Friday, February 27, 2009

Practical Advice on Limiting Emailing/IMs During Class

A reader recently emailed me concerning a situation regarding a student caught emailing during class. Turns out the student and several others were engaged in a rather, um, volatile discussion concerning a few other students; there was much crudity and what's to be expected in such teenaged converbalizations. In short, the teacher who wrote to me was distressed and feels taken advantage of by the students.

A similar thing happened in one of my classes early in my paperless days. I would say that it's probably the most common problem a paperless teacher will face. So here's some first-hand advice based on my experience.

First things first: you have to stop the behavior. I collected the offending emails in my class via a tried and true method: SynchronEyes and a friendly in-house IT guy. Then, one morning, without announcing what I was going to do, I projected the offensive emails (names blocked out) onto my wall. When the students arrived, I was nowhere to be found and my students entered a dark room lit only by the glow of the vitriolic digital dispatches.

By the time I decided to enter, the room had fallen into complete silence. And, not saying a word about it, I flipped the screen to the day's lesson and began.

And I've not had a problem since.

Second, in terms of prevention, SynchronEyes doesn't lie. In the same way that you are liable to be at your best behavior in a court of law, likewise watcher-programs like SynchronEyes tend to keep folks on a short digital leash. That said, one of the downsides of the program is that it may bear too much of a 'Big Brother' feel unto your class. There are times when -- if you are really going to get the students to think outside the box -- you are going to have to allow them the courtesy of unmonitored access. I really believe this. But unmonitored access is something earned; it is not an assumption in my classroom.

And this comes down to a matter of respect and responsibility both on behalf of the student and the teacher. I tend to run my classroom on the basis of earned respect; that doesn't change just because we're online.

So, in general, I prefer the time-honored tradition of "hands-up". In the same way that this has worked for countless generations of teachers, probably going back to Plato catching Aristotle passing notes, it works for 1:1 computing teachers as well.

You are going to have to find out what works for you. And trust goes a long way -- perhaps even further should it be broken. But don't be disheartened; rather, this sort of thing is just one more aspect of teaching students how to live in the 21st century.

1 comment:

  1. I also use a big brother program-that is what I call it in class. I was so excited when I got it that I had a lot of fun taking over student's computers and sending them funny notes. Now it is a big joke in class. I made it clear to everyone that I could see what they were doing and keep track of it, and this became part of the larger conversation about the internet and privacy. I have many students that use myspace and youtube and don't think about what material they are putting out there to the public, so it becomes very valuable to discuss the idea of "time and place."

    My students use email to turn in work and access their google accounts, so they are on it. That is okay with me. I feel the same way about cell phones-I am not going to put the effort into banning them because I know it is futile, and that doesn't help students navigate the rest of the world. So I focus on etiquette and responsibility. I don't want to police my students, I want them to think about what they are doing and make wise choices. So far, so good. I have more problems of kids shopping for shoes during class then inappropriate emails.


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