Using Social Media Ethically in the Classroom (ACS Fall National Mtg 2019)

In February 2019, Patricia Mabrouk at Northeastern University contacted me through my web page. The purpose of her inquiry? To participate in a symposium for the ACS Fall 2019 National Meeting entitled “Ethics and Social Media”. It was a fascinating topic and I was interested immediately. I gave three options for my potential talk:

  • a reflective talk on how I use social media and the ethical considerations underlying that use
  • a talk on how I employ social media usage for and with my students within the classroom or for research
  • a talk on how social media has empowered my professional development and what ethical considerations I consider when I use social media to communicate and collaborate with my peers.

The talk on using social media in the classroom seemed the most interesting to all involved and so my eventual talk – “Social media and ethics in the classroom: Reflection and analysis” – was born. (YES!)

And then the symposium was cancelled. (NOOOOOOOO…)

So, we went to plan B – a poster on the same topic with the same title to be presented at SciMix on Monday night of the conference. Since this poster was sponsored mainly by ACS PROF (@ACSPROF; the American Chemical Society’s Professional Relations Division), I wanted the poster to be, in itself, one-half a reflective piece – something to spur the readers of the poster to think about their own experiences in the classroom and what one would consider before/during/after implementing social media within their own classroom – and the other half a marketing piece. The design was simple – three major questions (in yellow and green (green being the last and most important)) and white follow-up questions or thoughts for the yellow major questions. A QR code was placed at the top of the poster to guide readers to more information if they were interested (i.e. my website and this blog).

Screen Shot 2019-08-19 at 8.21.07 AM.png

The picture in the middle shows an example of my own experience with an ethical dilemma in social media. In 2014, my friends in the Media and Communication group at Central New Mexico (CNM) Community College (who taught me everything I know about video lectures, podcasts, etc. (including how to do these well)) asked me to do a CNM glass video for educational purposes. I, of course, said yes and, while I read the forms they gave me to sign, I signed the media waiver they provided without question. And then the glass video became part of a major advertising push for CNM – I was on billboards, TV ads, movie theater ads, social media, etc. And I had pretty extreme cognitive dissonance about this experience: some portion of my psyche was pretty amused, the other portion was horrified. How did I suddenly become the “face” of CNM?

This story obviously illustrates a point – do our students really know what they are getting themselves into when we require (or even just give extra credit) social media in the classroom? Do we do an adequate job of explaining the whys and hows of social media usage and identity? And do we just post pictures and videos of our students randomly with (or without) their consent but not necessarily their buy-in? We need ways to help our students recognize the risks of social media usage while promoting the very real opportunities that this usage affords. And we need to be very aware of those students who are most at risk – those for whom social media usage may be dangerous (i.e. if they have a stalker, are transgendered or an immigrant, have a criminal record and past, or even have a job where their identity needs to remain less known) or severely annoying (trolls sometimes abound – especially for those in underprivileged groups). We need ways of communicating with and for our students that maintains the connection of social media but both considers and protects those who need to be protected.

So where do all of these ethical considerations leave us?

We can continue to promote social media in the classroom for the multifold benefits it presents (see the right side of the poster for an incomplete listing) while remaining cognizant of the dangers it potentially houses for those who may be at risk. And we can come up with alternatives that ethically help meet our and our student’s needs.

I have used social media in my classroom with great success since 2012. I first used Twitter, then the Pi App (which was WONDERFUL but is now defunct), then Facebook closed or secret groups in conjunction with public blogs on WordPress (or vlogs on YouTube), and finally Slack channels (+ the blogs). We also now use Instagram or SnapChat for cool lab pics. Some of this social media usage is optional; the blogs and Slack usage is required. However, I have my students vote on which social media platform they would like to use most, and then I help students who are worried about social media identities and/or ethical issues to either find ways to enter the social media world or communicate by other means. One example is that I give alternative means for turning in the blogs – students can submit them directly to the class Slack channel instead of posting them to a public blog, or, if really needed, they can submit the blogs directly to me via email. Another example is that I try to identify those students who need to generate more anonymous social media identities and then help them accomplish that feat. I give my students ample reason to join social media but also give them room to try some other communication method. This teaching process is open and emergent in that it changes slightly almost every semester.

So there are indeed ways to require social media in the classroom and serve our students ethically. And this is really the heart of this poster and blog.

I’m interested in your thoughts as well. Do you have questions that you’d like to ask or livid experiences you’d like to share? Please share in the comments below or @ me on Twitter and we’ll start an asynchronous discussion of these ethical considerations and more.

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