Teacher values online connection

JO MOIR
Last updated 05:00 22/03/2014

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A teacher has challenged his colleagues to use the latest social media to engage their students - even if that means Snapchatting photo reminders about homework.

Lewis Bostock, a first-year media studies teacher at Diocesan School for Girls in Auckland, was speaking at a conference in Wellington this week, encouraging teachers to explore new ways of using social media in the classroom.

But his advocacy of social media comes as the Teachers Council is warning of the need for clearer boundaries between teachers and pupils, and how social media can blur those lines.

"If Snapchat captures a student's undivided attention for five seconds, it's worth exploring what the possibilities are for using that in the classroom," Mr Bostock said. "Education is an important platform and environment to teach students how to use technology, including social media, in an effective, responsible and ethical way."

Although he had never used Snapchat in the classroom, it was just one of many options available to capture and engage increasingly mobile-oriented teens.

This month, Patrick Walsh, a long-standing member of the Teachers Council's disciplinary tribunal, labelled the quality of training around professional boundaries and student safety as non-existent at times.

Texting and social media had contributed to the blurring of lines on what was acceptable between teachers and students.

Mr Bostock said there were definite challenges for the profession to establish better guidelines so teachers felt empowered to use social media in class.

Using social media to remind students about homework and assignments raised questions about whether teachers were being held responsible for doing the job of parents.

Secondary Principals' Association president Tom Parsons said NCEA students were old enough to be responsible for themselves, but often the communication between a teacher and student was better than with their parents.

He said teachers and parents both had a role in managing assignments and homework, but students were also being taught to be "resilient and responsibile" adults, and most of the expectation should be on them.

If all parents had the time and desire to engage with their child's learning, teachers wouldn't need to be responsible for reminders, Post Primary Teachers Assocation president Angela Roberts said.

"In some homes the conversation is centred around which child is going to look after the younger ones while the parents go off to work in the evening. It's more fundamental than, have you done your homework?"

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Facebook alerts set up by teachers could be a useful tool to help parents engage with their children and their studies, she said.

Kuranui College in Greytown is on the brink of writing up new social media guidelines to protect teachers who are already using their personal accounts to engage with students.

Principal Geoff Shepherd said: "We need to design a set of protocols that we all agree to use, and they will be concrete rules for everyone. I . . . want to make sure the safety of students and staff isn't put in danger."

Wellington Girls' College principal Julia Davidson said the school already used Facebook to keep students up to date, but teachers kept their own accounts private.

"I wouldn't be wary or hesitant about teachers using more social media, but I would want to make sure there were clear boundaries."

Mr Parsons said technology would always evolve, and teachers and students needed to use their moral compass. "Teachers have a huge influence on students and, in some cases, there's a large degree of attachment to them."

The best result for schools would be to discuss the potential pitfalls and come up with guidelines that schools could adapt to their needs, he said.

Tools being used in classrooms varied, with some schools engaging through social media daily and others not allowing mobile devices in the classroom at all, Ms Roberts said.

"This isn't a new problem, it's just more complex . . . teachers have always had judgments to make in different situations."

- The Dominion Post

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