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learning.now: at the crossroads of Internet culture & education with host Andy Carvin

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October102006

Is MySpace Your Space As Well?

Even though MySpace seems to be on every politician and parent’s hit-list, a growing number of educators are staking their own claim on the online social network. We already know how those politicians and parents would react, but what about thei students and other teachers? And might these educators find themselves between a rock and a hard place as more schools try to crack down on off-campus online behavior?

Yesterday’s Contra Costa Times featured an article about the use of MySpace by teachers. It’s certainly not an unexplored subject - lots of educational bloggers, including myself, have debated the educational merits of MySpace. But I was particularly intrigued by some of the quotes of students it contained.

Some students expressed concern that MySpace would provide teachers with too much information about their extracurricular activities. “People definitely have things on their MySpace that they don’t want adults to see,” said high school student Megan Covey. “Like pictures at parties with alcohol and smoking.” Having said that, though, she wouldn’t be against using MySpace to interact with some educators - as long as they passed her personal test for coolness. “I would MySpace them all the time with (homework) questions,” Covey said of certain educators. “But there are some teachers who are total squares, and with them it would be uncomfortable.”

One of Covey’s teachers, Dharini Rasiah, felt that MySpace could have an appropriate place in the classroom. “Kids don’t check their e-mail often,” she said. “If teachers can and are willing to use MySpace, it can be a great way to reach out…. The vast majority of students are on it.”

Another student, Christopher Guerra, felt it’s “OK for teachers to be on MySpace,” and even described his MySpace interactions with one particular English teacher. “If you don’t have a printer, you can send her your paper through MySpace and she’ll print it for you, or you can get help with homework,” he said.

Other students, however, worry that MySpace’s social nature might lead to inappropriate student-teacher relationships. She described her own interactions with a theatre teacher she met during summer camp. “We flirt a lot,” she said. “I guess it might border on inappropriate. … He’s young, like 22.” Acknowledging this, she added that public school teachers should probably steer clear of it. “MySpace is purely social,” she said. “It’s about seeing what’s going on over the weekend. … Teachers talking to students takes the relationship to an unprofessional level.”

Rick Ayers, a retired teacher from the school, is an active Myspace user, with more than 300 MySpace contacts to his credit. He uses the site to help students with homework and offer other advice. Sometimes, though, he sees posts by students that he’d prefer didn’t come across his computer screen. “This guy posted a bulletin, which means it’s public and everyone can see it, titled ‘Grapes,’ which is slang for marijuana.” he said. “The message read, ‘For real, hit me up.’” When it comes to situations such as that, Ayers said, “I just leave it alone…. It’s not my business to get into it.”

While Ayers and other educators try to turn a blind eye to inappropriate online student activities that aren’t on school grounds, more and more school districts are exploring policies to punish students for such behavior, as the Indianapolis Star reported last week:

One student has been expelled at one school, another suspended. One school district has warned students they are legally responsible for postings; another will vote on a similar policy this month.

“Kids look at the Internet as today’s restroom wall,” said Steve Dillon, director of student services for Carmel Clay Schools. “They need to learn that some things are not acceptable anywhere.”

Carmel High School used its harassment and bullying policy to expel a student Dillon said posted sexually explicit comments about a teacher on MySpace. A second Carmel student was suspended for 10 days and given community service for posting racially offensive comments about a teacher on the site, he said.

Another area school district, Clark-Pleasant in Whiteland, is trying to pass a policy that puts students — and teachers — on notice that they are legally responsible for anything they post online, including material deemed defamatory, obscene, proprietary or libelous. The proposed policy will come before the School Board on Oct. 17. Beech Grove passed a similar policy in the spring. “If something starts online and spills into school, we want to be able to deal with that and restore order to the school,” said Clark-Pleasant Director of Technology Jim White, who crafted the district’s proposed policy on responding to Internet activity.

One student interviewed for the article, Kayla Wiggington, lambasted the proposed policy. “The school system has no right to sit there and tell us what we can and cannot do at home,” she said. “They can control what we do at school, but when it gets home, the only people who can tell us what to do is our parents, not the school.”

Legal scholars and civil rights activists appear to be backing up her argument, describing the chilling effect these policies might have on student off-campus speech. “It’s chilling and gives the effect that people don’t know what they can and cannot say,” said Henry Karlson, a professor at Indiana University School of Law-Indianapolis. “How disruptive does it have to be for the school to be able to control it?”

All of this leaves me wondering one thing. With more and more districts cracking down on onlne social networks, First Amendment rights notwithstanding, and growing numbers of educators exploring them as well, will we reach a point where the policy and the educators collide? Let’s say Rick Ayers had observed that student potmongering on MySpace in a school district that embraced a policy punishing students for off-campus online activities. Would Ayers have a duty to report this student? Would he face disciplinary action for not reporting it? What if the student’s online activity were more political than criminal, such as posting a MySpace blog detailing what she felt were hypocritical policies put in place by school administrators? Would her speech be protected? Would a teacher get in trouble for not reporting it? My gut tells me that a student could successfully fight any punishment against them in court, as other students have done in the recent past. As for the teacher, though, I’m honestly not sure. Do educators have a duty to report inappropriate off-campus online activity, even if that activity may indeed be constitutionally protected? What do you think? -andy

Filed under : Policy, Safety, Social Networking

Responses

I teach 6th grade and had a myspace for a little over a year and had mostly students, present and past, as friends. It came to a point where I realized there was material that would appear on my bulletin board that was way too inappropriate. The internet and myspace is no different from any other activity engaged in by young people. Parents need to be the ultimate “police” of children’s activities online and off.

Teachers have a multitude of “free” areas to communicate with students and parents and it is wise to stick within those areas.

If a teacher discovers a student engaging in destructive behavior whether online or off, there should be some responsibilty to report it.

If free speech comments are accessed at school, should it be treated like a note being passed? If the information contain in the posting breaks conduct rules, maybe it should be a discipline issue.

If it is not then what do you do about sexual harassment and bullying of not only teachers but students as well. If students are breaking the law then who is responsible for enforcing it?

Obviously, I haven’t made up my mind about many of these topics. I am an advocate of free speech, but I also believe that you should be able to attend school and perform your job free of harassment.

As a high school teacher, I don’t think I should be policing students outside of school. That’s the work of parents. Schools are expected to be responsible for way too many things beyond educating students already and we have too many “zero tolerance” rules. Having said that, my students have asked if I have a myspace site and I’ve told them that I don’t want one. I think it would give an unprofessional appearance and possibly lead them to treat me more as a pal than their teacher. They can email me at home or even call if they need help, but I won’t be posting on myspace. (Of course, I’m much to old anyway :)

I am a college student studying to become a teacher. I have had a myspace and understand how big of a fad it has become. I can see that if a teacher wants to have one to keep in touch with family and friends, they should be able to do to this. On the other hand, I can see how parents could turn this around on teachers if there did happen to be anything on their site. It would not necessarily matter if the parent had a far worse site that the child saw, much less older siblings with sites. I truly think that it should just be up to the educators judgment and discretion whether or not to have one. If they do, they really should take the time to “keep it clean” or keep it on a private setting. Not to mention, how much personal information should a student be able to receive about their teacher? Not THAT much.

I am a college student finishing my degree in Music Education in December. I am currently student teaching at a community school. A few students have asked to be my friend on myspace and I accepted but I also had the sense to change many things on my profile. I took out any kind of pictures that may give a wrong impression, i deleted any blogs I had and I also changed my settings so that nobody that was not my friend could view my page and changed it to where I had to approve comments so that nothing inappropriate was written on my page that students might see. I think that MySpace is a great social network when used responsibly, use common sense and remember that you are a teacher first and foremost and anything you do outside of school reflects on you, your students and your school.
Thanks,
Jonas

I am currently a college student, soon to be teacher. And, I have myspace; like others I have made my profile private. Adding students in my opinion make the student/teacher relationship too much like pals. I think some respect would be lost. As far as trying to regulate a students blogs, comments and profile, I strongly believe that parents should be aware of the child’s profile and its contents. Too often parents are left in the dark of their childs internet usage. But as eduators all we can do is encourage the parents to be more aware.

I have had students show me there pages on “my space” I think it is interesting but have noticed that it is all about them and their friends. Getting to pass on pictures and then checking responses to comments…it is all social for them. I don’t see any need for teachers to use this as a way to communicate with students. I have an email address and when someone needs help with an assignment or needs help with printing work I can do it from my email. I don’t want to know everything that my students are doing. They have a seperate life from mine and that is a good thing. I had my fun while I was in school and I surely didn’t want my teachers knowing everything that I did. On the other hand parents might want to check out the site just to keep up with their child and things they are doing…good or bad. If I were a parent of a child that used “my space” I would be right there in the middle of it all. NO SECRETS in this day and age. But as a teacher-I feel they’re entitled to their seperate social life. If they want to share I am here and will listen and be glad to be a part but that is as far as I think it should go. All this is said to address the interaction with students and their teachers on “my space”.

Is the My Space safe for young people to be using? It is possible that our students are putting too much information out there, [such as too much personal information, including pictures], for the “not so nice, to prey on the innocent” again through the internet? Shouldn’t we and isn’t it important as teachers, and as responsible adults to make sure they are aware of a potential danger. Should we be putting a warning out there to be cautious what we let ‘strangers’ know about our personal self, on a public site such as MySpace.
Thank you for allowing me to comment.
Sincerely,
Anita

Absolutely…. That’s something we’ve been talking about on the blog since we launched it in May. MySpace can be a rather sleazy space, and students need to learn to be more responsible in what information they post online. They treat these sites as private when they’re totally the opposite.

I am a senior at a public highschool, and the clash of administration with our “spaces” is becoming acenine. A friend of mine was called down to the office in an attempt to be penalyzed for posting pictures of her halloween costume, which happened to be in mockery of a hall moniter. While the administrators eventually disregarded it, the hall moniter remains irate. She has gone so far as to get past privacy barriors and view our profiles, threatening us if she finds anything that doesn’t cater her taste.
While this woman is obviously acting extremly juvinille and unproffesional, things that would enable her to punish us for online activity would work to her advantage.

Myspace is a danger to students who are too young and naiive to make responsible decisions about sharing personal information. They assume that they are safe, that since they don’t personally know anyone who is out to get them, that cyber-predators will go after someone else. I had one student ask me why myspace doesn’t simply block all the Internet predators and pedaphiles, as if the site had some way of identifying them.

Sites like this are dangerous to the young people of this country, but the idiots who run them are concerned only with money. For that matter, as many people have pointed out, if myspace shut down, the kids would simply find another electronic avenue to share their personal lives.

As such, it is up to parents to step up and be parents. I personally never allow my daughter to access the Internet unless I can see the screen. Kids are too naiive. Even good kids can’t be trusted, for the simple reason that they are, in fact, kids.

Kids will be kids. Parents need to be parents. If your kid gets mad at you for policing their destructive actions, let them. It’s your job to keep your kids safe. Nobody else can, certainly not the kids.

I think students should not worry about being on myspace at school anyway they should be doing school work. If they are worried about what the scholl will find out about them or anybody as for that matter than i think they should put it on there myspace profile.

Do you think a first year teacher, who is on an enormous learning curve and does yet know about all of the “unwritten rules”, should be dismissed for having communication on MySpace with a student? What if the student is extremely at-risk, rarely attends school and when the student does attend, they are on a half day schedule? What if the teacher had a great connection with the student where there were virtually no connections with other teachers for the student? Being new to MySpace and not having it necessarily intended to be accessible by all students there were some implied words of profanity, and some comments posted on the picture profile that did have some tame and common words of profanity (only 3) as funny quotes from TV. If the teachers intention was purely to connect with this student and the student considered the teacher a friend, should the teacher be fired and their certification flagged so that it can ultimately ruin the career of said teacher? Also, consider that the teacher reported some alarming bulletins(possibly suicidal or some other harmful comments the student was making that raised concern) to the school counselor mentioning that these bulletins were read on the teacher’s MySpace page. Also, attempts were made to contact the parent and meetings were scheduled with the parent where the parent never showed up. Should the teacher have some right to freedom of speech to express themselves? Should their career be ruined for implied words of profanity? A warning for an innocent naieve mistake I can see, but maybe I am skewed…..Should the teacher be thrown away and their career ruined for the risk of a possible law suit threatened by a parent over implied profanity (one was a reference to the student’s MySPace)? Ultimately, should the teacher be punished for something so benign when they were just trying to save a student?

well yes everything it says on here is true but not for all people some go on because they got friends from around the world and maybe ya when i mean ”ya” i mean like the people who made this note should at least give us one more chance to let high school kids get on my space and im sure there is gonna be talking like flirting but this is all we got for fun in school and it makes no sence because we are older and smart enough to know ”dont get in a car with a stranger” so give us a chance

I just think myspace users really don’t have the knowledge of how to change the code or even want to try they just want the easy way…

I am against teenagers using foul language in my space. I am having behavior problems with my child since he joined Myspace. I removed it and he went to a friend house to set up the account. I think for any minor , a parent should sign off to allow the account and a parent should have access to monitor the page for indecent language, pictures. etc. I will be looking to enforce some of these. I wanted to know what are the options on how parents can monitor the child is not set up without a parent permission. The stuff on my space is considered rated R so like in the movies, a parent is required to be present. Is there a way to edit certain language from populating in the screen?

I’m a secondary English teacher and I have had a myspace for a little over two years. I keep my site private, I do not have pictures where I am overly exposed, and I do NOT add students to my page, nor do I add teenagers/kids in general. With these rules in place, I see no problem with teachers using a social network in their own time.

Teachers shouldn’t be looking at students myspaces 24/7 or anything but if they have concerns about that students health or well-being then yes they should check it out. But we DO have Freedom Of Speech. So if the teacher/teachers do not like what they see
then i think it’s just
TOO BAD!

Sometimes people post out of boredom.
Sometimes people post out of depression.
Sometimes people post out of anger.
Sometimes people post out of loneliness.
Sometimes people post out of sexual tension.
Sometimes poeple post out of a need to be noticed.
Sometimes people post out of a need to be accepted.
Not matter what the reason - these or others - when someone writes or posts photos, their motives become transparent.
If we can all turn our “down or negative times” into something “positive and uplifting” we will be making ever so much more pleasant memories for our futures. What do you want to remember when you’re 90 years old? Will you make this life a better place for your having been here?

I am a teacher who used myspace mainly for personal use but students began to find me. I rarely if ever actually viewed the students’ myspaces but would occasionally remind them of homework or answer questions that they had. One day, I noticed some of my young teen students on my homepage friend list in their underware in provocative poses. I clicked to their myspace site to find tons of pictures from a underage drinking playboy themed party. I immediately notified the parents who informed me that I was an educator not a friend or parent and that they were well aware of the party their 17 and 14 year olds attended. As a parent, I would want someone to contact me but I am finding that is usually not always the case. I wish I would have just deleted the students on my friends list and reported the content to myspace as inappropriate. Myspace is a powerful tool to reach students but it is just too dangerous for teachers whose good intentions might be taken as crossing the line.

I am an eighth grade teacher, and I have both a myspace page and an instant messenger. However, I make sure that my students never know either username, and I block all users from contacting me or seeing my page unless I have accepted them as a “buddy”. Those tools are for me to keep up with family and friends, and while I don’t post anything but family pictures, I still don’t want my students or any strangers either checking them out. There are ways to protect yourself on the internet, and it is an extremely good idea to do so. Posting back and forth with students, or even emailing on your private email, is a really bad idea. Many school systems have their own email/websites that parents and students can use to contact teachers. These are acceptable means of contact. Still, you have to watch what you put into writing, even a :), can be seen as flirting by certain students or parents. My advice is to keep contact brief. Give help on a subject, type in the homework, or say, “yes, I’ll print that file for you”, and leave it at that. In a world where we already have to worry about patting a kid on the back being taken the wrong way, or complimenting a student’s appearance being called harrassment, I think that it is more important than ever to watch our contact with students and parents over the internet.

Here’s how I see it. MySpace is a social networking site. If there are people whom you don’t want looking at your page, set it to private and screen all those who make requests to be added. If you leave it up for public viewing, then you are inviting anyone who comes along to look at your page. And yes, that includes parents and teachers.

this is bull shit teachers could but we can wat the hell

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