Facebook follies

I know I am making a point not to blog about particular happenings in my classes, but here’s something I wanted to throw out there for thoughts and commentary.

My lower-division class meets in a computer lab. We have software to lock up the screens when the computers aren’t needed, to prevent off-task surfing. Today I didn’t lock the computers out because we needed a calculator and a graphing tool. About halfway through the class I was in front of one student and s/he started to smirk a little while looking at his/her screen. On a hunch, I checked the Facebook accounts of that student and a couple more that s/he hangs out with, and sure enough there was this:


…and a couple of others of a similar bent. The time stamp puts it squarely in the middle of the class.

Students from the first day I ever taught anything have thought that my classes were f***ing stupid, and I guess I can only help that so much and I am not surprised that some people feel that way. So although the content is juvenile and disrespectful, that’s not the issue per se.

The issue is that I, as a professor, have a responsibility to help students learn things like responsibility and respect, right along with learning logarithms and linear functions. They need to know that:
– Sending messages in the middle of the class is distracting to people around the senders;
– Sending messages distracts the senders;
– The class average on the test they took recently was really badly low, and most every student in the class needs all the help they can get right now, in particular some of the people who sent the messages;
– It’s understandable to have negative feelings toward a class and professor when you’re doing poorly, but not very mature to act out on it like this; and very importantly,
Facebook pages are not private. Professors, potential employers, etc. are reading this stuff. How smart is it to post stuff like this for the whole world to see?

I’m torn on how to handle this.

  1. I could send an email to the whole class, saying that (1) I read those Facebook messages, (2) I don’t appreciate it, and (3) the misuse of computers during class time has to stop immediately;
  2. I could send an email just to the students involved, saying the same things as above and including screenshots of the messages (with names and photos blurred out as above);
  3. I could start off class on Monday with a Keynote presentation featuring the anonymized screenshots, which would provide a nice, shocking dose of reality to the students involved;
  4. I could call the students in to the office first, with no prior description of what I want to talk about, and then show them the non-anonymized screenshots, and then have a little chat;
  5. I could send the screenshots in an email to them;
  6. I could also send the screenshots to their advisors and coaches and ask them to help me impress on them the importance of respect and responsibility.

I could do a combination of those things, but first of all I’m just wise enough to know not to take a course of action like these before cooling down a little, and second of all I think it would be interesting to hear your thoughts. So, to the comment section with you!

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Filed under Education, Higher ed, Social software, Student culture

12 responses to “Facebook follies

  1. I would have dealt with it at the time. I’ve had similar things happen in my classes; I stop it when it happens (like when a student answers his cell phone in class). Dealing with it at the time limits your options.

  2. Eric

    Boy, I sure like #3. Shame and shock is an underutilized educational tool these days. However satisfying #3 would be though, I think #4 should be the first step. Not only do you want to address the behavior, you want to address it in a way where they learn something about how to respond to immaturity with maturity. I think by confronting them individually, you are giving them room to learn and grow from the experience instead of causing anger and resentment. Based on their response to the meeting, as well as their future behavior, would then determine if the scope of the correction extends to contacting their advisers. If they continue to act like little children though, just give their parents a call or put them in the corner for a “timeout”.

  3. I lean towards 4, like Eric, but boy would 3 be satisfying. I had something similar happen, also with Facebook. My student didn’t post in class, but she mentioned me by name in teasing another student — she said the other student was the only person in the class who was actually intrigued by what I had to say — I e-mailed her, telling her I personally was amused by it (I didn’t tell her why, nor will I say why here, but you can ask me privately), but that other teachers she might have in the future might not be so amused, and she would do well to remember Facebook is a public site that anyone can figure out how to look at; therefore, she ought to consider carefully what she puts out there.

  4. virusdoc

    Do nothing. Go for a jog, talk about it with your wife, blow off steam. The students in question are young and foolish as you were once, and it does you no harm to ignore this. Do your job (teach math to those willing to learn) and let time do the rest. They will experience the natural consequences of their immaturity, and they will mature on their own terms. Be dignified and gracious.

    Oh, and turn on that locking software next time!

  5. I’d do nothing. I figure my job is actually NOT to teach them responsibility per se. That’s their job. My job is to teach them the subject matter and to evaluate their performance. A natural consequence of this behavior is that they probably won’t do well in the class. Their choice.

    I would stop it if they were disturbing other people and preventing them from paying attention. I think that’s best done right at the moment, though. I’ve done it with notes dropped on the student’s desk, a voiced admonition to individuals, or a reminder to the class in general about expectations… It all kind of depends on how egregious the behavior was and my general patience level on that day.

  6. Just another liberal professor

    I wouldn’t do *any* of 1–6 without tenure, that’s for damn sure!

  7. Eric

    I have to say that I respectfully disagree with both virusdoc and Andrea.

    “The students in question are young and foolish as you were once, and it does you no harm to ignore this…They will experience the natural consequences of their immaturity, and they will mature on their own terms.” (virusdoc)

    –While this is true, I seem to remember some well placed kicks in the a** by professors and the like for my own acts of immaturity. Those “kicks” were the catalyst for my own maturation process. This sort of small-scale event is the kind of thing which if addressed properly can have a disproportionately large positive long-term effect on the student.

    “My job is to teach them the subject matter and to evaluate their performance.” (Andrea)

    –I’d be interested to know what sort of educational environment you work in (i.e. public secondary ed, major research university, community college, small liberal arts college, etc…). I think that working in education at any level is more than just teaching and evaluating comprehension of subject matter. For me, being an educator means teaching life along with my discipline. This is especially important when dealing with undergrads because they are making some of their first real choices in life. To turn a New Testament idea on its head, if you don’t get nailed to the wall at some point on the little things, you’re likely to do something stupid when it counts (i.e. when there are very real, substantial consequences).

    I’m a bit of a bulldog on these sorts of issues because it was a similar, almost silly, event like the one Robert is dealing with which knocked me into shape early in undergrad.

  8. Praise in public, admonish in private.

    Invite the students to your office, individually, and confront them there.

    Read the student handbook and see if there are any “principles of community” that they’ve violoted; scare them with the possibility of administrative action.

  9. From personal experience, do NOT do #3. It makes you feel better, but it makes the ones who did it hate you and the ones who thought about doing it not like you and it doesn’t do any good at all except make you feel better.

    I don’t think you should just ignore it. And I would certainly use it in the next class when you’re explaining things students do that they think they have gotten away with. (It entertains the class and gives them warning, without actually having to think about who in their class did it.)

    So I think if it were me, I would do 5. Obviously they’ll get that you read them and didn’t like them if you send the screenshots to them. And they might be a bit more scared about what you’re going to do if you don’t tell them anything.

  10. virusdoc

    Suzi hits on a key issue here: if you’re going to do anything about this little infraction, you have to do it with a bit of humor (perhaps even self criticism?) and anonymity for those involved. Let them know you know, but don’t come across as a hardass and don’t try to humiliate them. Let their own conscience do the humiliation, as yours did in your pysch class.

  11. e

    I think, as many others above, that we need to teach them a lot more than just a subject matter. I used to make some general reference in class about what a responsible and considerate individual would not do (if I recall correctly I even asked “how would it feel if i talked about you and/or your work behind your back?”), and I wasn’t speaking completely in generalities. Maybe not a best idea, but I did throw in a meaningful look here and there, so it wasn’t completely obvious to everybody whom I was referring to, but the individual got an idea what it was all about. So I suppose I wouldn’t do any of the above, but