Today was my essay deadline day for my large undergraduate module – 296 essays flowing into Turnitin. In the run-up I was getting the usual emails that can drive you up the wall – this PhD comics. This year, for the first time, I received three emails asking “was there a minimum word limit?”; the final one also stated that “people were asking about it on Facebook”. This frustrated and angered me and I did my first stupid thing which was to send a very angry Announcement to all the students on the VLE. My second stupid thing was to tweet a screenshot of the announcement.
It quickly garnered favorites and retweets and clearly resonated with a number of academics who follow me who want to do the best for their students but get frustrated when it appears students are not applying themselves. At the time of writing it got 13 retweets and 26 favorites. I also foolishly checked YikYak on campus; more of that later. And, I’ll be honest, as with all social media, the social confirmation of those RTs and favs felt good.
However, I awoke to an email from one of the students complaining that the announcement had led them to be publicly embarrassed on the Facebook page. They then emailed in reply to my apology pointing out I had also mocked them by tweeting about it. In both respects, they were largely right. What is frustrating, is from my own research, I should have known they were right before I did all this.
Nancy Baym and danah boyd talk about the idea of socially mediated publicness – that is that new technologies have given us myriad new ways to be “public” and in doing so we have to actually socially mediate this. While you might post something publicly on Twitter, you may not actually consider it to be “public” as you doubt it will go further than your immediate smaller number of followers. If you are more public, this mediation gets trickier.
I should have been aware of this in two ways. Firstly, I should have considered that the original Facebook comment from the student was public and I had not seen it – therefore they could be publicly identified. Secondly, I should have considered the wider public audience of my tweet and how individual students concerned would link this public shaming to their own behaviour. I agree with those who consider tweeting the “hilarious” mistakes students make in their essays as inappropriate and unethical. In this case I was unprofessional in my actions.
There’s a broader point here as well, that I think we need to reflect on as a profession – I know the tweets linking to the blog-post will get far less attention than the tweet that is the subject of this post. Why is this? Why do we always think it’s good to be frustrated and angry with students? Why can’t we focus more on the good and the positive about teaching students – I had some amazing discussions with students this semester about their attainment. I should have publicly shared this, not one minor, negative moment.
So, if you’ve got this far, please go and read my other, more positive, posts on teaching.