywhere I’ve heard of, students still ask “how high” when the professor says “jump” (note that I do not think this is a bad thing).

  4. As I noted in the blog, this varies greatly by state and even by institution. My wife’s students are required to use standard email, and to submit certain assignments, such as databases, as attachments. As you implied, those who did not have failed, but the numbers who fail for this reason are rising.

  5. Mage says:

    “the idea of education as a service and students as customers”

    An idea that started coming in in the early ’60s, that has become very common even among college administrators. 🙂

    Which turns the whole situation on its head. People don’t seem to realize that students are the product. The customer is much more nebulous. The customer may be another educational institution, an employer or whoever can make use of the ‘product’. 🙂

  6. Jim 2 (to avoid confusion) says:

    I started college when email was proprietary stuff only; it was all on company servers, no way to send a message outside your network. By the time I finished college (I took the scenic route…) email was common, through various dial-up services like AOL as well as the college or university systems. I had a couple of professors who would accept work submitted via email or on a disk; most still expected a paper to be just that. Professors rarely emailed students except with direct, relevant information, like modifications to lesson plans or assignments. Phone calls from professors were even rarer. I only called a professor to notify them of unexpected work conflicts or the like. You responded if you got an email or call.

    Social media are for fun; using them as primary communication methods for anything other than personal, social purposes makes as much sense as putting a personal message on an old-style cork bulletin board in a common area. (Maybe less…) Email and telephones are valid and expected means of professional communication. I’d better check my email regularly, and respond to what’s sent to me — or I will shortly be freed from worrying about it at all. Of course, I’ll be free of the need to worry about a paycheck, too.

    Failing to answer calls is something that’s become an issue at work. I’m in a profession where absences must be covered if we drop below minimum staffing — and where you may be subject to being called in during emergencies, even if you weren’t on-call. People started screening their calls years ago with answering machines, of course. But it’s become much worse, with lots of people (especially younger) who simply don’t answer and don’t return calls. My suspicion is that we’ll soon see new policies and disciplines for failing to at least return calls… Because it’s become a noteworthy problem.

    The bottom line on social media, to me, is simple. They aren’t a substitute or alternative for professional communication and behavior. And, when the relationship is or should be professional — it probably should be separated from the social.

  7. Robert The Addled says:

    This may just be my background speaking (ex-USN), but it seems to me that the instructor/institution should set the rules clearly and there should be penalties for failing to comply – whether that is failing grades in an academic situation, or administrative/dismissal in a workplace situation.

    Special situations should be dealt with on a case by case, such as someone who lives where there is no cell coverage making other arrangements for contact.

    The best for a work situation is to have designated on-call people (thats how one of my USN duty stations covered it). Those people were required to be in a position where they could return any contact within 2 hours, and be at work within 2 additional hours. Yes it means you may have to restrict your plans, but if done properly it gives EVERYONE rotating periods where they can make all sorts of plans.

  8. Derek says:

    I’m a recent college student and personally I find that using social media to contact students to be absurd. If a student can’t be bothered to check their email or phone, they’re in for a surprise once they leave school.

    Then again, i’m also of the opinion that instant messaging has been taken too far. Especially when I see someone texting another for a good ten minutes or more, rather than just picking it up and calling them instead.

  9. Lourain says:

    In my state (Missouri) the legislature enacted a law that, among other things, forbade contact between k-12 teachers and students by social media (or any other form of contact that cannot be monitored by parents and administrators). This was due to some extremely inappropriate relationships fostered by social media. This law has since been amended, but I agreed with this part.
    I may be my students’ mentor, but I am not their friend. I am friendly toward them, but there is a point beyond which I will not go, and the students are not allowed to go, either.
    That our lives are so busy that we have lost face-to-face contact is a sad thing. Even phonecalls are a poor substitute. Texting and emails are even worse. Texting and social media like Facebook seem to evoke a stream-of-consciousness mode that can get people into serious trouble. (My rant for the day.)

  10. Shannon says:

    Having graduated from university a few years ago and continuing to take classes for entertainment and enlightenment, I agree with most of the posts above. Email is a great tool for official communication and students should not dictate much of anything in these situations. Granted, I’m horrible about answering the phone, whether mobile or land line. Luckily, most communication in my office is done via email, in person, or by IM. I think part of it is that my generation hasn’t been taught well that there are repercussions for personal choices even if you don’t think there should be. What I could never get used to is students addressing professors by their first name. To me, it indicates a lack of respect or understanding of the relationship between professor and student. I also have no desire to be ‘facebook friends’ with my professors or give them my phone number and I’m sure a number of them reciprocate my feelings.

  11. Sorwen says:

    ” L. E. Modesitt, Jr. says:
    October 14, 2011 at 7:39 pm
    As I noted in the blog, this varies greatly by state and even by institution. My wife’s students are required to use standard email, and to submit certain assignments, such as databases, as attachments. As you implied, those who did not have failed, but the numbers who fail for this reason are rising.”

    As they should. That might sound harsh, but we give in too much in some areas. Giving in to people that can’t follow a simple direction that is easily accomplished sets a bad president. In really sounds like some educators are giving over to that mentality and that scares me a little bit. We are loosing a battle as it is with people perceived entitlement in this country as it is.

    Being able to follow the rules is as much a part of the learning process as anything else. Lets see how long you can keep your job if you don’t follow your works rules. And think what our society would be like if ignorance of the law(rules) was an acceptable defense.

    At the same time we promote an often times bad practices in social media which creates problems of its own. As many people found out when cell phone numbers were stolen from Facebook a few years ago, having your information out there to be stolen is asking for it to be stole. The more of yourself you put out there the greater the risk. Identity theft is easier than it has been ever before because of this. Also we have the problem of these site used for questionable practices. Many are crawled for you personal information so that in turn can be sold to others.

    Part continuation of that problem is the concept of social media itself that it tires to require as much of your personal information as possible to “share with your friends”. The second problem is then the fact that often by default this much of this information is open to others seeing it or that when sites change they revert to these more open policies. Then sites like Intelius and MyLife use these flaws along with others to obtain your information which can then be sold to anyone asking for it.

    The other problem with that is then we are empowering social media more. There are many sites that now allow you to use Facebook to login to their sites. The more it is used, the more places make its use a requirement, the more we have to use it.

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