Professional Use of Social Media

Social media is a tool. Like any other tool, it can be misused. I have already done a post on how to use social networking for a job search. Many of the same rules apply to your online presence once you find a professional position. Actually, once you are in a position, even more rules apply.

Your institution may have specific guidelines governing online conduct, especially when you interact with students. There are some overreaching guidelines, such as FERPA, which much be followed anytime you deal with student information and contact. So while it is one thing to post “The grades have been posted in BlackBoard/Moodle/etc,” it is an entirely different (and unacceptable due to lack of security) to discuss individual grades over Facebook Chat. But instead of a discussion of all the different requirements, I’m just going to talk about what I do, and how it has been working for me.

Students spend an insane amount of time on Facebook. But if you’ve ever walked through a computer lab, or stood in the back of a classroom while they had their laptops open, this will not come as a surprise. So, to reach the students where they are, I have a Page and a Group (I’m trying to decide which I like the best. At the moment, I’m leaning towards the Page).This prevents most of the privacy concerts since under both of these systems, while I (the instructor/advisor) can see what they post related to the class, I cannot see anything else that is posted by the students. We are not direct “friends.” If a student sends me a friend request, I will approve it, but unsubscribe to the updates, and add their profile to a group that only has limited access to my page. I don’t have anything unprofessional on there, but there are some activities (I’m in politics, remember?) that I’d rather not have students see. I have never, and probably will never, send a friend request to a student.

Twitter I use more for professional networking. NACADA has an excellent discussion forum established with certain hashtags and also has a weekly chat with advisors which is very informative. LinkedIn also is an excellent tool for networking and asking questions. Their groups have excellent forums and you can select email notifications at daily or weekly intervals.

Basically, use of social media is what you make if it. Remember that you are the professional, and the students are – well, students. It is up to you to preserve the sense of decorum and professionalism. If things start slipping into a gray area, use it as a teachable moment and correct the situation. I list things in class that students do not need to have on profiles. I never call anyone out, but every time I go through the list, there are plenty of shocked expressions. There are many times where it is obvious they have never even considered that underage drinking, portrayal of illegal drug use, or sexual or obscene imagery posted on a public site might have negative repercussions in the future.

As long as the professionalism is maintained, social media is a great tool for education. It allows us to engage the students where they are and to make the material relevant to their everyday lives. The challenge is for the educator to ensure that no ethical, legal, or moral lines are crossed (don’t use it to set up dates with your students, obviously) and that the portal of social networking is one that is advantageous to the student.

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