Teacher professionalization in the age of social networking sites
The more we study social media and online networks, the more evidence we find that these spaces are replete with tensions.
In our latest published study (citation below) with my colleague Royce Kimmons, we found that expectations of professionalization in online social networks cut deeply into pre-service teachers self-concept. We found that participants generally had difficulty articulating what professionalism in online social networks actually looks like and what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate action online. As participants were exposed to a better understanding of what professionalism means online, participants recognized that they were not completely aware that their behavior might be watched and scrutinized by others, and this realization surprised them. Many pre-service teachers were also surprised at the severity of professional requirements and how the public might scrutinize seemingly innocuous behaviors on social media.
Numerous participants explained that as teachers they will need to be careful to not offend any community members, and the topics of politics and religion featured significantly in these conversations.
Though participants seemed to feel that a plurality of political opinion was a good thing and that they should have a right to political opinions, they nonetheless seemed to feel that teachers should take care in voicing those opinions.
Religion, on the other hand, seemed to be a different issue altogether, as participants seemed to feel that it was appropriate for them to express religious beliefs online even if others might happen to take offense or to disagree with them.
It’s important here to pause and consider the following: Participants’ preference of religion over politics likely reflects sociocultural values of the geographic region where the study took place (i.e. at a University in the South), and may not be generalizable.
These findings suggest that teacher education students might be willing to adjust the way that they participate in some ways to fit in with professional expectations (e.g., political opinions), but that there are some cases where what they feel might be expected of them cuts so acutely into their self-concept that they are afraid of losing their sense of identity (e.g., religious beliefs).
The implications of this study are the following:
First, teachers must consider how participating in SNS or altering their participation in them (e.g., content, connections, etc.) may impact their identity and sense of who they are.
Second, if teachers do not clearly understand how moral turpitude is defined in a given community, then how can they be sure that their behavior (online or offline) is beyond reproach?
The dilemma facing teachers in SNS is the following: As teachers present themselves in SNS in a way that is reflective of their complex and ever-developing identities, they may find it difficult to maintain meaningful social connections in online spaces as they pass through new phases of life and are simultaneously judged in an historical manner.
Kimmons, R., & Veletsianos, G. (in press). Teacher Professionalization in the Age of Social Networking Sites: Identifying Major Tensions and Dilemmas. Learning, Media, and Technology.