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Professors Sharing Student Papers – a plea

Over the past several years, social media has exploded as a driving medium for communication and discourse in across our contemporary culture. This is not a surprising statement. Due to the easy access and low barriers of social media, it is rather easy to have a presence in various places. One of the great benefits is having professors who are part of various schools and institutions having accounts on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. This allows them to add insightful notes on their fields of specialization, identify new research or discoveries, and interact with current trends. As this happens, social media is being used well.

TwitterTeachingHowever, some professors and educators are using part of their social media platforms to share their students’ papers through quotes, commentary, and other incisive critiques. In instances, professors are quoting directly from student papers and offering less than charitable thoughts…usually to a handful of ‘likes’, favorites, repostings, and/or replies from those who follow their posts. While the plaudits of the masses are always enjoyable and ego building, these kinds of actions are, ultimately, dangerous and harmful to the educational process.

There are a number of pseudonymous or anonymous social media accounts that started this trend, perhaps one of the earliest to do in my discipline (theology) is the Bible Students Say twitter account. Others have arisen of the kind and the interactions caught a lot of attention. The tweets were edgy and often funny or ironic quotes from students, yet under the veneer of anonymity many seemed to be okay with that kind of posting. At some point over the past several years it became acceptable for faculty members and professors to imitate these accounts, but under their public profiles. Now, it seems, one can easily note when the high points of the semester by the quotations of student papers in various professorial social media accounts.

This trend is not a good one. Thankfully having never seen any of my own paper quotes out in social media, I have heard of some students who have had some of their papers quoted…and then read the, sadly, expected chiding and churlish interactions and replies from others on social media. Recently, over the past several months, I’ve noticed some professors who have ceased doing this, but others who have increased up their posts. A second aspect of this trend is professors complaining about the nature of student papers, without direct quotes, and the lack of educational refinement or gaps in the students’ work.laughing

My thought behind this is simple: Please stop posting student paper quotes and content, please stop commenting on the “drudgery” of grading them, and please stop chiding your students over public social media about being…well, students.

After thinking over this issue for a while, my greatest objection to this is that the behavior of professors who engage in these is, ultimately, a violation of the informal professor-student compact. Students are learners, they don’t know everything on a topic and are most assuredly in process of development. Professors are given the great task of helping forming students intellectually and relationally for the world. To take sections or sentences from their papers and post them publicly, almost always to shame them or make fun of their incomplete thoughts, violates this compact.

If professors would go back and read their undergraduate and early graduate work they would bristle and roll their eyes at things they said, conclusions they made, argumentation process laid out, and even poor methodologies. Part of being a student is the confidence and trust that your professor will graciously hear you out, offer correctives, and help move you forward as a student. If a professor were to stand up in class and read aloud of papers of students while others listened we would cringe; doing it on social media is no different.

Another point is that complaining about the grading process is not enduring to anyone else. As a professor grading is a necessary and expected part of your role in the lives of your institution and student body. They need your feedback. As someone who has little desire to enter the academic world, I also see it as trite and unbecoming of a seasoned academic professional. You have a career that many aspire to, yet it is treated with disdain. My encouragement would be to refrain from letting us know how badly your students are doing, because they are a reflection of an increasingly broken higher education system and your teaching style.

There are some wonderful discussions about how to use social media to interact with and help your student, advice and tips to add to this engagement, and also helpful points about the limitations of what can be shared on social media. Many good things can be accomplished through social media. Students are benefited by access to discussions with professors and even seeing how their educators are actually normal people. Yet in all of this there is a darker side that can lead us to harm relationship between professors and students. Just as a pastor would be negligent in posting the detailed counseling conversations with others, or a priest the sins heard in the confessional, a doctor in discussing a patient’s lifestyle or health, professors need to be reticent in posting harmful or hurtful information about their students. You have a wonderful and amazing task: to shape and develop the next generation. Steward that task well and we are all beneficiaries.

So, what do you say?

23
Jun 2016
POSTED BY Garet
POSTED IN

Education

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Snap Judgments: Social Media Challenges

The past several days saw a flare up in the blogosphere over a possible attribution error involving the venerable theologian, N.T. Wright and a book he was purported to have written or at least given a contribution.

This was first posted by Michael Bird who brought up an issue concerning a soon to be released book titled Breaking Beautiful: The Promise of Truth in a Fractured World. Though the item has been pulled from the Amazon.com (thought still up on their UK site) you can go see a page over at Barnes & Noble’s site. According to a loose reconstruction of events, it appears Bird saw this release and contacted Wright who was not familiar with the text. Bird then sent off the later redacted post questioning the reliability of the book in light of his conversation with Wright.

Well, this fired up the social media world and soon we had a number of blogs and twitter discussions going on about this issue. Soon Brian LePort over at Near Emmaus noted the discussion and soon also had its resolution. By the afternoon (US Central Time) Bird had posted a resolution post after Tim Suttle had offered a “confessional” post detailing his side of the situation. Apparently, Suttle had been under contract with a publisher, The House Studio, to provide groups content behind Wright’s videos on the topic.

Soon enough Elizabeth Perry, editor at The House Studio, offered a public statement to Bird’s piece and ChristianityToday’s Liveblog had a chronicle of the situation. It seems the situation arose out of confusing marketing, a quick decision to post a perception of a situation, high level intellectuals were involved, and the pire of fire that is social media was soon ignited. My purpose here is not to assess blame or who is right or wrong. In fact, I think the comments fields of the many posts above will give any reader a better view of this. However, it does serve to remind us of a few lessons:

  • Always proceed with generosity and be willing to fact check before quickly posting. We’ve all seen what happens when news organizations post unfounded stories. Theologians and church leaders have a higher calling and that means we take intentional steps to seek resolution before making assumptions.
  • Publishers are not above reproach and can slide too often towards pushing celebrity over substance in the process. Though I am uncertain if The House Studio did conspire to do anything wrong, they appear to have done the proper thing in removing this initial marketing. We can and should be thankful for their discernment here.
  • We should all be equally vexed and thankful for the power of social media. Though it provides ample opportunities to exacerbating problems, it also can provide quick resolution when cooler heads prevail. This episode, I think we can honestly assess, is a good example of both. Imagine what would have happened 25 or more years ago if this had gone to a major professional journal. It would have taken years to unwind and reputations would have been irreparably sullied. Now, within one day, we have resolution and peace.
  • For my purposes here and elsewhere in my writing, I believe Matthew 18:15-17 mandates that I personally attempt to call, message, or contact a person before I personally question something about their motives and actions. Perception across so great a divide as the internet is dangerous.
  • Along these lines, when it comes to professional discussions I am in agreement with Dr Carson on matters concerning published matter, in personal ministry discussions I am challenged by Scripture to inquire privately first and publish publicly second.

 

We all must share a burden of openness and generosity. When we do not we fail to uphold the character and calling of Christ. This episode is, hopefully, instructive. I am thankful for theological leaders like Michael Bird who have a passion for truth and academic integrity. Without excellent leaders like him our churches would be worse off. I am also thankful for writers and ministry leaders like Tim Suttle who willingly partner with leaders to bring wonderful resources to our churches to help grow our people and who speak publicly about their own questions on publications. I am also thankful for publishers like The House Studio who are willing to seek out leading edge curriculum to help our people grow.

Ultimately, we can all be thankful for the grace and charity that go before us all and help unite us in our own shortcomings while serving the Kingdom of God.

33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. 34 Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6:33-34

29
May 2013
POSTED BY Garet
POSTED IN

Resources

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