Not only did thousands of teachers meet in New York City earlier this month for the NCTE Annual Convention, but many of them blogged about their experiences. Some educators and administrators might question whether they should have. Just last week, the Ohio Education Association urged members not to post personal information on social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook. eSchool News shared an excerpt of the warning message:
“OEA advises members not to join [these sites], and for existing users to complete the steps involved in removing their profiles,” the memo said. “While this advice might seem extreme, the dangers of participating in these two sites outweigh the benefits.”News stories across the nation have identified instances of blogs and social networking profiles that resulted in problems for the teachers who composed them. The Edutopia site has posted a poll, with links to related stories of teachers and social networking gone awry. The poll asks:
Can pictures and writing displayed on a personal Web page qualify as “conduct unbecoming”? Or do teachers have the right to express themselves as they please outside of school grounds? Tell us what you think.The Wired column “Sex Drive” argues that the answer is no. The columns title makes the point clear: “Teachers Should Blog, Tweet and Flirt Online Like the Rest of Us.” Teachers should participate in any online communities that they desire, columnist Regina Lynn asserts, and they should follow the same general rules of behavior that they would in any other social context. Lynn explains, “teachers who understand appropriate relationships with students are not going to friend teens on MySpace, text message youth about sex lives or hook up with minors in role-playing games.”
I have online profiles, blog entries, and twitters out there in cyberspace, so my position is probably obvious. Are personal blogs “conduct unbecoming”? If teachers mention going out to a bar with colleagues after convention sessions, have they stepped over the line? Would a blog post with a photo of friends raising a toast or hugging be inappropriate?
I say no. Forbidding teachers to use social networking and blogs distances them from the 21st-century literacy tools that students use and suggests that teachers cannot use mature judgment when they communicate with others. Im not suggesting that everything included in the Columbus Dispatch article that reports the OEAs memo is acceptable. But the solution is not silencing teachers either.
Instead why not provide some professional development for teachers that focuses on safe and savvy online communication? Ignoring sites like MySpace and Facebook isnt going to prepare teachers or students for the future. Talking about the communication that happens on blogging and social networking sites is a far wiser and more pedagogically-useful step toward toward 21st-century literacy skills. Hiding from the technologies of today and the future is not going to make them disappear, but dealing with the issues of effective online communication actually could lessen problems that the Columbus Dispatch identified in their investigation.