In the Manchester Evening News, an article reports that in an ever increasing litigation culture, pupils and parents are prepared to take legal action against teachers adopting txt, email and instant messaging technologies in their communication with young people.
Whilst there are really strong reasons why txt, email and instant messaging technologies are of a great benefit to pupils' learning beyond school hours, it is important to recognise ways in which, we as teachers, we can protect ourselves from such allegations.
Those using email systems should maintain a copy of any incoming and outgoing message - most email client applications such as Outlook Express, Mail, Thunderbird do this automatically and if you choose to archive the messages, you can store them for eternity. If you are using a web based client, such as Yahoo, Hotmail, or Gmail, then you should file your messages within a folder which you can access at anytime in the future. If you run out of online space, simply save the messages to a folder on your personal computer - most providers offer these functions.
As far as keeping an account of communications with pupils using Instant Messaging, most systems allow you to save the chat transcript. I use both iChat and MSN systems and have chat transcripts automatically set to save. It means that should anyone object to a conversation that I have had with a pupil, I can recall the event in full at a moments notice. I also don't need to think about saving it - it happens automatically.
Txt messaging is much trickier to maintain a transcript or account of communication. Unless you have a more capable phone of storing lots of txt messages and periodically exporting them to a personal computer, it's really hard to maintain an archive of what's been sent when, and to whom. I use an application called PhoneAgent that allows me to retrieve sent and received txt messages to my computer and store them in a txt file.
The key test to apply when communicating with young people is ask yourself, would you be embarrassed, unsure or would it put yourself at risk if anyone else were to read the conversation? If the answer is yes, you probably shouldn't be having the conversation. Remember also, that any communication through txt is subject to more misinterpretation as it doesn't carry intonation or facial expression, so be aware of how what you say could be read.
The adoption of internet, phone communication technologies is so powerful that we mustn't devalue its contribution to a changing education system provision. My advice is to use your common sense, just as you would when you are teaching face to face. Apply the same rules and principles in your online presence as you would in your workplace environment. If there is ever some doubt about how an online conversation or relationship is developing, tell someone else and share the experience.
It is important to remember that as with all new technologies, we are subject to experimentation, research and evaluation - we don't necessarily know the all answers just yet, but that doesn't mean we should stop exploring. The NUT (National Union of Teachers) will understandably recommend against using technology, but, if, like the majority of teachers, we are adopting these technologies to ensure the best outcomes for our students, then it's something we are unlikely to want to change.
Access to teachers?
Another good question for debate is how much access do we give pupils to contact ourselves outside of school? I personally feel that I commit a lot, but that suits my interest, my research work and current situation.
How do the pupils at Stepping Stones use the technology with me?
Here are just a few:
- pupils ask me questions about homework, project work, coursework.
- occasionally they alert me to things that they feel I should know about, such as events, problems, illnesses, etc.
- share worries and concerns about school / home life / equipment.
- participate in out-of-hours school meetings, such as the School Council.
- txt vote choices.
- share their work, look for feedback / encouragement / ideas / critical friendship role.
How are others using txt / email / instant messaging with pupils? How are pupils adopting these technologies to work with other pupils / teachers? Share them here, I'd be really interested to hear your views.
Thanks to Derek Wenmoth for highlighting this story.