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

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June122007

How Not to Use MySpace in the Classroom

Just when you thought you could avoid yet another educational controversy breaking out on MySpace, a teacher in suburban Washington DC is finding herself in hot water for comments she wrote on her MySpace blog, and the online discussion with her students that followed.

Anu Prabhakara, who teaches foreign languages at Southern Middle School in Calvert County, Maryland, probably wishes she had been more careful about what she wrote on her MySpace blog. School district officials are investigating her for a post she wrote on her blog and a discussion thread that ensued between her and some of her students.

The blog is no longer online, but Southern Maryland Newspapers, which broke the story, managed to snag several quotes online before the site was taken down. (If you do a search for Anu Prabhakara on MySpace, one page does turn up, and it might even be her, but that page claims to have been inactive since 2006.) According to the article, Prabhakara was venting about the school when she wrote the following:

Why are teachers, the government, the school system, the FCC, and everyone and their mother (except the mothers and fathers) taking responsibility to teach the kids respect, accountability, responsibility, etc…. When the [expletive] did parents decide that their kids are not responsible for anything they do?

If that had been all she wrote, it might have gone unnoticed. But then some of her students accessed her MySpace page and began posting comments, such as “Wow Mrs. [Prabhakara], I didn’t know we were THAT irresponsible,” and “Someone had a bad day. I mean … come on, we’re not that bad.”

In response to these comments, Prabhakara replied: “Yeah, I know. [J]ust a kid in my 3rd period class and his [expletive] mother.”

It didn’t take long for word of this exchange to get around the school, eventually reaching the ears of parent Susan Lloyd, who reported Prabhakara to school officials. “She crossed a line she shouldn’t have crossed,” Lloyd said.

Now, Prabhakara is being investigated by the school district. According to local WTOP Radio, though, we may never know the specific outcome of the investigation. According to Robin Welsh, speaking on behalf of the district, if the school system decides to discipline Prabhakara, those actions won’t be disclosed due to privacy policies.

There’s no doubt that Prabhakara crossed a line. Many educators now have personal blogs, and it’s certainly not unheard of for them to use them to complain about education politices, sometimes using blunt language. Generally, though, these blogs are maintained as either independent sites, or with 3rd party blog hosting companies like Blogger or Typepad, which don’t have specific connections with education or young people. They try to maintain a virtual wall between their professional lives, where they interact with students, and their personal lives, where they may blog more intimately about issues they care about.

In Prabhakara’s case, she chose to use a blogging platform that is dominated by young people - including her own students. By blogging on MySpace, she clearly knew that students were reading her blog, and apparently didn’t have any problem with replying to those students within that context. By venting about her students and their parents, though, she allowed her students to participate in a conversation that should have never left the teacher’s lounge. So even if we never find out how Prabhakara gets punished, none of us should be surprised when it happens.

Once again, though, the story is yet another example of “worst practices” when it comes to educators blogging in general, or using MySpace specifically. You would think that educators wouldn’t need to be told how to behave with their students online, but perhaps that’s no longer realistic. Blogs and discussion boards, even very public ones, can be an intimate experience that leads to inhibition of one form or another. In this case, a teacher was way too frank with her students in too public a setting. Her story may be the exception, not the rule, but it’s the exceptions that make the best news copy.

Is there such a thing as educational best practices on MySpace? Some of you will probably reply by saying the best practice is to neither use it nor allow access to it. I think that’s a fair argument worthy of discussion. But as I know countless educators who have MySpace accounts, I’d love to hear from them as to what they think are responsible uses of the social network. Should it be only used for monitoring students? For interacting with your peers? For actual classroom practice? How would you define best practices for using MySpace? -andy

Filed under : People, Policy, Social Networking

Responses

I think a lot of teachers just don’t want to come to grips with having students read their blogs and social networking profiles.

Ofcourse your students are going to google you!

Since I can’t see her MySpace page, I can only go by the quotes I see here. Venting about work in a public area is risky, and clearly she wasn’t too worried about it. Folks should be able to vent all they like, but venting anonymously is always safer. What I would like to know is whether she had exchanges with her students on MySpace before this incident—I feel that’s important. That would show me that she absolutely knew they were reading it. Was this her own personal page and students stumbled upon it? Or was this a Class Page of some kind?

Venting about work is one thing, but venting about specific students and parents is another. As far as I’m concerned (and I’m neither an educator nor a parent) this was her biggest mistake. It doesn’t matter that she didn’t name the student or parent that was bothering her, but middle school kids aren’t stupid and surely they can figure out who it was. This was terribly stupid on her part. She crossed a few lines, but THAT one I find the most offensive.

She’s ranting about responsibility when she has been irresponsible herself.

ps: I can’t imagine that there is any educational usage for MySpace. It should be blocked from every computer in every school.

Clearly this teacher exercised bad judgment and will pay dearly for her mistake. This could of been an opportunity for her to engage her community and provide a useful discussion of instilling positive behaviors in children. Instead, she used her blog to simply sound off. What a foolish mistake. If she REALLY needed to sound off she should have done it anonymously.

I have two myspace pages, one personal one and one for my students. I keep my personal page set to private, so only people I approve as friends can see the content. I do this because I don’t want to have to censor my communications with my friends, but I also don’t necessarily want my students reading it either. Plus, that’s my private life and I need to have a line between my private life and my professional one.

I started the other page for my students because a bunch of them figured out I was a myspace user. It started as a way to let them friend me on myspace without bugging me on my personal page.

It has turned into an interesting tool to engage with them, though. A lot of them like to make videos for class projects and they can post them to my myspace page to share with all my classes. I also put out little challenge questions related to whatever we’re studying, in a myspace bulletin. If kids answer the question, they get to be on my top friends. I am also certain to report anything disturbing I see to the proper school authorities or to parents. I’ve only had to do this a few times, once related to bullying and once related to mentions of suicide.

Kids also use it to communicate with me about classroom issues or assignments. I get a lot of messages around test times, asking what a particular term is or how to work a certain problem, as the kids are at home studying. I used to work at a charter school where a lot of teachers gave out their phone numbers for kids to get homework help. I wasn’t comfortable doing this at the much larger public high school I work at now, but the myspace thing seems to be working as a good alternative. At least 90% of my stundents are on there and they are all addicted to it, checking it multiple times a day. So, it’s a fairly convenient way to keep in touch with them and to make myself available to them, outside of school hours, without letting them intrude too much on my personal life.

It’s important, though, to use the same standards of communication online as you would in the classroom. Basically, if it isn’t something that is appropriate to say in the classroom, then it isn’t appropriate to say to them online.

It is unfortunate that this has happened. Because as Maggie has stated above, there are so many positive ways in which to communicate with students and parents through this type of media. As the parent of 2 teenagers and a teacher, I’ve not been a huge fan of MySpace only because of the suggestive and unsupervised postings that I’ve seen from my own 6th grade students. However, using this media for the classroom could be done in a protected network that could benefit many students. It will be interesting to see what the backlash will be from the general public.

Since this was a public blog, one should always use discretion and caution when posting anything online. The Internet lives forever in some form or another. That blog or post may float around for years. It’s one thing to publicly blog about the state of education and its inadequacies, it’s another to rant against one’s own district, school, students or parents. While it is within our freedom of speech, it’s unprofessional, reflects poorly on the individual and poses a risk to one’s livelihood.

Few professions and institutions are under such scrutiny and debate as public education. Educators are held to a higher standard than most. It might be unrealistic and unfair, considering the pay scale, long hours of homework and lack of general respect, but it is the reality of the job.

I just wanted to respond to Missy’s comments. If I taught 6th graders, I’d be concerned if I even saw them on Myspace. For one, I believe that the terms of the Myspace site require that users be at least 15, so 6th grade is far too young to be using Myspace, in my opinion. Not only do these kids have to lie just to create their accounts, which I wouldn’t condone as a teacher, but it’s really not safe for such young kids to be using this media. There are too many creepy people out there that could be getting access to such young kids to make me comfortable with that. This is an issue I would probably take up with the parents of the kids I encountered online, to make sure they were aware of their kids online activities. If the parents allow it, then that’s their decision, but I wouldn’t condone it myself. The students I teach are juniors and seniors in high school. The majority of them are 17 and 18 years old. I would not use this particular media to interact with younger students, such as 11 and 12 year olds as would be typical ages for 6th graders or even for slightly older middle school students, because I don’t feel that Myspace is an appropriate site for kids that young. I’d probably even be somewhat hesitant to use it with younger high school students.

Educators should not have any contact with their students on myspace. Period. If they have a myspace account, as they have a right to have one, and a students tries to submit a friend request or communicate with the teacher online it should be gracefully denied by the teacher immediately. Teachers can avoid some of the hassle of students finding their myspace accounts by using fake names and their non-standard email address, and keep their friend lists limited to only other adults. Preferably ones they already know. Setting your account to private is also helpful, but is important to know that codes to hack into private accounts are readily available online. And another important rule to consider is, don’t post anything you don’t feel comfortable with your students seeing. I am an educator and like to keep a myspace account for the simple reason of staying in touch with my friends from back home, but I always have followed the above stated rules and have had no trouble.

I agree with you whole-heartedly. I don’t use MySpace for my students. Actually and fortunately, we can’t even access MySpace from our school computers. There are plenty of other sites that teachers can use for communication with students that are protected and can make learning more fun.
I know that my students use MySpace at home because they share with me their experiences. Many do have their own sites. Unfortunately, because MySpace is public, students of any age can still access to view what others have to say whether they have a site or not. It does concern me that my 6th graders have such access and any concerns that students share with me I pass along to the parent.

I really like Maggie’s comments. Most kids today with computers are addicted to MySpace. Why not use it as an educational tool. Using it for help with homework, to post projects, extra help as well as to keep tabs on students are all possible positive uses of blogs. In addition, I could see using MySpace as a way to teach your students what should and should not be posted on the internet. Most students are going to use MySpace, so they need to know what not to post so they can protect themselves from child predators, or from making a mistake such as the teacher in Maryland. Certainly, teachers should abide by some best practices, too. If your blog is accessible to your students, you need to treat is as though everything you post is something you are writing on your board in your classroom. The same guidelines for communicating with your students at school should also apply when online. If you have public blog, assume your students are reading it. They probably are.

These issues can easily be avoided if one follows this simple advice:

Never post anything on the Internet or e-mail anything you would not object to reading on the front page of the New York Times.

So because the messenger was an idiot, this proves that the communicative tool (MySpace) is evil incarnate? Yes, by all means let’s teach the kids the values of free expression and enterprise by “blocking it from all school computers”. On the one hand it’s “Kids, pay attention to the lessons of history because you can understand and shape both the present and future”. On the other, “We know from past experience that censorship and prohibition simply do not work, and are counter-prodcutive, but let’s ignore that and push ahead with censorship and prohibition of a medium that we don’t understand and are afraid of!”

“Listen to what I say, not what I do!”

What a valuable lesson! Anyone wonder why the kids have written off education as irrelevant?

MySpace is not evil, but attitudes of fear and censorshiop clearly are. There are numerous life and curricular lesson opportunities presented through social networking. Embrace it, teach values, judgement and appropriateness, and yes, security and safety. Teach expression, composition, creativity, the writing process, propoganda recognition….. reading!

This thread sounds like the parent lamenting her/his/their teenage daughter’s pregnancy because he/she/they were afraid that birth control (either by discussion or Rx) would lead to sexual activity.

Hello! The kids are gonna do it whether you are on board or not! Stop creating walls and Start building bridges!

I like the idea of having a private myspace for friends and family and then a more “public” one for being a teacher. However, if I was going to do this - I would still limit access to only to people from the school (students, other teachers, parents, and former students).

As for the comments about the parent that the teacher made - that’s just flat out stupid. She had to know that if she was that specific (3rd period boy’s mother) that kids would figure out. It doesn’t matter if you post it online - or say it where students can hear - it’ll get back to the parents.

That’s just one of those things that you state to a very close - very trusted friend - and not to anybody else - because it will get out.

I feel this teacher made a fatal error in where she said what she said, as well as with whom she discussed her thoughts. I have just recently created a myspace myself. A colleague and I decided after our typical ponderings of how to reach the kids that we needed to use the same technology our students are using in order to engage them. I have complained about lack of effort in my classroom for too long. I am gearing up the year with a myspace page that highlights important information and creating podcasts to help students study for tests. These kids have created a counter culture for themselves. Supervision is crucial to keeping them safe. In schools, when we suspect trouble, we move more adult bodies in closer proximity to the kids. This is no different. More caring adults should be out there digging around. I have already noticed that a few students are removing pics from their myspace that they don’t want me and my colleague to see.

I know I am a little late on this one… It is plain and clear. The teacher was absolutely wrong for discussing any kind of discipline issues on-line. I am an administrator and my office is located at a school so therefore I am in contact with students and parents. I am also part of the technology department - I have seen plenty of good examples of how to use MySpace in the classroom.
I personally have a MySpace account and do have students of the school district on it. I will admit I am careful as to what I post on it because of my position. For example one of my students found a little graphic on legalizing marijuana. I denied that comment, but then explained why to that student.
We currently block MySpace from our school computers however I am hearing the trend. It will not be long before we will be opening it up. We have already had to open it for our staff because of “cyber-bullying”
I applaud the teacher who is using MySpace, Podcasting, and any other technology to engage students. However, Anu Prabhakara wasn’t exactly wrong in her statement. All educators run into situations where the parents say, “My little angel would never do anything wrong.” It should not have been discussed with students especially with a pretty easy clue on who the student in question was.
There are those who believe the Internet as a whole is evil. Yes there are some pretty weird characters out there, but at the same time. Education can not continue to bury their heads in the sand and hope it will go away. Kids are using MySpace, Cell Phones, and Ipod’s the older view of, “Turn it off when you get into the building,” is wrong.

When I overheard some favorite students talking about it this year, I decided to create a myspace page - as a unique way to communicate w/ them outside of class. For a hobby, I design websites and have a separate one with my own domain for showcasing my students’ work. Within myspace, I don’t vent, share much of my personal life/beliefs, nor do I try to use my page for educational purposes…

What shocked me was the profanity I saw coming from students I never would have thought could be so coarse. And as a lover of language, the spelling nearly killed me - but I understand that it’s a new, distilled language that’s just going to be alien to me!

I am sorry that this is a primary method of communication for many 6th - 8th graders that I know. It appears to make everyone more ‘important’ than they may be in real life: mini-celebraties. They lie to create an account, post photos and videos and present what they choose for an audience. To me, using myspace, itself is very confusing, despite my experience level with computers/tech./webpage design but for them it’s so utterly simple!
I at least was heartened to see that they all have their Profiles set to Private and are selective about who they choose as virtual Friends.

It’s not going to go away, it cements for pre-adolescents that much-needed separation from their parents/the adult world and will remain something that most of us [well] over 20 just “won’t get” - ever. Our childhoods were most likely spent playing games, outside - not inventing virtual personas online and indoors.

Hopefully, if we participate in, then converse about it with children, we can at least help to bridge the gap.

Schools can’t expose children to risks without making reasonable efforts to protect them. In the case of MySpace and the Internet in general, it’s not feasible for school staff to supervise everything students do while under their care. The pros outweigh the cons in the case of blocking MySpace and others like it. There are plenty of educational versions of these tools that can be used to engage students. I can tell you from experience that when MySpace is not blocked at school, the small gain in productivity and class participation that students achieve is eclipsed by the constant distraction that social networking creates. For every minute spent using it to learn, ten minutes are spent using it to goof off, or worse.

fuck this shit kids aint listening to thi damn youll adults stupid

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