Social Networking: A teacher’s experience

I had a Myspace page a long long time ago.  I really didn’t like it.  I don’t know why exactly, there was just something about the interface that annoyed me.  I also found it a little scary that my students were giving so much detailed information about themselves away.  I did a search in Myspace for girls within 5 Km, and was kind of shocked to find just how many of my students were telling the world where they worked friday night, what party they were going to, with whom.  It just didn’t feel right.  I even went and saw some of those students and warned them of some of the dangers of what they were naively putting up as information for their friends … never even thinking that anyone other than their friends might look at it.


Turned off Myspace, I didnt’ really want to explore Facebook, or any other social networking sites, thinking they were all probably the same.  But eventually, I thought I’d better take Facebook for a spin and give it a chance. 


I registered an account, and immediately began searching for my school.  I shouldn’t have been surprised to find that there was already a school network set up by one of our ex-students.  I joined the network.  


This felt different to Myspace.  Maybe It’s just me, but it seemed, somehow, safer.  The privacy settings were much better and more flexible, enabling me to show or not show whatever information I chose to anyone, anyone from my network or only to “friends” that I had added.  Clicking on the links to many of my students, i found that all i could see was a picture of them, and a link to add them as a friend, or send them a message.  If I added them as a friend, they had to approve the connection before I had access to their page.  Just as easily, people can be blocked or have their access to your information reduced.  I had to admit, I quite liked it.


What I liked even more, and what I hadn’t expected at all, was the contacts I was to start making with students I had taught from years gone by.  Once one student found me and added me to their list of friends, their friends apparently thought “OH Mr Douch! – I knew him!” and they added me as well.  Like a brushfire, my network of past students grew. I have received messages from students I taught more than a decade ago.   Many of these students recall specific lessons that were significant for them, or events that they remember.  Some took the opportunity to express gratitude.  One student from long long ago began:


“Never expected to ever run into you again like this, but I’ve always known what I’ve wanted to say if given the opportunity…”


She went on to recall a single moment, that happened in class 14 years ago, that she considered to have shaped her life (for good).  


“…it made a big impact on my life, and gave me hope…”


I didn’t even remember the event taking place – but it was really heart-warming to hear her tell the story.  As teachers, we all hope that what we do will make a difference in the lives of the kids we teach, don’t we?  But too often, students leave, and later in life they realise that you really did leave a mark… but they have lost contact.  Facebook gives them the chance to say those things they never said, or recall memories of times that were significant to them.   I think that has to be a good thing.  


I’m still experimenting with Facebook.  I think it has potential as a convenient way of staying in touch with like-minded colleagues in other schools.  One such colleague and I communicate almost exclusively on Facebook.  I have recently created a Biology Podcast group in Facebook.  I don’t know what use that will be – or even if it will be of any use.  I’ll keep you posted…