Topic 4: Ethical issues of using social media in an educational context

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Ethics and morals are often associated with the branch of knowledge that deals with moral principles, and schools can provide important lessons in ethical thinking and action (Weinstein, 2009).

43% of students in grade 9-12 say social networking sites are the primary mode for communication with their friends. And hear this, at schools that ban mobile devices, 63% of students use them anyways (ascd,2011).

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(Source: caglecartoon.com)

There are many ethical issues surrounding the use of social media in schools but one ethical issues raised I consider to be particularly significant is the issue on confidentiality/privacy. The terms ‘privacy‘ and ‘confidentiality‘ are commonly used interchangeably. They refer to freedom from damaging publicity, public scrutiny, unauthorized disclosure of one’s personal information.

Many children look up to adult figures including teachers for ethical guidance, but not many are setting a good example.

High profile cases include one in 2012 when teacher Elizabeth Scarlett, 50, was given an official reprimand by the General Teaching Council for Wales (GTCW) for Facebook comments about drinking and partying which were then seen by her pupils (bbc, 2014). Privacy settings were not considered in such cases to prevent such bad influences to reach her students, costing her her reputation.

That said, social media opens the door to bias and judgements. A teacher may also look through a students’ social media and make judgements about them. Such judgements would then cloud the teacher’s judgements concerning grading and feedback to give the student, making it bias and unfair. One might also ask, “does an educator have the obligation to notify parents of their child’s activities online?”. A response raised says due to repeated exposure to social media, society will become more accepting of a range of different behaviours (altc, 2014). So would these increase the potential for clashes between the trust of teacher and student?

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Sharing of information was seen as a particular source of problems in education due to the potential for leaked information and materials.

Just this year, social media tools such as WhatsApp and Facebook, were extensively used to share the photo of the leaked II pre-university chemistry question paper the night before examination (Bureau, 2016). Perhaps the students were just geniuses to be able to find such intel?

To conclude, when using social networking, the leap from real life to online “life” brings with it no clear boundaries, but rather questions as to the “extent of influence” an educator may have on a student.

As Stuart Williams from NUT Cymru says, “The guidelines are there, they could be a little bit more stringent” (BBC, 2014). The question is how do we tackle the issue of privacy?

Check out this video for some ideas.

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References

ascd. (2011). Students like social media. [online] Available at: http://www.ascd.org/ASCD/pdf/journals/policypriorities/pp_v17n04_infographic_pdf.pdf [Accessed 11 Nov. 2016].

Weinstein, A. (2009). Ethics in the Classroom: What You Need to Know | Education.com. [online] Education.com. Available at: http://www.education.com/magazine/article/cheating-ethics/ [Accessed 11 Nov. 2016].

BBC News. (2014). Teachers need ‘clearer’ social networking rules, unions say – BBC News. [online] Available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-wales-26539243 [Accessed 11 Nov. 2016].

Bureau, B. (2016). Social media used extensively to share leaked question paper: CID. [online] The Hindu. Available at: http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/bangalore/social-media-used-extensively-to-share-leaked-question-paper-cid/article8395233.ece [Accessed 11 Nov. 2016].

ALTC. (2014). Social media in education: ethical concerns. [online] Available at: https://altc.alt.ac.uk/blog/2014/07/social-media-in-education-ethical-concerns/#gref [Accessed 11 Nov. 2016].

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8 thoughts on “Topic 4: Ethical issues of using social media in an educational context

  1. Hi Elvina,

    Thanks for sharing the ethical issues from the educational perspective! I have shared mine based on the business context, do take a look.

    I definitely agree that teachers play a significant role in shaping students’ characteristics. In topic 3, we talked about how social networks offer a window to our personal lives. Therefore, teachers should regularly maintain their professionalism on social sites, especially since they are role models to students.

    Considering that 95% of teenagers are online, it is understandable that social sites is a convenient way for teachers to connect with students (http://www.today.com/parents/social-media-boundaries-should-teachers-students-be-friends-1D80156546). Like you said, ‘social media opens the door to teachers’ bias judgments of students’. If it’s so, should teachers and students still be “friends” on these social media platforms?

    Previously, we talked about how multiple identities help to segregate between professional and private life. What identity should a teacher use to communicate with a student online – professionally or less formal, like a “friend”?

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  2. Hi Elvina!
    I agree that given the nature of social media, it is hard to draw the line between education and privacy, which becomes a problem especially when it influences a teacher’s judgment of their students’ works.
    However, I feel that instead of students, the teachers are the ones who suffer the brunt of ethical issues from the use of social media. Teachers also experience the same breach of privacy. Furthermore, expected to be role models, any mistakes teachers make online are much less condoned. In the United States, many teachers and professors suffered under speech abuse through Yik Yak, which is an application that allows users to post anonymous messages. This became a tool of harassment that went viral among colleges. You can read more about this here. (https://ethicsalarms.com/2015/03/12/unethical-app-yik-yak/)
    Do you think more focus should be placed on protecting teachers and education facilitators against such online ethical issues too?

    (150 words)

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  3. Hey Elvina,

    I agree that the concerns over privacy on social media and how far should people and organisations go into exposing known information that is not for public is gaining attention. It is good to address the issue by taking the various steps illustrated in the video to safeguard oneself. But as you have questioned, “does an educator have the obligation to notify parents of their child’s activities online?” I find it arguable as the ethical dilemma is perspective in relation to the duty of the educators. Are the educators just whistle-blowing without the knowledge and understanding of why the students are engaging in such activities? Or are they protecting the students? Ethical dilemmas have become blurred and more complex as social media crosses the boundaries of national and cultural teachings. What is taught in a culture or country can be considered ethically wrong by another and vice versa.

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  4. Hi Elvina!

    What an interesting ethical issue that you have presented. I certainly agree that privacy is an ethical issue that we can’t overlook.
    With unauthorized disclosure and incorrect privacy settings, students have a higher chance to get exposed to cyberbullying. Be it being the bully or getting bullied, without hiding their information, these are easily achievable.
    Also, the case of Teacher Elizabeth, emphasizes the need of having a professional social media profile (as learned in Topic 3). Inappropriate maintenance of the professional and personal accounts may cost an individual’s job.
    The social media is an unknown realm that at a young age, we all like to explore into. Therefore, even if a student has proper privacy settings, they are still getting exposed to the things others post. There is no stopping if the students choose to watch it and learn unethical acts. Hence, do you think if there is any way that social media’s applications can prevent youths from gaining such information?

    Overall, thanks for the great read!!

    Xin Hui

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