Hey, quit looking at my public information!

Today was the first day of classes for us, and blogging’s been light for reasons I’ve already noted plus trying to get everything ready. I taught one class today; other than the iSight camera on the Macbook locking up every time I tried to get a student photo, and other than the battery on the Macbook remote dying during class, things went pretty well.

I was trying to take photos because I want to learn students’ names and faces early and make personal connections often. Since I don’t get photos of my students prior to the start of classes, if there’s a significant number of students who I don’t know (such as with this class), I resort to a very useful and revealing resource: Facebook. As the students were lining up to get their photos taken, I mentioned that I’d been studying their Facebook pages pretty closely for the last couple of days. The overall response was one of being completely creeped out. When I started quoting facts from each student’s profile, they got really creeped out. I like to think that they were impressed that a prof was tech-savvy enough to use “their” social networking tools to get to know them personally. Maybe they were, a little, but the ratio of “impressed” to “disturbed” seemed pretty one-sided. (In the end, it served as a good icebreaker moment.)

I’ve done this before with other classes, primarily to learn about students but also to see their reactions when I tell them what I’ve done. I always find it interesting — students make Facebook accounts because, at some level, they want that information to be made public. And it’s not only public, but readily accessible to anybody in the world with internet access. And yet when somebody accesses it who isn’t of the culture they expect, it’s almost like a violation has taken place.

It makes an important point with them, namely that when they publish information to a wide-open site like Facebook, it is NOT PRIVATE and users typically have zero control over who gets to see their stuff and who doesn’t. What they do have control over is what they actually publish. I think a lot of students today, having been raised in the era of random warrantless locker searches at high schools and so forth, don’t have a well-formed notion of the value of privacy until they realize that there actually are certain things they’d rather other people not see.

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Filed under Social software, Student culture, Teaching, Technology

2 responses to “Hey, quit looking at my public information!

  1. Eric

    Prior to participating in my REU program in 2000, I used the e-mail addresses of the other people in my REU group to hunt for information about them prior to my arrival at Hope College (side note: there is enough information in this post for someone to figure out my identity…scary stuff). When I was able to list off facts about each participant at our first meeting, it really, really freaked them out. This was even prior to the explosion of personal information on the internet.

  2. I started doing the photograph thing last semester with my freshmen courses to help learn their names. Several of them made me promise not to post it to MySpace, which they thought was quite funny because of course no professor would have a MySpace page or be on Facebook. And yet I do.

    It’s a great lesson to teach them that in general, the web is WIDE open. They should be careful how they choose to present themselves. It might even be a future employer hunting them down (and then turning them down).