Teachers, What’s Your Social Media Policy?

Two years ago I taught a course for first-year college students that was focused on social media. It was called, “The Language of Social Justice,” and we looked at how social justice was fought for and against on social media. I required all the students to sign up for some social media, including Twitter, which they could do anonymously. Social-Media-Blue-Bird-IconsSocial media is becoming an extremely dominant mode of communication, and I firmly believe that English teachers have a responsibility to teach their students how to engage in it productively and responsibly.

I decided it was time for me to create a specific social media policy, so students would know where I stand. I do not wish to “friend” students on Facebook at least until after they are no longer students in my school, nor do I wish to get photos of them enjoying their weekends on their Instagram feed–or read their comments on any photos of me on mine. But, I would be delighted to have my students follow my Twitter feed, as long as they understand I’m not posting as a teacher, and I’d be happy for my students to read my blog. I’m also perfectly willing to connect with students at any age on LinkedIn, as that is a professional social media outlet and it’s actually good for them to interact with adults there.

My Social Media Policy

My policy is still evolving, but here is the one I included on my undergraduate syllabi in Fall 2018.

Dr. Lindblom’s Social Media Policy: Please feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn, a social media site specifically intended for professional communication. If you invite me to “Connect” with you on LinkedIn, I will happily do so. You are welcome to follow me on Twitter, but please understand that I tweet from my own perspective, and my Tweets do not represent Stony Brook University or any unit within it. I will NOT knowingly follow on Twitter or friend on Facebook students who are not graduates. (But try me once you’re an alumnus!) I also blog about teacher education and English education online; if you’re interested, search for “Edukention.”

What Do You Think?

Are you a teacher with a social media policy? Social-Media-TreeDo you have one that you just don’t publish? Do you have any suggested changed for mine?



Fairness in the Classroom: It May Not Be What You Think

It is my job as a teacher to create the conditions such that each student learns all they can from the English language arts to survive and thrive in the future. That mandate, which is entirely about student learning, is the only thing that does or should guide me as a teacher. Within reason, of course. (I’m not suggesting breaking laws or justifying clearly unethical behavior.)

What Does Fairness Mean for Teaching?

All students are different. They have different backgrounds, abilities, motivations, moods, coping mechanisms, support structures, habits, responses to stress of different kinds, knowledge, and so on. Making things even more complicated, each student is a different student at different times. Students have changing schedules, feel different kinds of stress at different times, having various degrees of sleep, are well or sick, and so on. Just as one can’t step in the same river twice, we can’t teach the same student twice.

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As a result of all these changes, our methods for achieving our goal as teachers–providing the maximum possible learning for each student–also must change. There is no one-methods-works-for-all in teaching. This means, fairness isn’t the same as fairness in other places.

What is Fair is Different for Each Student and at Different Times

Some students will learn more if they are under the stress of a strict deadline. Others learn more if they are given more flexibility. Some students learn a great deal when they revise an assignment they’ve already received feedback or a grade on. Other students learn much more when their first grade is pretty low and they must work harder on later assignments to get their average up. Some students learn better when they are required to speak in class; others learn better when they are encouraged but not required to speak.

All this means students are treated differently. Some may point out that this is the very definition of unfairness. And in many places it is. But not in the classroom.

Fairness is in the Eye of the Teacher and Is Evidenced by the Learners’ Learning

What this all boils down to is that teaching is an extremely difficult job. Every teacher must figure out what is most likely to result in the maximum learning for each student and then make that happen. rulerThat teacher must also be able to explain those decisions to the students, to their parents, and to their administrators. And, teachers’ decisions must be borne out by the evidence, which can be extremely tricky and is often

not conclusive.

How Can Teachers Fairly Negotiate Such Flexible Notions of Fairness?

In a way, my description of fairness requires teachers to make big decisions. In a way, I suppose it makes teachers behave as benevolent dictators (within a larger set of legal and ethical rules). There are ways around that:

  • Teachers should ask students what would be best for their learning? Ask your students at the beginning of class about how they learn/grow best. When students are struggling with grades or assignments, ask them what will help them, and offer some suggestions: Would it help if I gave you two more days? Would it help if I required you to show me drafts next time? Would you learn better if you worked with someone else in the class? Would an alternative assignment be appropriate? I have great success with this when I work with college students. It is extremely rare for a student to ask for more than an accommodation or two during a semester. And I swear they work harder because they don’t want to have to ask me for help, even though they know I’ll help them.

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  • Teachers can give students choices about various forms of accommodation: more time, more help, some hints, advice from other students, the ability to complete the assignment in an alternate genre or medium.
  • Teachers should be honest and open about their methods–but not too much. Sometimes it’s appropriate to give a student something extra and ask the student not to say anything to others. If others find out and complain, the teacher should ask them, “What kind of accommodation would help you learn more?” That is, turn the conversation to the student who’s questioning.
  • Teachers must be ready to explain all their decisions to students, parents, and administrators as appropriate. As long as the students really are all learning as well and as much as possible, that should be the ultimate protection for a teacher. Tenure, a strong union, and a longstanding professional reputation also helps.

Guess What. This Actually Is a Form of Fairness

In the end, of course, this is a form of fairness. It’s just not absolute consistency. Each student gets what they need to survive and thrive in the future. Yes, they need to learn that part of surviving in the future is learning to cope with firm deadlines and minimal support. But, they experience plenty of that without us treating classrooms like factories producing widgets. In the meantime, we can help students learn the most, mature into more rigid structures as appropriate, and help them learn to build the skills they will need to meet those rigid structures.

To be excellent educators, teachers need autonomy, authority, evidence, and time to think and talk with colleagues. Negotiating fairness is just another reason why that is so.

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Three Successes and Three Areas to Improve: Reflections on Teaching My First Online Course to Undergraduates

In Fall 2018, I designed a new course I called “Reading Social Media,” which is intended to explore the ways in which social media shapes and reshapes public discourse and those who engage in it.

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The course was taught

in a fully-online environment, meaning that the students and I never met in person. We functioned entirely through the internet. This post is my attempt to reflect on the experience of teaching this course online to undergraduates; I have taught online graduate courses before—to working adults—but never to full-time undergraduates. It is different. I will not be addressing the content, but rather the structure of the course and the students’ reactions to it. I’ll be teaching the course in Spring 19 and then again in Fall 19, so this is a good opportunity for me to think through how things went. I have not yet had access to the student evaluations of the course, so this is all just my own thinking for now.

What Went Well

  1. The general structure of the course worked well. Each week, I posted an assignment due by the end of the week. The assignment included several components, each with its own deadline: usually a set of readings or viewings, then a written response to those, and then responses to other students’ responses.
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    The students got the structure very quickly, and it gave a nice rhythm to the course. Rhythm, or pace, is crucial in a good online course, probably doubly so with younger students who are not used to being so independent with their own course activity.

  2. I varied the genres we read and wrote. I assigned traditional academic articles, in-depth articles from popular sources (such as The Atlantic), Ted Talks, Oral Podcasts, graphic novel excerpts, and more. I also assigned students to write in many different formats: traditional academic writing, discussion board forums (a staple in online courses), social media posts, Twitter chats, blog posts, mind maps, letters to administrators (in a psuedo-authentic rhetorical situation), video chats, and more. Using these multiple genres also helped bring a more personal, social environment to the class, something some students and instructors find lacking in some online courses. This variation in genres was quite successful, I think. I am willing to bet the readings engaged the students more than in a traditional course, and because we were “meeting” online, it freed me up to use anything available on the internet. Also, a nice bonus: there was no charge at all for books in the course.
  3. The course was definitely rigorous. Because the students must produce work every week, work that is assessed each week, there is no getting out of it. In a face-to-face course, students need only get through 3 hours per week. Often students can do so by saying one comment in class or just keeping their head down. This structure also allowed me to more quickly catch students who were falling behind. When I say “catch,” I don’t mean I found them not working; rather, I mean catch as in they fell into a net more quickly, so I could help them get back on the path. Several students missed one week’s assignment and I would contact them immediately, find out if they were OK, and go from there. In most cases, this was the end of the issue. There was also a lot of reading (broadly defined) and writing (also broadly defined) throughout the class. So it was a rigorous and hopefully worthwhile experience from day one.

What I Need to Improve

  1. Some students simply never engaged. Out of 29 students, 4 or 5 simply never got involved with the class. They may have done one or two weeks of assignments, but they never did more than that. In face-to-face classes, this is extremely rare. Even after emailing the students with suggestions to officially withdraw from the class, they never responded. I found this odd, and I’m wondering if it’s going to be some kind of trend. There were other students who wanted to get into the class, so it was a shame these students held the seats and yet did nothing but receive Fs at the end of the course. I can’t remember the last time I assigned 5 Fs in one course.
  2. I would like to add more interactive/collaborative assignments next time. I had many creative and unusual assignments within this class, but I never really created assignments that created community or required (or even encouraged) high levels of collaboration among students.
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    This is very rare for me, because in face-to-face classes I almost always have the students presenting to the whole class in informal groups from the very first day of a course. So while the individual work was good in this first iteration of the course, I need to step up the collaboration quite a bit.

  3. I only composed one assignment that required students to meet with me via videochat. I used the program Zoom, which I think is excellent. I had the students sign up for one of six slots and we had 30-minute, small-group conversations about the readings for that week. The chats were great, and it was very nice to see the students and interact with them in real time. Once I could put an animated face with a name, the students became so much more real to me. It’s not the same looking at a still photo. A few students couldn’t make any of the six times I offered for video-chats, so I gave them alternate assignments, which worked out fine. Next time I teach this course, I definitely want to create more video-chat opportunities. I held weekly online office hours, but during the entire semester, only one student took me up on them! I think if I had broken the ice with video-chats earlier in the semester, more of the students would have been likely to pop in during my virtual office hours.

Semester Overview: It Worked!

Overall, I think the students and I found the course worked well. I’ll have to see what the evals reveal before I can be more sure of the students’ reactions. But I think it worked. The students received good information, engaged in rigorous reading, writing, and thinking. And, I believe the students found they were given ample feedback and fair assessment on at least most of their assignments. But there is definitely much improvement that can be made, primarily in the area of class community development. Especially for a course on social media, I should be able to do a better job with that.

I look forward to revamping the course for next semester and seeing how it goes. In my 30th year of teaching, it’s certainly a lot of fun to still find such challenges in my work. Teaching is hard, but truly it never gets dull.

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