When I first started to use social media both professionally and in the classroom, I had some reservations. All I heard about in the news were horror stories about social media done wrong, and I wondered if I really wanted to get into this. When I started blogging and using Twitter in the primary classroom, my impression of social media changed. I saw the great ways that interacting with others can help further student learning and critical thinking skills. Even though I changed grades this year, I still planned on using social media in the classroom.
Older students are different though. Many of them have already entered into the realm of social media — whether through Twitter or Facebook — and while they’ve started using these sites, they’re still learning about how to use them well. Mistakes happen. That’s all part of learning. I get that. So when these mistakes happen, in my opinion, it’s how we deal with them that matters.
I’m fortunate that many of the students that use Twitter in my classroom also follow me. I can easily see their tweets, and I look at them. I do so because I care about my students, and I want to make sure that what they share online is appropriate. While there haven’t been any major problems, the other day, I noticed a couple of students tweeting some thoughts that probably shouldn’t be shared in a public forum. Now I had a choice to make. How do I choose to deal with this problem?
Here’s what I did. Yesterday during our literacy time, I put this Thinking Book question up on the board:
I gave the students about 10 minutes to write down their thoughts in any way that they chose. Here are a few examples:
As the students were sharing their answers with the class, I noticed that many of them spoke about the public nature of a blog and Twitter. I asked them what this really means. While many of them said that “the world” could read their work, I think that this became more powerful when they realized that a teacher, the principal, or their parents could read their work.
While we were talking about this, I asked the students how many people follow me on Twitter (I knew the answer to this, but I asked anyway). I then asked if anyone knows what I do when someone follows me. Many students seemed surprised when I mentioned that the first thing I do is read their tweets. I told the students that I read what they write because I care about them and about what they share.
Then we went through some examples of what people should not share and why (e.g., they should not share information about a class that they don’t enjoy, or mean comments about peers, or too much personal information). I told students how easy it is to take a screenshot of what is tweeted an email this screenshot to a friend, a parent, or even the principal. I didn’t want to scare students, but I wanted them to realize just what a public audience means.
I taught students my favourite rule about what to share and what not to share (and one that I actually use): before you tweet or blog, ask yourself if you would go up to the principal or to a parent and say what you’re going to write. If the answer is no, don’t post it. I think that this helped simplify things for the students.
Knowing then that some minor mistakes have happened, I showed the students how to undo what they’ve done: I logged into my Twitter account and showed them how to delete a tweet. I encouraged the students to go home, read the tweets they wrote, and if any were questionable, to delete them. The students watched and listened, and I knew that my message was making an impact.
Last night when I got home, I looked at the Twitter accounts of my students, and all of the questionable tweets were deleted. They followed through. Yesterday, I could have done things differently. I could have pulled aside individual students. I could have called parents and gotten them involved. And these are things that I would choose to do if the problems occur again, but mistakes happen, and I think that my students learned from these mistakes.
What do you think? What would you do in a similar situation? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!