Sunday, March 23, 2008

How open is your teacher, lecturer, professor?

I have been fascinated by an article in The New York Times that is doing the rounds: The Professor as Open Book. It talks about how professors and academic staff are getting into networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace, as well as having their own web sites and blogs. They are giving out personal information about their private lives in an effort to engage with students, which makes them and their teaching appear to be less boring.

This whole issue of how much of your personal identity you make visible to students is one that I have been working through since I started this blog. Initially I was very against the idea because I was adamant I wanted to keep my professional life separate from my personal life. And then there is the issue of being professional - is it appropriate or relevant for students, potential employers, PhD supervisor, conference conveners etc to know that I am a passionate rugby fan?

However, as this blog has evolved and I have started to put my ePortfolio together, I have started to realize that my personal and professional selves intertwine quite significantly online. And that overlap is spilling into my face-to-face professional life. For example, I have started to put my ePortfolio together and have made it open access, and have shared what I am doing with my students. I will be using it to demonstrate how to develop a portfolio in my face-to-face teaching. So I feel I have moved my 'whole' self, personal and professional, from an online context into a real environment, as opposed to a lot of people who are thinking how they can move their 'real' identity into an online context. Being myself online has given me a lot more confidence to be myself in the face-to-face environment.

Of course, there are still boundaries that I must observe. I am a role model to students, so there must be an element of being professional in my online behavior. And I am in no great rush to become friends with anyone on Facebook because I hate all the irrelevancies of Facebook. But if students find me more approachable and learn from my online activities and writings, then I am doing my job and learning myself at the same time.

How do you feel about your online identity? What are you happy to share with students? If you are a midwife, what about sharing your online identity with the students you work with and the women in your care?

If you are a student, what are you happy to share with your lecturers/teachers? How do you want to interact with them online - would you make your teacher your 'friend' in Facebook?

Image: 'She Was Completely Transparent With Me'


Leigh Blackall said...

I pretty much have everything about myself online.. certainly not for my students (the teachers at OP that is), at least not primarily. I have the things about me online for me mostly, for my friends and family, to meet new people and to learn new things. If my students find this engaging and helpful to what they are trying to learn from me then great. But so far I get very little indication that my students spend much time looking through my online presence much at all.. which is kind of dissapointing even if I'm not doing it for them..

Sarah Stewart said...

I agree-I haven't developed my online identity for students either. It's about my own learning and my interactions with the wider community, especially midwifery community. But as I said in my post, I am beginning to see how what I am doing online links in with my students in the F2F context.

Like you, I have had absolutely interaction with my current students through things like Facebook or even this blog. So that begs the question: do students really want to connect with us online or this that something we have made up?

Sarah Stewart said...

Actually, Leigh, I have been thinking a little more about this. I am a student of yours and I know you have an extensive online presence. But apart from what I have had to do as part of my course, like looking at your blog, I haven't wanted to browse around your other sites like Flickr. Somehow it feels like intruding. Even looking at your references and networks feels a little like I am stalking. That's weird? Do our students feel like that. Or maybe, they don't have time to do that kind of surfing? Or maybe, they are just not interested in what we do in our private lives? And telling them about our Easter isn't going to make us any less boring in the classroom?

Anonymous said...

hmm I think sharing little bits of yourself is something we do in a f2f context quite naturally so I don't think it is such a big jump to do as it evolves in an online context - probably just a natural enough progression isn't it? I don't think we keep ourselves "locked away" in the f2f context - so is this really any different?

You could say in the online context students have more power to turn you off - or ignore you or opt away from you if they are bored by you than in a f2f situation?

I think they need some kind of experience of you as human in either context? Or maybe its not a need as such - but doesn't it make everyones experience of the learning relationship a bit more pleasant (depends on your personality maybe?)

Sarah Stewart said...

Thank you anonymous for you comments.