Recently, during an online conversation about the existence of a generational divide in the Twitterverse, @d_mulder expressed interest in what I was doing with Twitter for my students. The honest answer? Not much. I’ll elaborate.
This semester I polled 50 students (grades 11 and 12) about their use of Facebook and Twitter. Ninety-eight percent (49 of 50) are Facebook users. Twitter is used by 44 of the 50. Where the poll gets interesting to me is when the students revealed their perceived audience. Almost every Facebook user polled professed to having adults as Friends and using a variety of settings to control which friends could see specific content. However, only one of the 44 Twitter users had their tweets protected, and none of the users connected with adults on Twitter.
Finally, I asked them to consider the differences, if any, in the content they posted on Facebook and Twitter. That’s when the squirming started (for some). Some confessed that their Twitter content was a bit less “adult friendly” than their Facebook posts. When I asked why, one student actually said, “Because our parents can’t see what we do on Twitter,” and then, when I gave a look of surprise and ‘oh, yeah?!’ quickly revised the statement with, “well, they probably won’t see what’s on Twitter.” This attitude makes sense considering that 40 of the students knew at least one parent is on Facebook while only one student thought his dad might be on Twitter.
This knowledge has me very cautious about invading what my students see as their space (Twitter) and quite determined to teach and model digital citizenship. I’ve tried to be clear about how Twitter is a public space unless tweets are protected. We’ve discussed the use of multiple accounts (one for more casual content and one for school), but that model has limitations as well. George Couros has an excellent post on the difference between personal&professional versus public&private.
I prefer the private/public model when teaching and modelling for students. I try to have them think of concentric circles of privacy. The innermost circle is the most private–stuff between me and God. As the circles widen, so does the public audience, so my next circle includes only my wife. This is an audience of one, but an audience nevertheless. As the audience grows, I need to adjust what I’m willing to say/do/post in order to respect the boundaries of both myself and the people who may encounter my words/actions.
Now if only I could get more students to really believe how broad the circle is where Twitter’s audience resides. Then I’d worry less about them submarining opportunities like this college hopeful, and I’d be able to more effectively hone their citizenship skills (face to face and online). But, the high and low pressure systems that are the teenager’s “personal” and (mostly non-existent) “professional” Twitter accounts still make for stormy weather when they collide.
For example, last month I thought I’d send a student a friendly reminder. Strangely, I didn’t have her email address, but I knew she was on Twitter. I hesitated and then thought better of the tweet, abundantly cautious about her boundaries. I asked her the next day if she would have appreciated the reminder or if it would have been weird to get a tweet from a teacher. “That wouldn’t be weird at all. I would have loved a reminder,” she said, but after a millisecond of hesitation, continued, “just don’t read my tweets, though.”
*Sigh* I’m teaching to ensure clearer skies ahead.