Ethics, Risk and Social Media in Education

alert squirrelThis little fellow is on the alert. 

Watching and listening, attentive to any risks or issues that present a threat. 

Technology…..  Cyberspace…..  Risk….. Professional Practice in the digital age.

What are the ethical considerations when using social media in Education?

What are the privacy and conflict of interest risks that present themselves when a public, accessible venue is used for sharing information between student and teacher?

Current media is rife with reports of inappropriate behaviour in cyberspace — more recently being deemed criminal with the introduction of legislation to stem cyber bullying.  A recent US News article states “Beyond the threat of inappropriate relationships, some experts believe developing these connections on social media will tarnish a teacher’s authority in the classroom. Iris Fanning, a family-counseling provider with more than 20 years of experience for school districts in Albuquerque, N.M., says major concerns arise when students begin to see teachers as peers”.  This article does not focus on adult educators, however there are parallels particularly considering the authority an instructor needs to retain and the power dynamic that continues to exist between a teacher and student regardless of their respective age.

What are the liability issues that educational institutions expose themselves to when they use social media tools in the educational process?

All interesting and thought provoking questions.  As part of my work on PIDP 3260 we are required to develop a blog.  Good practice given this is the age of electronic communication.

I wonder, as part of the requirement in the course delivery if a disclaimer should be required for the blog owner to indicate “all entries are the responsibility of the author”…or something like that, with all due respect to anything already covered by creative commons.

Whether it be Facebook, Twitter, or texting by telephone — channels exist that require sober second thought by the end users.  This is particularly critical where misinterpretation of communication can occur and professional distance is required.

If what you post is not suitable for tomorrow`s headlines — or in the case of the student-teacher relationship — outside the boundary of acceptable professional communication and practice — then ethical issues arise, let alone the potential for liability which can be significant.  In this brave new era, where we are only recently enacting legislation to deal with cyber bullies, how much legislation really protects both the schools and the teachers (let alone the students) in cyber space?  Yes, schools may have established codes of conduct and these policies may be handed out as part of a package of material when new instructors are hired.  But, I pose the question —  how often are the “rules of engagement” reviewed, and refreshed commitments made between the educational institution and the instructor regarding ethical behaviour and use of social media channels?  Are the ethical standards reviewed along side current legislation?

Other jurisdictions have developed workshops and staff training events to tackle the issues of ethical and professional dilemmas.  One example is the workshop developed by the Conneticut Teachers Education and Mentoring Program.  They acknowledge “educators must develop a keen awareness and sensitivity to a variety of dilemmas and circumstances they may encounter in their daily contact with students, families and the community. It is vital that educators make conscious ethical decisions to ensure that their professional practice meets the highest possible ethical standards of conduct and responsibility”.  Their facilitators guide includes training scenarios involving social media.

On the flip side of the social media coin, this link takes you to a best practices summary for use of Twitter.  Should Twitter be promoted as an educational tool?

In Section 5 of the Okanagan College Social Media Policy it states:


The College expects that:

a) employees will exercise discretion, thoughtfulness and respect for colleagues,
associates, students and the College community when using social media; and
b) employees be mindful that all posted content on social media may be subject to
review in accordance with the College’s policies.


Employees may be subject to discipline for conduct on social media relating to their Employment, the College or other employees, which violates College policies while using social media sites.”

Is this enough? How do we ensure ongoing policies and standards are robust enough to provide the guidance and level of protection needed in an education environment where there is a power imbalance (teacher vs. student)?  Traditional dynamics experienced in an education setting are exacerbated by the ballooning use of cyberspace for all aspects of our social engagement (work, home, school, entertainment).  Just makes me wonder when there will be a remake of the 60’s classic “To Sir With Love”….including twitter and Facebook in the classroom.  Yes, there was “To Sir with Love 2” set in 1996 – but the digital revolution was just starting to evolve…….



Connecticut Teachers and Educators Mentoring Program, Facilitator’s Guide – Understanding the Code of Professional Responsibility for Educators (January 2012)  retrieved February 21, 2016 from

Educase Review, Tweeting in Higher Education: Best Practices, Amy L. Chapman, September 14, 2015 retrieved February 21, 2016 from

IMDB “To Sir with Love” (1967) retrieved February 21, 2016 from

Clavell, J., Sloan, J. R., Woollard, T., Whittaker, I., Wilson-Apperson, J., Carpenter, J., & Glasow, B. (Producers), Clavell, J., Grainer, R., Martell, P., Beeson, P., Thornton, P., Campo, D. D., . . . Karnon, T. (Writers), & Clavell, J. (Director). (1967). To sir with love [Motion picture]. United States: Columbia Pictures Corp. presents.

Okanagan College, Okanagan College Code of Ethical Practices and Policy (November 6, 2014) retrieved February 21, 2016 from

Okanagan College, Okanagan College Social Media Policy (January 7, 2016) retrieved February 21, 2016 from

US News, Student-Teacher Social Media Restrictions Get Mixed Reactions By Ryan Lytle Aug. 10, 2011 retrieved February 21, 2016 from







Responding to Resistance – is there a magic key?

The picture above is the face of an aircraft instrument designed to inform the pilot about the status of the aircraft in flight.  For instance, when the aircraft banks or turns towards the left, the needle moves towards the “L”.  When the needle and ball are centered as in this picture there is no change, just level flight continuing at the established heading or direction the pilot has pointed the aircraft towards.  It provides no information about altitude or compass direction.  The aircraft may be losing altitude, but this instrument does not inform you about altitude.

What does this have to do with education and resistant learners?  It is an image that speaks to a student being stuck on one path, not being resilient and not being open to learning new things because they are afraid of making a change.  And learning is change. They may be afraid to turn left, or right and get stuck within the constraints of their self image (the person they believe they are), cultural influences, how they fit into their family and social schema and the fear of moving away from the comfort of this established identity.

To be successful as a self directed learner, managing the overwhelming influence that fear brings to the table is critical.  Fear erodes intrinsic motivators that can support a student to achieve a positive outcome and complete a course or program.   Fear is identified as a factor manifesting as resistance to learning in the classroom.

In Brookfield’s “The Skillful Teacher”, 2nd ed., he explores the issue of resistant learners in the classroom. Some of his observations include:

  • Fear of change
  • Student self-image as a learner (and achiever – or not)
  • Practical use of the subject matter (does it make sense, is it grounded in reality)
  • Self-consciousness
  • Personal student cultural norms and their impact
  • Internal conflict related to personal values and education
  • Need for clarity in instruction
  • Internal commitment
  • Freedom to choose – to be engaged or not to be engaged

My list is not comprehensive, but covers the areas that resonated for me. Of these, I think the element of internal commitment is the most critical. This also speaks to the concept of intrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic motivation is defined as occurring “when we act without any obvious external rewards. We simply enjoy an activity or see it as an opportunity to explore, learn, and actualize our potentials.” (Coon & Mitterer, 2010)” Cherry 2015. It is related to the feelings inside an individual that makes a particular action or achievement desirable.

I think many of us are familiar with the concept of extrinsic motivation — those external influences that compel us to take a particular action or work to achieve a goal. An external motivator may be a paycheque, which positions you to pay your bills or conversely a loss i.e. if I don’t work and earn money, I won’t be able to pay for my rent.

In the context of education, extrinsic motivators such as achieving a professional certification at the end of a program are important drivers. However, I believe an individual also needs to possess the quality of persistence to achieve the goal and strong persistence is fired by intrinsic motivators.

Extrinsic and intrinsic motivators affect us across our daily lives. As educators, an awareness and understanding of the role that intrinsic motivation plays in the student experience can help to shift the resistant learner to become an engaged and motivated learner.

I believe there are two important elements that impact intrinsic motivation:

  • Fear
  • Beliefs

In “The Skillful Teacher” 2nd edition, 2006, Brookfield speaks about the impact of education, and says that the learning experience is really about change. Exposure to new ideas and change brings up emotions of fear for a variety of reasons. “The basis of resistance to learning is the fear of change. Learning by definition involves change.” (p214). He also observes, “fear of looking foolish in public” (p221), “betrayal of solid, unpretentious working-class values” (p222), and “if they go past a certain point they will commit cultural suicide” (p223).

What does this mean for a teacher or trainer? My take away from the review of resistance to learning draws me back to personal beliefs that may be held by a student.  If they believe they “can”, they are right – and – if they believe they “cannot” they are also right.  The theory is whatever ever you believe, it is true, because it is what you believe.   Furthermore, the emotion of fear can cast a cloud of doubt that seems to validate your beliefs and further reinforces the individual’s self-concept wherein they believe in their ability to achieve something or acquire a new skill (or not).

A teacher who is sensitive to the emotional dynamics that run rampant in a classroom or learning environment is better positioned to effectively respond to the manifestation of fear and associated resistance to learning. “Fear” wears the cloak of resistance and can fool both student and teacher. Create a safe learning environment, be aware of cultural nuances, and establish the fundamental “cultural norms” for the classroom or learning venue at the beginning. Establish a covenant with the class that is documented and agreed to in the classroom.  Identify classroom cultural norms/acceptable behaviour and foster a respectful environment.  It will spark learning.  This was a key nugget I took away from an earlier course in the PIDP program from Instructor David Tickner. By setting the tone, agreeing as a group on acceptable conduct and reinforcing the boundaries if things were getting out of hand, David supported the class and modelled the kind of behaviour in classroom management that resonates for me today. It was one way he helped the group to develop a learning cocoon to evaporate resistance in the classroom.  It was a safe place and taking the risk to learn was ok.

For other reading on the impact of fear you may be interested in the work of Susan Jeffers, Ph.D and her description of the Five Fears at this link:



Brookfield, S. (2006). The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust and Responsiveness in the Classroom (2nd Ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Retrieved February 21, 2016 from By Kendra Cherry Updated December 08, 2015.

Retrieved February 21, 2016 from

Tell me what you want, what you really, really, want


I am thoroughly enjoying “The Skillful Teacher”.  I have seen mixed reviews from other students, but I have to say, there isn’t a chapter yet that doesn’t have some nugget that resonates for me.  This week I am working on the the Feedback Instrument Document and the exercise has been useful.  This ties into my blog title with a nod to the Spice Girls and “Wannabe” this week.

Most of my instructional experience is specific to workshops or courses offered to employees, or focus groups intended to gather information.  Although evaluations immediately post training are important for the instructor to use for future development and evolution of a course, in a corporate environment evaluations also have an important place in understanding the kind of training to offer staff and the channel or venue used to deliver training.  On top of “what channel” to use is the element of diversity in the classroom which mirrors diversity in the workplace.

If we don’t ask we will not know, and it is dangerous to second guess what people want and need to move forward either in their career or education.

For myself right now, I am not positioned to facilitate workshops or courses for staff.  I have some involvement in staff training but not to the extent I had earlier in my career.  In previous work, staff training and development was the area of my work that I found the most satisfying.  I like seeing people grow and develop and support them in achieving their goals.  I hope to continue with my own “adult-ed”, and at some point in the future use the skills I am acquiring in the PIDP to facilitate personal development workshops for people entering the workforce, or returning after a sabatical such as raising a family.

So, when developing an assessment document (to quote the Spice Girls), we really, really, want to know what our students need to improve the educational environment and enrich the student experience.  A well designed document can do just that.

And just for trivia fans out there this link takes you to an evaluation of the catchiest tunes with “Wannabe” topping the list …

Song lyric credit to:


Published by
Lyrics © EMI Music Publishing, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group

Video link:

Read more: Spice Girls – Wanna Be Lyrics | MetroLyrics 

The light is peeking through…..making progress

light through clouds

…..connected with my assignment partner today and looking forward to developing our joint response to the Professional Ethical Dilemma (Assignment 4).  I guess you could say the light is peeking through the clouds much like this picture taken during a very smoky Okanagan fire season.

Chapter 2 of our course text “The Skillful Teacher” (Brookfield, S. 2006) speaks about the changes students experience as they move through the learning continuum, specifically “They often feel in limbo, that they are leaving old ideas and capacities behind as they learn new knowledge, skills and perspectives.  Sometimes it feels as if learning is calling on them to leave their own identities in the past.  However, if they can find others with whom they can share these fears — a supportive peer-learning community — many of their anxieties apparently become much less corrosive.”

This reflects the impact of change, as even “good” change includes an element of stress, and in the case of new learners, the potential exposure to new a culture and peer group.

I think it is critical that people with leadership or teaching responsibilities are sensitive to the social and cultural impact of the changes their students experience as they learn and grow.  Brookfield’s observation sheds light on the “new normal” being created by the student group, and the support they can provide each other as they move forward to achieve their educational goals.

Another interesting element in adult learning is the use of a collaborative learning environment.  We can see that demonstrated through the structure of this PIDP course as groups are created for portions of the course work.  Why is this important?

A variety of studies shed light on the value of student interaction and collaboration as it fans the flames of learning.

“Collaborative learning teams are said to attain higher level thinking and preserve information for longer times than students working individually…..By definition learning is social in nature.  Using different mediums, whether it be books, discussions, technology or projects we study and develop new ideas.” (Clifford, M. 2012)

Odds are, groups of students will include introverts, extroverts, high, medium and low achievers all with different agendas and perspectives — after all–  they are individuals.  With that in mind, creating an intentional collaborative environment, rather than one that is more isolated i.e. strict lecture instruction — teacher speaks and student listens….provides opportunity for group and individual development, genesis of new ideas and sharing that delivers richer learning outcomes for students.

I am looking forward to sharing ideas with my course partner as we work together on our assignment on Ethics, Values and Professionalism.

Brookfield, S. (2006). The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust and Responsiveness in the Classroom (2nd Ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Clifford, M. (2012) Facilitating Collaborative Learning: 20 Things You Need to Know From the Pros. Retrieved from

Reflective Writing Assignment

tulips DebIn the busy ebb and flow of everyday life, introspective personal reflection can be a luxury rather than a regular activity.  Completing the first reflective exercise for PIDP 3260 was a pleasant suprise.  I completed a draft version a few days ago, then revisited the document and finished it up tonight.  I found the structured approach very useful.  When you open the door to thoughtful and focused consideration, particularly in the context of personal development, you find the gems…..those ah ha moments that help you understand your own learning “magic moments”.  This personal insight positions you to notice the “magic moment” opportunity with other people you are teaching or training.

The quote I was focusing on in my reflective exercise had to do with use of a Learning Audit mentioned in “The Skillful Teacher” by Stephen Brookfield (2006) 2nd edition.  Self evaluation and reflection is a valuable tool for the student and useful when shared with the teacher.  It can help both parties discover what worked, what didn’t and perhaps shed light on why….. in the learning relationship between the student and teacher it  provides the opportunity for both to grow.  My picture takes me to spring time and “how does your garden grow”…..?