Thursday, August 31, 2006

Thoughts on MySpace and similar services after teaching a class

This is not quite a post about MySpace, but I was not sure what title to put on it, so here goes. I just finished teaching four classes today for an adjunct who teaches four classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I figured if she was brave enough to have four consecutive classes, then I could be crazy enough to do her BI sessions back to back. At any rate, I am thinking about my students and how they use MySpace and other similar services.

These classes are first semester freshman composition, and the instructor for these classes often ask for a "basic library orientation." In other words, these are students who are just starting at the university, and the professor wants an overview. I tend to teach these classes in a very informal manner. Sure, I have a plan, but since I am demonstrating things and giving a tour, I am fairly relaxed. My sample topic for searching a database was on MySpace as I pretended I was going to write some paper on social networks and college students. I ask my students questions, and I talk to them. Asking questions is not just to get participation, but I learn a lot about their world, their views, and just what they are up to from their answers. I ask them how many use MySpace or anything else, and I get a few hands. It seems MySpace is favored, but I get a few for Facebook, some for Hi5 (I have seen that one on quite a few library computer lab terminals) and some for Xanga. One of my students mentioned Mi Gente, which apparently is a social site for Latinos. How that slipped out of my radar is beyond me, which goes to show I am always learning new things from the students. In a way, given our population, I should have known there would be a Latino social site someplace, and that they would be on it. Note to myself to check it out.

So, I ask them about what they have heard on the news, and of course, the issue of pedophiles and predators on MySpace comes up, which I take is more a reflection of the way the news has overblown it. I make a note of that. I also ask them if they knew that potential employers could find their social network pages. This raised questions from them in the classes, especially the last one in the afternoon. "But you can lock your pages, can't you?" Well, depends on what service you use, and Google can still crawl a lot of it. "But Facebook, you have to log in, be in college." If you have a college e-mail, you are in. A lot of companies have alumni for instance who use their addresses. Campus police can do it as well. While we got a little sidetracked, it was a definite teaching moment as the students clearly did not know about this issue with social networking. I was straight with them; I told them that I was not telling them not to do have a MySpace or any other page, just to be a bit careful. I am sure I scared one or two of them, which may be a good thing. But as I left the classroom, I was thinking a bit more about this.

I had a moment to talk to our ILL Librarian, who mentioned being at some campus administrators' meeting where they all assumed that the students could use a computer, therefore they were information literate. Actually, the assumption is if they can check e-mail, they can use a database or find information online. I can point to a few articles refuting this, and any librarian can tell you that just because they can type on a keyboard, it does not follow that the students are information literate. I guess here is what worries me. I can educate the students. I am comfortable with them, and they tend to be willing to at least give the crazy librarian a chance. I don't think I can educate those administrators, and that worries me since they make the decisions with no idea of what the reality in the trenches is like. By the way, even though a lot of students use things like MySpace, I did get two or three who did not know what MySpace was. It is not surprising in this campus where the digital divide can be quite apparent. And that is part of the issue as well. We have administrators making all sorts of technology decisions, and somehow they don't know the students. Oh well, I shall continue my mission.


T Scott said...

We're fortunate at my university that the president and the provost each have a daughter in college (the president's is a junior, I think, and the provost's is just starting). Frequently they mention their daughters in conversation, and what they're learning from them about what the daughters consider to be essential in a university. It clearly informs their thinking about what kinds of services and programs to develop. The pres & provost are both very smart, very dedicated, very focused people -- but if it weren't for their daughters, I don't know how well they'd be able to really understand what our students are going through.

Anonymous said...

Are the parents that pay your wages to educate their children aware that you were not teaching at all? What about composition did they learn by your self-indulgence.

Angel, librarian and educator said...

Maybe we should clarify a few things for anonymous. One, I was not the composition teacher. I am a teacher librarian, and the composition teacher brought his/her class (can't remember which instructor it was) in order to receive instruction on how to use library resources, and more importantly, how to evaluate any resources they find on the Internet, which could include coming across a MySpace page. Seond, the prompt of MySpace was used as an example for a possible research paper. Given the popularity of the tppic, the fact the issue is of concern to some people, such as parents, this would be pretty consistent with a composition class. So, what they could be learning from coming to the library session includes:

How to narrow a topic for research.

How to identify appropriate keywords to type into the database.

How to identify good articles and materials on said topic, then how to decide it if it is the best one to use.

Third, using a topic example that is relevant to the student population is both a sound teaching practice as well as a way to engage the students.

And that is more than a good way to justify the salary, so to speak. Maybe next time, you can leave your name, and I will be happy to share further lesson plan details. In the meantime, I think I have "indulged" you enough. Best, and keep on blogging.

Angel, librarian and educator said...

T. Scott. It sounds fortunate indeed. I kind of wonder if some of the administrators in my setting have any older children who use various social tools as well as campus resources to give their parents a view. I get the impression that in my campus, it's a lot of old geezers (I am thinking Ted Stevens types) who are not exactly well informed. Then again, these are the same people who think the library does not need books; it's all online to them. Go figure. Best, and keep on blogging.