Engaging Students and Connecting with Colleagues through Social Media: A Conference at BMCC

Jan Stahl (English)

 

How can instructors create engaging assignments that involve social media sites? What cautions should faculty and staff consider when placing content on social media sites? “Social Media for Faculty and Staff,” a BMCC conference on October 13, 2011, explored these questions and more.

 

“Social Media for Faculty and Staff” was co-sponsored by CETLS, the E-Learning Center, and Iyana Titus, Esq., Affirmative Action Officer.

 

The Revolution in Socializing

 

President Antonio Pérez delivered opening remarks. He expressed enthusiasm for web-based social networking sites as a new medium of communication with possibilities to enhance community at BMCC.

 

“Social network sites have revolutionized the way we socialize,” according to guest speaker, Dr. Michelle Pulaski Behling, Associate Professor of Media, Communications, and Visual Arts at Pace University. Dr. Behling discussed the advantages as well as some Facebook has over 75 million disadvantages of the social media sites Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and Linked-In. users and the average user spends 55 minutes per day on the site. Despite its popularity, Facebook raises privacy concerns, cautioned Dr. Behling. Facebook permanently owns the content of user postings even after users close or deactivate their accounts.

 

Google+, released this past summer, offers an alternative to Facebook. Google+ contains several unique features including “Circles” that enables users to post to a particular circle of friends and “Hangouts” that allows video chatting for up to 10 users.

 

Twitter allows users to send and read text-based posts of up to 140 characters, informally known as “tweets.” With Twitter instructors can post regular tweets to students. Instructors can encourage students concerned about privacy to use an alias and to delete the account after the semester ends.

 

Linked-In promotes professional networking rather than social networking. It allows users to upload documents for public viewing or for private use, informs users of the number of people who have viewed their profile, and its reputation for privacy surpasses other networking sites.

 

Privacy is an important factor when choosing any social networking site. Dr. Behling reminded faculty to “make sure your students read the privacy policy for all these sites before signing up.”

 

Meeting Our Students Where They Are

 

Want an easy and friendly way to contact your students? Send them a text message. Leading a group discussion, Prof. M. Claire Pamplin, English, said that instead of sending out email to a particular class, she sends a group text message. Since students now tend to check their text messages more regularly than their email, texting gives instructors a way to “meet our students where they are,” according to Prof. Pamplin.  

 

Prof. Pamplin encouraged participants to ask questions and discuss the ways they use social media sites to connect with students and colleagues. Prof. Katherine Conway, Business Management, discussed how her students learn about particular corporations by following the tweets of CEO’s. Dr. Bruce Rosenbloom, Director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at City College, noted that CUNY Academic Commons provides a vehicle for the CUNY community to connect with each other.    

 

The Legal Landscape

 

Legal issues involving social media and the workplace were the focus of guest speaker Jonathan Stoler’s talk. Jonathan Stoler, Esq., a Partner at the SheppardMullin law firm, stated that the social norms for social media have not been defined yet and are being developed and debated in courts today. “Public-sector employees have free speech rights but these rights are not unfettered,” according to Mr. Stoler. He discussed the court case of Richerson v. Beckon (9th Cir. 2009) in which a teacher posted “highly personal and vituperative” comments about fellow teachers and others on a public blog. The teacher was transferred because others would not work with her. The Court found the transfer was not a violation of the right to free speech.

 

Although social media has opened a new world, in some ways the old rules still apply. Mr. Stoler explained that employers cannot penalize speech among employees concerning work conditions, terms and conditions of employment, and relationships with managers and management when such statements are being made on behalf of a group of employees rather than just the individual making such statements.

 

Should instructors and their students become Facebook friends? “I don’t think it’s a good idea,” said Mr. Stoler during a question and answer session. When a participant asked if an instructor can sue a person for posting a defamatory comment on the popular website, Rate My Professors, Mr. Stoler claimed that college policies generally grant students a great deal of latitude in expressing opinions about their professors.

 

Playing in the Sandbox

 

A “hands-on” approach was the focus of the session “Playing in the Sandbox,” led by Ms. Donna Dickinson and Ms. Ruru Rusmin of the E-Learning Center. For this event, participants moved from the Richard Harris Terrace to a computer classroom where they received instruction on navigating social media sites and setting up user accounts.

 

The event ended with a lottery drawing for prizes.