Moving the mountain - FamilyEducation

Moving the mountain

September 23,2010
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

I primarily teach Freshman Composition classes, which primarily involves helping students master basic reading, writing, and critical thinking skills. Over the years, though, I'm finding my class plans expanding to cover more topics--how to write professional e-mails, for instance; how to keep a study calendar; how to organize your time effectively; and, more recently, what to do or not do on social networking sites. I used to stay out of Facebook etiquette discussions with my students beyond advising them to post photos of themselves carefully, in case one day they came back to haunt them. This past summer I used Facebook experimentally in my two summer courses. I set up an alternate Facebook account under a slightly different name, and asked that my students "friend" me. Within the Facebook page I set up two discussion groups, one for each course. This will be great! I thought to myself, excited to be trying this out with my summer students. One of the huge obstacles I have faced teaching students at my college, is getting them to interact with me outside of class. I like to use lots of short video clips and podcast recordings in my classes, but it's always a challenge to get my students to go to the student internet portal to retrieve the links to those sources. My students, I thought, given that I see them checking Facebook a million times/day, surely won't find it too difficult to check the course's group page. Did Facebook work this summer? It did and it didn't. One thing I hadn't been prepared for was the fact that by accepting my students' friend requests I would then have access to their FB pages. I felt uncomfortable seeing their updates and photos, even if it was just for the few seconds it took for me to click to the group page from the main page. Granted, most of their updates looked like this: yup...cuz c they be doin 2 much and I felt my head spinning, the way it does when someone comes at you speaking another language entirely, but there were many, many students who were blissfully posting the kinds of updates and photos I KNOW their mothers would not want to see. I felt strange bringing this up because my students had allowed me access to their FB pages by friending me for the class. But part of being a college teacher is that you have to, from time to time, step outside of your role as the teacher of that particular subject matter, and be ready and willing to instruct your students on other matters--things that could have a direct impact on how others might perceive them beyond the college classroom. At the very least, I told them, they should tone down their Facebook pages for the four weeks of summer school. I challenged them to imagine that a prospective employer was looking over their shoulders every time they posted, and to change the content of their status updates accordingly. And you know what? Many of them did. Over the remainder of the summer session I saw a distinct change in how my students posted their updates, and in what they posted. Some students continued merrily along in their carefree ways, but a large number of my students told me that it helped them to imagine--not their mother, not their teacher, not their grandmother--reading over their shoulders, but a person who could someday be responsible for giving them a job. Using Facebook for my classes didn't work out in quite the ways I and envisioned it would, but I felt that it has at least given me the opportunity to demonstrate, in very real ways, the importance of responsible social networking, and the importance of always thinking about how others might perceive you, beyond those cozy, heady, invincible-feeling college days.