Online; Offline; Where To Draw The Line?

I’ll admit that most of my conversations with others are online. I tweet. I text (a little). I email. I blog. I FaceTime. I Skype. I’m amazed that I still know how to operate a phone. 🙂 Even with my best friend who lives over an hour away, I text and email. Our schedules rarely work for phone conversations, so online ones need to do. Now, please don’t get me wrong, I love face-to-face discussions, and go out and meet people often, but the Internet is still my conversation lifeline so to speak.

And as an adult, this works for me, but I wonder about students. I love using technology in the classroom, and I feel very fortunate that so many students bring their own devices to allow for even more technology use. In the classroom, technology is used for learning. Yes, we use a lot of social media, but I create these accounts, I sign into them, and students work with me to use them. I try to model the appropriate use of these tools, and from what I’ve seen within the classroom context, this works well.

But it’s one thing to use technology for learning, and another thing to use it for personal interactions. As an adult, I’ve learned how to deal with online interactions that bother me. If I get an email that upsets me, I mark it as unread, take some time, think about my reply, write it, get a couple of other people to read it, and then send it. Time helps! I also make decisions to sometimes call people instead of writing them, and knowing when a phone call or face-to-face conversation is better than an online one, takes some time to figure out. Hey, there have even been numerous blog posts that I’ve written, edited, and chosen to leave in Draft form indefinitely … or even to delete. Sometimes just the process of writing was enough. Knowing how to reflect after going through the process, and deciding what the impact will be once you press, “Publish,” is also something that takes time (and I think gets easier with age and experience).

And it really is for all of these reasons that I’d really think twice about having students use social media (whether at home or at school) without an adult present … ALWAYS! There are reasons that Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and MSN have an age restriction of at least 13+ years. Making a mistake online can sometimes have even bigger consequences than making them on the phone or in person. There’s a record of all of these discussions, and this record can easily be captured with a photograph or a screenshot. Then it can be posted and shared in any number of places, and the implications are huge! I don’t say this to scare people, but just to make everyone aware of why it may be better to wait to get personally involved in social media.

I think that students need a safe place to make mistakes, and I don’t know that social media provides this safe place. Even now as an adult, I’m reluctant to use Facebook (and don’t even have an account) because of my fear of being tagged in something that others share. I want to be in control of my own digital footprint, and I think that we always need to be cognizant of privacy settings, and what gets shared, where, and with whom. So I don’t mind making the few humorous tweets each morning about my coffee choice or parking skills (or lack thereof) 🙂 , but this is where I want my social media private life to end.

Maybe we need more candid conversations with students about what tools they’re using, how they’re portraying themselves online, and what to do when problems occur. I know that I had many conversations and activities at the beginning of the year (with an academic focus), but what about considering the home component? How do we help students safely make mistakes and learn from them? When it comes to children, should an offline social life be the way to go (at least for anything not school-related)? What have you tried and what do you suggest? I’d love to hear your thoughts!


19 thoughts on “Online; Offline; Where To Draw The Line?

  1. You raise some interesting points from both sides of the conversation. I truly think that it’s a disservice not to address it with students. If it’s not done properly in schools, where will it be done? One of the reasons that I’m such a fan of blogging is that it is a social platform that does the publishing/make connections, etc. with a strong connection to the curriculum. It allows for publishing without getting personal and opens the door to rich discussion about social media. Focus on the curriculum because that’s what you do but incorporate the elements of social media as appropriate.

    • Thanks for the comment, Doug! You make a wonderful point here. I was so focused on other social media platforms that I forgot about blogging, and I think that it might be the best one to use with students (and in fact, I do blog with mine). Blogging is less about personal conversations online and more about academic ones. Like you, I love the ties to the curriculum, but I can teach social media responsibility as well. Thanks for the reminder!


  2. Great post Aviva. I personally think that students need a variety of experiences in this arena. Having a safe place to learn is certainly important and arguably necessary, but I also think we have to transition them into real world online experiences too. Citizens of the future will need to know how to operate well in in online environments and this means including real world experiences for them too. Safe to real world through gradual release of responsibility.

    Role modelling is a critical element. Learning how to engage, use and contribute through using a variety of online tools is an important part of the learning journey in my view. Students need to see teachers using web 2.0 tools effectively for personal and social good. I think the list of tools is broad based so yes to social media, but also platforms for writing and collaborating too – blogs, wikis, back channels etc.


    • Thanks for your comment, Mark! While I’m definitely for role modelling a lot at school, and giving students access to these different tools, the problems that I see tend to be when students are using these tools for something other than academics. I think that students don’t always realize the impact of the words that are written, and that there’s a record of these words that can be shared in many different ways. I’ve tried numerous digital citizenship lessons before, and even looked at the idea of “only writing what you would say in person to your parents or your principal,” but I think that this is easier to consider in an abstract situation than when you really go to share something online. How do we give students these real world experiences, but still protect them from making mistakes with long-term and far-reaching consequences? I’d love to hear what people have to say about this!


  3. Hi Aviva,
    Doug and Mark make good points. You asked in your reply to Mark, “How do we give students these real world experiences, but still protect them from making mistakes with long-term and far-reaching consequences?”
    For me, there are three areas for real-world XP in safe-ish ways.
    1) Blogging
    2) Twitter
    3) Gaming
    On our school blogs, in past years, one of the assignments for the intermediates was to create a blog post about whatever topic you wanted. Our blog is semi-private, only readable to those with permissions. When we first brought this, we had an ugly incident with a student hacking a general access account (long story) and insulting peers. We found out which student was responsible and thankfully contained the damage. I hope that the big mistake she made there helped her learn and apply the lessons to her future online interactions. Mistakes are part of learning, but you are right, some mistakes made online have serious, long-term consequences.
    As for Twitter, I follow any of the students that follow me. Occasionally they’ll post something inappropriate in their stream, and I can have an informal chat with them in person about what I saw. Often, they forget they’ve added me, so it’s a good way for them to be mindful about what they post. Adults need to be in the areas where teens assemble online, not to police them, but to be around and be aware.
    We have a Minecraft Club and unlike in-class use, it’s completely student-directed. Because we have a school server and the teacher supervisors play too, it’s the perfect place for kids to be kids and for authentic issues to arise and deal with them in a rational manner. Denise Colby and I like to tell a story about when one of her kids beat up on one of my kids in-game and how we avoided a knee-jerk, teacher-centered reaction and all of us (teachers, students involved, and students linked to the main players) learned from the situation.
    It means that sometimes these tools aren’t used 100% for academic purposes (because they use them on their own time, or in the way they want rather than how we want) but if lessons are learned from “safe-mistakes”, can’t that be academic too?

    • Thanks for your comment, Diana! I love the examples that you share, and how students learned from these situations with adult support. I agree with you about “adults being in the areas where teens assemble online.” I actually make it a rule not to follow my students that follow me on Twitter (as I want all of our conversations to happen in the public versus the private realm), but I still check out their tweets regularly, and I have helped deal with some small issues based on what students share. I’ve also replied to a few tweets before to not only start some good conversations online, but also to let students know that I am watching what’s being said. I think that’s important!

      My question to Mark may not have been the clearest one. Yes, these learning experiences can still be “academic” even if they’re not being used for a “school activity” per se. What I meant was that when the students use these tools at school and with a very “school focus,” I’m not seeing issues, but this is not always happening when they’re being used elsewhere. In these other cases, these tools are being used for more social, personal reasons, and that’s when questions tend to come up about what should and shouldn’t be shared online. I know that as teachers, we can’t solve all problems, but what can we do to support the use of these tools even when they’re not being used at school? When are students ready to share in a more public forum, and under what circumstances? So much to consider …


  4. Thank you for clarifying Aviva: “what can we do to support the use of these tools even when they’re not being used at school?” By using them in school, it helps. By modeling how to use them for personal or social reasons, like you do with your odes to good coffee, it helps. By sharing positive and negative current event stories that highlight consequences (will that woman who flew to Africa and made a glib but racist remark EVER live it down?), it helps. Sometimes it will take a lot more than all of these combined to make a difference or have it sink in. That’s true for adults and young people alike. Sometimes, despite all best efforts to teach these lessons in a way that protects people, some will still make horrid lapses in judgement. That’s true for adults and young people alike. We do what we can. Thanks for thinking about this, about what MORE we can do. That’s the hallmark of a good teacher (and right now, I’m pointing my “where’s-a-good-teacher-there’s-a-good-teacher” finger right at you).

    • Thanks Diana! While I know that we spend some time in class working through some digital citizenship activities, as I read this comment of yours, I think about just what other things we can do. Maybe showing our students more of our communications online would help. I wonder if I showed my students my Twitter timeline for the morning, and we discussed the content of the tweets, if they would start to notice a pattern. This pattern may become more pronounced if we look back over a couple of days, and again, compare the tweets. Then what if I had students look at their own online interactions — from Instagram posts, to emails, to texts. What patterns do they notice? What would they like to keep the same? What might they like to change? Maybe students need to really look more and more at all kinds of examples of social media use to really help make those good decisions about how to use the tool and why. What do you think?


      • I really like that idea, Aviva. This is where I’m jealous of you as a classroom teacher. I only see my junior-intermediate students (Grades 4-8) one period a week, and that has to include book exchange, so I need to figure out a way to get increased access to them (maybe a partnering unit). By asking them to look at patterns and trends, it holds back judgement and lets the students see their own styles of social media use. If/when you do this, can you blog about the results? (By the way, I love how Mark and Doug have blogged about this topic now too.)

        • Thanks for the reply, Diana! I would love to try this activity out. As always, it just comes down to the question of “when?” If I do, I’ll definitely blog about the results. I’m hoping that this kind of activity will help students critically examine their social media usage. (And like you, I’m thrilled that Doug and Mark blogged about this topic as well. It’s certainly one worth discussing. Maybe this will help us all out.)


  5. Pingback: Learning About Social Media | doug --- off the record

  6. Pingback: On or Off Line: a Perspective | ~ Mark's Musings ~

  7. Pingback: It Really Is Complicated | doug --- off the record

  8. Doug, Mark, and Aviva,

    I came across this blog while doing research for a Grad class I’m taking and I really felt the need to way in.
    I think that we as educators have a responsibility to teach our students how to appropriately use social media and I agree with Mark that modeling is the most effective way to that. The more we can find way to integrate the technologies that our students are so comfortable with and familiar into our curriculum, the more opportunities we have to demonstrate correct modeling.
    I think one of the main problems that we as educators have in engaging our students into social media in our classroom is that by the time we just begin to get comfortable with what we as teachers think is the latest and greatest our students have already moved on. I have noticed from my own students that many of them don’t even have Facebook and are now beginning to delete their twitter accounts too. They have moved on to Instagram and I’m sure other sites that I don’t even know about yet. I can’t tell you how many of my students will tell me that Facebook is for old people and twitter is lame. I think moving forward that we need to find ways to get ahead of these trends in our classrooms and begin integrating them even quicker than before.

    • Thanks for the comment, Mark! I can totally see your point here. The problem I’m seeing is that students are being incredibly responsible when using these tools in the classroom or for academic purposes, but if problems occur, they’re happening when these tools are being used for more “social/personal purposes.” How do we help students be responsible regardless of when/how they use these tools? Is there more that we can do in the classroom that would help with this home use? This is where I continue to struggle.


      • Aviva,

        Thank you for responding to me! I think the reason that this discussion caught my attention while perusing the web is that there is no one answer. I think that that’s what makes this such an interesting conversation. but to respond to your question, I keep going back to modeling. In both our personal lives and in our classrooms. I would bet that most of our students have searched Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites to see what we’ve posted. We need to set the example for our students both in and out of our classrooms. It comes with the responsibility of choosing what I believe is the greatest profession in the world. I think this is something that some teacher run from but we need to accept, just like we cant go out in our communities and be irresponsible we cant act irresponsible on the web either and expect our students to not do the same. I also think that schools need to make sure that their codes of conduct keep up to date with changing technologies, if a students bullies another students in the school face to face we all have policy and procedure to follow. The same actions can take place on the web and we need to make sure that we are prepared deal with the situation and can make sure that cyber bullying is dealt with swiftly and harshly to deter this behavior as much as possible.

        • Mark, I think that you make some really important points here. We need to model appropriate use of social media. I know that many of my students read my blog, and their parents follow me on Twitter. I’ve shown students my Twitter profile before, and we’ve looked at the kinds of tweets I send out and how I represent myself online. Maybe more of these types of conversations — followed by students looking at their own online profiles — will help with developing these digital citizenship skills. And yes, cyber bullying is a new reality, and codes of conduct need to address this. I love that our Board continues to address cyber bullying both through codes of conduct as well as digital citizenship activities (to try and reduce problems). I’m glad that so many of us can communicate about such an important topic. These conversations are great ones to have!


  9. Pingback: Technology Bits Bytes & Nibbles | Online; Offline; Where To Draw The Line?

  10. Pingback: Social Media Menus and Venues: Home and School | SheilaSpeaking

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *