Outside connections

Is communicating with students using apps and social media a good idea?


This year, I decided to do something I haven't in years past: add every single student I teach to Line groups for reminding them of things, posting scheduling changes, and anything else that may come up. (For those of you outside of Asia, Line is a messaging app similar to WhatsApp.)

Right decision?

On the flip side, the groups give students access to me via another communications medium, specifically useful for more personal issues that don't create the paper trail that email does. The primary side effect of this decision is a far closer integration between school life and home life. Have I made the right decision?

I never did this with classes I taught when I was at a government school here in Thailand; the English barrier made such an idea impractical, and I previously taught younger (middle school) students... too young to benefit from or make good use of such a group in my mind.

My current high school students, though, seem to use the groups only when necessary, and I've found it has created more unified classes (for me and them) than previous courses I've taught.

Wrong to pry

I will note that I am not a Facebook user (I just have no interest in what people are doing every ten seconds), and although I know some teachers have Facebook groups for their students, I really don't want to be prying into their lives that much-nor the other way around. Call me old fashioned, but I think there are just too many ways to get in a tight spot with that level of connection, even with profiles created separately and specifically for school use.

I'll also note that my school uses Google Classroom, an online assignment submission platform, and I've found (surprise surprise) that students tire quickly of the automatically generated emails it sends every time a teacher posts something. Line seems to fill that happy medium between too formal and too informal.

Too obtrusive?

These things said, in the past I made it a point of leaving school at school, and keeping home at home. That's no longer the case; it's quite common for me to get Line messages from students asking about assignments, grammar questions, and the odd joke well past midnight, and holidays are fair game too. Is it obtrusive? Do I feel like I have to reply? Not really. But still, it's far easier to ignore an email than it is to ignore a Line notification.

Ten years ago, it would be unheard of for a teacher to keep in such close contact with all students; I'm sure my mom (a teacher) would have been fired for asking a student after hours if he/she is ok after seeing an issue in class, and I'm not sure where the line is to be drawn between being a professional educator and a mentor. I'm also still not sure how willing I am to blur the lines between work and personal life; sometimes, you just want to get away from it all, but with these kinds of connections, that simply isn't possible.

In fact, I know a teacher who I believe burned himself out with so many connections. He recently deleted Line cold-turkey, leaving everyone used to the constant interaction to wonder what happened. I'm not surprised; keeping up with that many students 24/7 can easily lead to information/gossip/interaction overload.

Still, even with all of these grey areas-and feel free to disagree - I think the social media connections have been more helpful than harmful, and I'll likely continue the practice with classes to come.


I hope you enjoyed my blog. If you would like to get in touch or perhaps e-mail me with a question, I would love to hear from you - All the best, Sam Thompson.


Comments

Sam

With all do respect . . . . Dude, I kind of get why you'd even consider this (insert up -speak rising tone) but I certainly do have a few questions here.
Did your school suggest this ?
Are your school admin favouring teachers who are willing to "open source" (what will start off as) aspects of their private lives ?

Is your school going to pay you more for the time you spend on this ?

Ignoring for the moment the very real eventuality of you're being mischaracterized and even smeared, are you in anyway prepared for the endless querying and pranking and cartooning and intrusion that may arise from this ?

Are you aware that most school boards and parent groups in the west can and do see this "use of technology" as an invitation to more intimate behaviour ?

You will never be part of the "Thai Family".
As a foreign teacher here in this exponentially obverse environment you are (at best) a curiosity, a live exhibit, an entertainer . . . . . a kind of Panda (if you'll permit me).
Exposing yourself and donating endless hours to what will ultimately amount to exchanging one-word chat memes, cartoons, photos and clever emojis with your adolescent students will soon overtake your life here.
Do you want that ?

If you are doing corporate training here, your trainees may intrude even more aggressively into your private life and your farang "legend".
Your background, your reasons for living here, the perceived status (according to them) of your partner, your friends, your hobbies and your passtimes will all be accessible to them.
If you attempt to keep some things private they will pry.
If you appear to have free time they will dump work on you or take up your time with nonsense.
If you come from a modest background they will slot you.
If you come from a comparatively affluent background and a life of success and accomplishments, they may try to get a piece of that action. (Believe me$)

And aside from dropping you into a world of time-wasting tomfoolery you will soon grow weary of this whole nonsense after a week or two of it.

Your Inevitable subsequent withdrawal from this will be taken badly.
.
Dude . . . . . . don't end up a "sitting-on-the-curb-head-in-hands" cliche.

Keep a part of your life for you and yours.

Be well

Prufroque


By Prufroque, Rooftop bar, Thonglor Marriott, Happy hour (1 year ago)

In my experience, you will only lower your respect and professionalism in the eyes of your students and co-workers by doing this. Lets face the reality here - most schools that hire foreigners in Thailand have had at least one teacher who has done inappropriate things with students. I can count a few that I have met personally.

There is no real reason why you should need to have a student's Line account. I know how it is being a somewhat attractive male teacher....having students try to flirt with you and ask you for personal contact information, but you got to hold yourself up high mate! Ask yourself, are you doing this purely to help the students? Or is there a part in your mind that wants to create possible connections for the future.

By Dan, Ubon Ratchathani (1 year ago)

Hi sam,

I think what people are trying to say to you is that the kids do not always have the same intentions as you. I had worked at a school like Guy where I developed a system that all homework and opinions of assignments were sent to me by email. Never was it used to advise students of due dates. it is up to the student to show responsibility for themselves. This part of the learning experience.

You are using the standards based system we are all working under. Students should be able to sent you work before the due date and you give opinions on whether the standards have been met. You do not give them the answers but suggest further explanation of some points. This cannot be done using line. If you want students to hand in work on time fail those that do not. See how quickly it turns around.

The App line is not the best choice. I would hope that students are offering opinions based on what has been learnt with you or studied privately with others. Line cannot offer this. Email and Facebook can. I do not use facebook so using email and cloud based systems are much more appropriate. Checking work does not need an instant reply and if it does your students are craming at the last minute.

On a brighter note I wish i worked with someone like yourself who is actually interested in teaching. The psychology of students, at all ages, and the parents expectations are very interesting and varied. How you achieve the results are different for all teachers. This is why a good teacher cannot be measured.

Have fun

Mark

By Mark, chantaburi (1 year ago)

I use email to ask my students to print out short stories or worksheets; I could probably print these out through the school resources, but sometimes I'm too lazy to fill out 'copy request' forms. Nothing good has ever come out of social media connections between teachers and students, and that includes both Facebook and all chat apps (i.e., Line, skype). I'll also state that nothing good comes out of social media connections between Thai admin and foreign teachers, but that's another topic I suppose. One more thing ... students gossiping about a teacher on social media can destroy a teacher's reputation at a school, so why open yourself up to this possibility by having chat groups with your students?

By Guy, bkk (1 year ago)

Jack,

Fair comments, and I can see where you're coming from. That said, all of your experiences have been with those teachers that make the rest of us ashamed of our profession. I'll also reiterate that I never initiate conversations one-on-one with students; why would I?

It's truly unfortunate that, in today's media-centric world, we automatically assume the worst of people in any profession. Sadly, I don't see that perception ever changing either, but for my part, I'll strive to represent my profession as it is intended: educators that care about their students.

By Sam, Chatuchak, Bangkok (1 year ago)

Sam

How you perceive your social interactions with your students outside the classroom (or the school's electronic communication system) might be different than how parents or others perceive these interactions.

"I almost exclusively" I noticed there was an "almost" added here, indicating you do at times communicate with students individually through social media.

It is up to you whether to continue or not, but my advice to all teachers is to limit social contacts with students outside of official activities.

As previously noted, I know personally of at least one teacher who was fired for allegedly posting inappropriate remarks to students on social media (which he denies) and through the grapevine I have heard of a few other cases or teachers losing their jobs due to their (mis)use of social media.

That's my perspective as an educator.

From my perspective as a parent, I would not have approved of a male teacher having social conversations, whether online or in person, with my daughter outside of the school setting when she was young. The male teacher's claim the interactions were completely innocent would not have been comforting.

The students know the deadlines for assignment, and probably really don't need these reminders from their teacher/friend. Are these real reminders, or just excuses to contact students socially?

I think you are playing a dangerous game, and question whether the imagined benefits are worth the real risk.

There is nothing wrong with using electronic communication to contact students (I make extensive use of electronic communications), but I am not convinced "social media" is the most appropriate tool to use when communicating with children or others in a professional capacity.


By Jack, In a chair in from of my computer (1 year ago)

Great comments, gents. I can totally see where you're coming from, too; it can be a risky game if you take it too far. However, I must stress that I almost exclusively contact students through Line groups, not individually, and then only to post reminders and... well, mainly reminders. It could be said I'm a bit anal retentive about due dates. ;)

That said, I must also reiterate that I don't think this kind of communication would work in a Thai school for various reasons. At my mid sized international school, though, it is common practice for teachers to have such groups (many use Facebook, but that's a bit too much for me). The HS teachers even have a group. So while I can see the standpoint that I'm trying to "be friends" with the students, it's really not the case... it's a logistical benefit more than anything else.

I won't say I don't have students contact me individually, but that is the very small minority, and of those, 99% of the conversations are assignment related. It would never cross my students' minds (nor mine) to discuss something off topic, and again, I think that's probably the benefit of being in the setting I'm in; it's really the most family-style school environment I've worked in. The only non-academic conversations I've had (or would have) is with students already struggling with personal issues with their classmates; some just need a second opinion from a mentor, but anything serious gets referred to our counseling department.

While I find it hard to believe, to me it's unprofessional and sad that some teachers would borrow money from students, or really socialize in any way (hello Facebook); I agree with you all, that's just asking for trouble.

Honestly, and call me a curmudgeon, but the biggest dilemma I've had trying to decide whether/not to have these groups/conversations is the work/life balance thing; once connected, you're ALWAYS connected whether you like it or not!

By Sam, Chatuchak, Bangkok (1 year ago)

Thank you Jack for your valid, well thought out and well-written comments (as always) because I've had to delete a number of comments sent (accusations of 'grooming', etc) and these are usually typed by people who shouldn't be allowed anywhere near a computer.

I can understand where Sam is coming from. He's trying to be 'everyone's best friend'. But I totally agree that it's a risky game to play.

When I was a teacher I only ever taught late teenagers and adults and of course there was no social media in them there days. However, I think I would still have kept school life and private life separate.

I saw many teachers 'cross the line' over the years and socialize with students out of school hours. I even had some teachers getting too familiar and borrowing money from students (AND never paying it back) It all too often ended in tears and animosity.

Far better to just remove any temptation. And I think many would see Line chat, Facebook and all that stuff as the first step on a potential road to ruin.

It's a great discussion topic though.

By Philip, Samut Prakarn (1 year ago)

I would be careful, I have personally seen one teacher fired over allegations of inappropriate conduct with students on social media and have heard of others.

Engaging in any non school sponsored social activity with students, in person or virtually, is ethically questionable and in my opinion is inviting danger.

If engaging in electronic communications in a format designed specifically for academic purposes, ok, I can see it. But I agree with Mark, you are their teacher, not their friend, of course you can be the friendly teacher, but a friendly teacher (or any authority figure) still maintains a social separation.

While few want to be the most unpopular teacher with the students, being too close to your students is usually asking for trouble.

Being seduced into trying to be the popular kid in school is something to worry about during your students days, leave it behind as you become a professional educator.

By Jack, In front of my computer (1 year ago)

Personally do not see the difference between using line or email. If anything it is an easy way to be presumed as cool with the students.

If you wish to be your students friend i suggest that is a bad idea. You are not there friend. That is my personal opinion so I respect those that think differently.

My experience with friends at the moment is everyone agreeing with everyone else when they are in the room and than saying the opposite when they are not. Weak people. I suggest this will happen to you with this idea of using line.

You are there to be respected for allowing students to make their own opinions on what is being learnt. Not cuddle up to them. i do hope you are challenging your students instead of offering a fill in the box attitude to teaching.
You only need to look at how many people are in huge amounts of debt to put the right number in the box and obtain a piece of paper.

Social media is a fashion. it is very sad that so many people make it out to be a lifestyle. i can remember when taking a photo of yourself in front of a tourist destination was so cringe. Those that had travelled didn't have to take the photo. They were able to converse about where they had been and why it was important.

By Mark, chantaburi (1 year ago)

Interesting points Sam. I think it's quite brave freely giving out your Line details.

My school has a social media page and Line group which I was told to join - it also meant the students could see my online profiles and contact details. In general I reject most friend requests and the odd time I get a message on Line I ignore it. I know most students will message asking for help, essay corrections etc and I feel it is a burden I shouldn't have to bear in my free time. Of course they are free to talk to me about these things at school.

In general many Thai people love to communicate by using stickers on Line and that really annoys me. Having a conversation with someone who only replies with stickers of YaYa or a cat with speech bubbles puts me off. Maybe if you set some ground rules it could work for you.

I'm sure many schools will put in your contract that you are to have no contact with students out of school too which is something to be aware of. My school uses social media a lot so it is less strict but I remember my first government school job were very strict about this kind of thing. Also I'm not sure what the student's parents would think if they saw their child talking with their teacher on Line.

By Richard, Bangkok (1 year ago)

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