I’m updating a post that I wrote several years ago for a wiki I created around Digital Learning Networks...i.e. online PLN”s. There seems to be a dramatic increase lately in the number of smart, professional people making not so smart and unprofessional mistakes online. There are a few things that we all should consider:
Since learning to network effectively reduces some aspects of privacy, it's important to understand what transparency really means. There have been several articles recently about professionals, both in and out of educational settings, being reprimanded for their use of social networking sites at work or related to work. Articles such as THIS ONE from the UK, where a teacher was "tweeting" about their students' and their own lack of enthusiasm, or describing student performance is an obvious no-brainer. If you are blurring the lines between your personal and professional persona on the web, you still need to understand that what you say, what you post, and what you share is viewable by many, many people.
I’m saying this knowing full well how I operate online. I’m very cognizant about what I post, though I tend to completely blur the lines between professional and personal. I talk about this with teachers in workshops. I call what I do online “Profersonal.” It means that I post personal updates about myself and my family, knowing fully well that all of the professionals that follow me will see it. I am in the minority about the way I blend these two aspects of my life, but I decided early on that being online in a very complete way, for me, meant that I was singularly “Profersonal,” rather than have dual identities online, one for personal interactions, one for professional. It’s choice that one has to make.
This may be a new uncomfortable space for some, but the benefits one reaps by being more transparent far outweigh the drawbacks. Transparency, for many of those using social networking tools, is about being open, collaborative, accountable, and communicative--all the traits one would expect to see in an effective educator--just extended out onto the world wide web. It doesn't mean that you're posting phone numbers or your address for everyone to see, it just means that you are a contributing member of the global community. You share what you want to share. You become as transparent as you want to be. However, you must remember that what you do online can be linked in multiple ways, that things you post are never really gone, and others will make judgments about you based on what you choose to share. This isn't meant to scare you, it's only meant to make you aware of how you may be perceived based on how others "see" you on the Internet.
I think it’s important that we understand a few things about how social media works. There are invisible audiences that perhaps you didn’t think of when you posted something online. There are those that are assessing your online, digital footprint as evidence of claims you make on resumes, applications, or in interviews. There are contextual issues that many don’t understand. Bits and pieces of things you post can be taken out of context or applied to a new context, and suddenly you’re in the position of defending someone else’s interpretation of your words.
These days, we are collectively more transparent than we've ever been. With just a phone number, anyone can find out your address, directions to your house, even a satellite image of your property. Your name can be "Googled" to find out any public or published information about you. (In fact, many employers and colleges actively "Google" prospective employees and students and even look at Facebook or MySpace pages to help them "paint" a picture of that person.) You could be being "evaluated" at any time based on your online persona. You have a footprint. You have an always updated resume that almost anyone can access. (By the way, have you Googled yourself lately?)
That said, we must remember that, as educators, we need to understand how transparency works and maintain a Professional Filter at all times. That Filter needs to be in place anytime we publish something to the web, whether personal or job-related, knowing that many eyes will see it. But that's also the point of doing all of what we're doing on the web. We want people to see that we are contributing to the collective body of knowledge that the new Internet is providing.
We've moved on to what it is being dubbed "Web 3.0," meaning that we're moving away from just the informational and activity laden versions of the Internet, and moving into the connected and collaborative version. At some point, as members of the Global Community, we will have to plug in and participate. You will always have a choice about HOW you participate, WHAT you will choose to share about yourself, WHEN you will engage with others, and WHO you interact with. The WHERE is already taken care of for you. It is a New World--all you have to do is Log On, and reap the benefits of the new "Participatory Culture!"
Social Networking Do's and Don't's
How Blogging and Social Networking can affect your job.
Mixing Work and Social Networks
The Facebook Classroom: 25 Ways to use Facebook in Education
Mike on Twitter, Profersonally: @fisher1000