Lindsay Mewhiney, Co-op Corner
It seems that each day, schools are becoming more and more technologically savvy, and more online student-teacher interactions are happening than ever.
Students can submit papers online, check their grades that teachers have posted on class websites, and now many teachers have connected with their students via Twitter.
Twitter, the social media site that allows users to follow each others’ profiles, tweet messages with 140 characters or less to one another, view the public tweets of others, and search for topics using “hash-tags”, seems to have a growing presence in classrooms.
Students follow their teachers, and teachers follow students on Twitter. Students can tweet any assignment questions they have directly to their teacher, and the website can be host to meaningful discussions between students and teachers.
Depending on the relationship between each particular student and their teacher, interactions that may not necessarily be school-related might also occur on Twitter.
These liberal viewpoints towards teachers and students on Twitter is a heavy shift from the viewpoints that were held about other social networking sites, such as Facebook.
Boundaries for student-teacher friendships on Facebook were kept very strict; most teachers, if not all, refused to add students as Facebook friends until after the students were graduated.
However, the use of Twitter between students and teachers seems to be much more liberal, and has been deemed acceptable in schools, whereas Facebook always carried the stigma of being a threshold that was off-limits for student-teacher interactions.
Many people feel that these kinds of interactions are a productive use of technology, and may motivate students to become more involved in school work, if their school work is happening at the tips of their fingers on their social media sites.
But there is also a number of people who feel that these kinds of interactions are inappropriate.
Admittedly, teachers who follow students on Twitter do have the ability to read or reply to any personal tweets a student has posted, and vice versa.
Having said that, any person with a Twitter account has the ability to block a follower at any time, as well as un-follow any person they may be currently following.
Obviously, there is always the possibility that a student or teacher may cross the boundary at some point, into actions that are inappropriate, but this possibility is also present in a regular classroom setting. Simply because the interactions are happening online, this risk doesn’t necessarily have to increase.
For many students, being able to ask their teacher a question is much easier for them to do online, rather than to single themselves out by asking during class.
Teacher involvement on Twitter also raises the question; do teachers have an obligation to stop bullying that they see happening online?
Many would argue that yes, a teacher has the same obligation they would if they witnessed bullying happening in a school hallway.
But some students would say that teachers are overstepping their duties by intervening on Twitter. Students may feel that a teacher could potentially overreact to comments between students that are said in fun, but may appear harsh in written text.
But from a teacher’s perspective; is it part of their job to be supervising students 24 hours a day, 7 days a week? Many teachers use Twitter not only for school-related purposes, but also for their own personal interactions with friends and family. Should they have to be patrolling for bullies when they are using the site for personal interactions?
Or would simply knowing that teachers have the ability to read what students are saying to one another be enough to reduce the amount of bullying that occurs online?
Overlapping the personal lives and school lives of teachers and students, according to many, is a recipe for disaster.
But frankly, I think this issue is often analyzed to the point that only negative associations can be made, and is giving a bad name to something that can be so beneficial for students.
Obviously there are still certain boundaries that must be observed, but I think most would naturally abide by these.
Online interactions between teachers and students are not required, so if it is something either a student or teacher does not feel comfortable with, they are under no obligation to do so.
Overall, I feel that the benefits of students being able connect with their teachers outside of the classroom far outweigh any potential risks, and I really do think that this is a teaching tool that will soon be heavily incorporated into the school system.