A Teacher Gets Social with the Web

by Mr. Sheehy

After Julie Mathiesen’s address at the TIE conference, I considered my use of social web tools (that is, my lack of it) and wondered if maybe I should stick myself there. Julie mentioned that she had a MySpace page to help her keep track of her daughter, and while my daughters aren’t old enough to be on MySpace, my students are all over it, and I wondered, why would I want to be on MySpace?

I have avoided starting a page because I haven’t wanted to reach – stretching to be like kids when I’m really not like them. I don’t reach in any other way, so why would I reach there? But do reasons why I might want to be there outweigh reasons I might not want to be there? And does being there necessarily mean I am reaching? So I’ve done some mental listing of reasons I might want to grow a presence on social web software:

  • A MySpace or Facebook page would allow me to stick my profile in a place where kids might think of it as fun to read. I obviously thought a profile was a helpful thing for kids to see, because I’d built one for my static website, and every once in a great while, people looked at it. I don’t make them read it, but it’s there if they’re interested.
  • I love interacting with kids and finding out how they’re doing, but the 5-10 minutes I use for that during passing time and the odd moments at the start and end of class do not give me a chance to touch base with all my students – and some of those students I miss are willing to share with me how they’re doing and may feel a need to do so. Connecting through social software gives them a way – they can post a note on my Facebook wall, drop an invite to become my “friend” or send a message through a medium they are already using. They’re not going to email me at my K12.sd.us email address to say, “Hey, I’m kind of sad today so hopefully I’ll be in class,” but they’ll write it on my wall.
  • The interaction I have with kids through social software like this is digital and recorded and viewable by my superiors and their parents, so I have accountability. I’d like colleagues to use it too to help verify the uprightness of the continuing conversations.
  • I could see the value of such software with colleagues too, but I suppose it’s too far from our planet to get wide enough acceptance to be useful. Oh well.

Things I wish, though.

  • I wish Facebook were visible to nonmembers, so I could simply link to it from my website instead of having the bland “Meet the Teacher” Frontpage set up that I’ve got. I like Facebook because it’s not blocked by our district yet, but I can see the business value of Facebook’s strategy, so oh well.

Yesterday, I asked my student aid why she has a MySpace page, and she said she got one so she could email her friends. That’s where they were, so she had to go there to meet them. This teenager got into the social software simply to connect more effectively with teenagers, and I figure that’s a good enough reason for me. So I’m now on Facebook and MySpace and I’ll treat it like I do the mall – I’m there, and if kids want to acknowledge me and talk to me, I’d love to say hi. If not, I won’t single them out without some sort of invitation, which means if they like, they can pretend they never saw me and I won’t be offended.