Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Article Note: On Facebook, Teachers, and Self-disclosure

Citation for the article:

Mazer, Joseph P., Richard E. Murphy, and Cheri J. Simonds. "I'll See You on 'Facebook:' The Effects of Computer-Mediated Teacher Self-Disclosure on Student Motivation, Affective Learning, and Classroom Climate." Communication Education 56.1 (2007): 1-17.

Read via InformaWorld.

One of the first things I learned during teacher education is that I had to find a balance in how much to tell students about myself. Some degree of self-disclosure made you a bit more human. Too much could be a problem. Besides, there is another lesson: you are there as their teacher, not their buddy. I became a school teacher long before MySpace and Facebook, yet some of those lessons are still applicable today. These days, I maintain some blogs, and I have a Facebook profile. I am no longer a classroom teacher (i.e. I don't teach for credit courses), yet teaching is a great part of what I do. This article then caught my eye because it made me think a bit more about my online practices and the decisions I make in terms of self-disclosure. I view my blogging and my use of Facebook not only as communication tools but also as learning tools. So, let's look at the article.

What the article is about.

"The present study examines the effects of teacher self-disclosure on various student and teacher characteristics via a computer-mediated network used primarily by students" (2).

In other words, what happens to relations between students and their teachers when the teacher has a profile on a service like Facebook, which is mostly a space for students.

A little on teachers' use of e-mail.

"Factors such as font use, language, and punctuation all affect student perceptions of teacher immediacy via computer-mediated channels. In fact, Waldeck, Kearney, and Plax (2001) found that students are more likely to communicate with teachers online who utilize immediacy behaviors (e.g., use students' first names, 'emoticons' to convey emotion) in email messages" (2).

I do use student first names as much as possible. Once in a while I get an e-mail without a name where the only thing I know is that they are a student of Professor Doe and that their e-mail address is (e-mail address changed to protect the innocent). On a side note, if I ever wanted to do a snarky post, making a list of some of the e-mail addresses I see in messages I get would provide plenty of material.

There is a risk element in this. Then again, the act of teaching as a whole has a risk element.

"Students may perceive a teacher's use of Facebook as an attempt to foster positive relationships with his or her students, which may have positive effects on important student outcomes. Teachers may violate student expectations of proper behaviors and run the risk of harming their credibility if they utilize Facebook. Despite this potential consequence, teachers may enhance their credibility among students by signifying an understanding of contemporary student culture" (3-4).

Something more to think about.

"Once teachers enter the network, they must make decisions about how much information to disclose" (4).

This was on my mind as I took the leap and created my Facebook profile. The blogs I keep allow me to have a minimal profile; I had the option to fill in a few more details on the personal profile I keep on Facebook. These are decisions that every educator using these technologies has to make.
Regarding the classroom context.

"In the classroom context, teachers will establish public relationships with their students and manage their disclosure of private information. Petronio (2002) argues that the decision whether and when to disclose private information is rule-based and determined by a variety of criteria including culture, motivation, individual differences, situations, and gender" (4).

I'll say that the rules have a lot to do with keeping you safe in the classroom. I mean safe from any possible appearance of impropriety or anything that a student could misconstrue and use to level an accusation. This is a serious concern of any school teacher, and even though they may be less likely to use Facebook, school teachers can certainly use MySpace. Higher education is not immune, but we are usually in an environment where all the parties are adults.

Some more on the classroom context.

"Teachers decide what information they want to reveal to their students in an effort to create a comfortable classroom environment that fosters student learning. At the same time, teachers must also determine what information to conceal from their students in order to avoid the negative ramifications of such communication and to protect their credibility in the classroom" (4).

A note or two on the literature and teacher self-disclosure.

  • "Cayanus (2004) argued for the use of teacher self-disclosure as an effective instructional tool to foster student learning. Research has suggested that teachers who personalize teaching through the use of humor, stories, enthusiasm, and self-disclosure are perceived by their students to be effective in explaining course content. . . " (5).
  • "Scholars have noted that teachers who self-disclosed using narratives and humor while presenting course content improved the clarity of the information . . ." (5).
The study was based on participation by 133 undergraduates enrolled in a basic communications class. They looked at a teacher's Facebook profile (the teacher was a confederate) manipulated for various disclosure levels by the researchers. The article goes on to explain the methodology and the measurements used.

So what did the teachers learn? Well, the students had some suggestions to offer.

  • "First, participants reported that teachers should consider professionalism when using Facebook" (12).
  • "Participants also referenced the appropriateness of the content teachers provide. Typical responses included: 'Don't put anything about politics,' 'I wouldn't give out too much personal information or stuff you think your students might make fun of you about,' and 'Be cautious what people put on your wall. Know that your students can see it and be careful what perceptions you are giving'" (12).
  • The students also had things to say about their desire to learn about their teacher. "'Be yourself,' 'We want to know you as a person and how good and fun of a teacher [sic] you'll be,' and 'Give information about your interests so students can get a better feel for your personality'" (12).
  • The students additionally showed concern over what teachers may think about the student profiles. "'They should respect their students' privacy,' 'Don't use it to get gossip or as a way to spy on students,' and 'Don't lecture the students about things you may come across on their profile'" (12).
Two more notes, this time from the article's discussion.

  • "The present study suggests that when a teacher self-discloses certain information, such as personal pictures, messages from friends and family, and opinions on certain topics, students may perceive similarities between themselves and the instructor" (13).
  • "While our findings reveal a positive association between teacher self-disclosure and important student outcomes, teachers should be consistent with their self-disclosure on Facebook and their teaching style in the classroom" (13).

The authors of the study also provide a good look at the limitations of their study in the discussion. For instance, findings may not extend to more open services like MySpace (14). Yet I wonder if that could change now that Facebook has opened it networks. Overall, this was a good article that gave me some things to think about. The article also features an extensive list of references.

Update note (3/21/07): This are just some extra things on Facebook and social networks that I came across. I just jotted them over in the scratch pad at Alchemical Thoughts.


Anonymous said...

This weekend my students found my page on MySpace. The only reason I created the page was at the urging of friends I have in foreign countries. It is set to private. However, I was quite unsettled when students started to asked to be invited to my friend list. Word spread about my page and so I took my picture down, changed the name, and rejected all invites. I really hate sometimes that because I am teacher I have to live by different rules. The kids were mad I rejected them and I simple told them that they were not my friends.

Angel, librarian and educator said...

Hmm, for all the "ballyhoo" about the privacy features, if I understand right, you are still searchable in MySpace, they just can't see the actual profile. Yes?

I hear you. That is the rub of being a teacher: you are always in the public eye, and normal rules don't apply to you. Interesting reaction from your kids, but then again, I think much of it is expectation: everyone adds anyone on MySpace, why would you not? Which I suppose stretches the boundary of "friends." Well, wherever you happen to be, best, and keep on blogging.

Ramny said...

Thank you for the insight. I'm an up and coming educator who has grown up with my life posted online, and as I am nearing that graduation date I struggle more and more with the choice of whether to delete any traces of my life and memories that are posted online (of which many can be seen as "unprofessional" when taken out of context) or to keep it.

Angel, librarian and educator said...

Ramny: You pose an interesting question. It is a given pretty much that if you go in the job market, that you will get googled. Your online identity will likely come out in one way or another. I try not to worry too much over it, but then again, being in education, you have to be wary. And here in Texas, where they are big on things like the image you project and your "public morals" (in other words, if you do anything that could be seen as even remotely of questionable nature. Yea, it can be a stretch), I try to be a bit more cautious. Just a bit. After all, I do refuse to self-censor. So, it's a balancing act.

I hope you find your balance, and in time, teach others as well.

Best, and keep on blogging.

hartleyhair said...

I enjoyed reading your blog as this was an article which also caught my attention. So much so that I am going to do a comparitive study in a different (ie military) context as part of my MSc in Computer Based Training and Learning. I'm now going to take a look at your additional materials...