Our quarter began on Monday and I assigned a prompt for the first day of class where the potential flakes needed to argue something based on a recent controversial topic in the news. As I skimmed through to gauge their writing, determining who's half-assing it (65%), who's truly earnest (5%), and who is pretending to play my game (30%), I came across one entry where the student's phrasing was VERY familiar to a phrase I'm very familiar with.
Why am I familiar with this phrase? I have a twitter account, and with some of my followers, we've formed bonds, sometimes-flirted, always-teased, and just become friends. I've been pretty good about keeping my identity a secret on there, not sharing too much about my irl self, but I have become fairly friendly with one individual, whom I shall call GrundyFlax68 (I used an online name generator to come up with that one). GrundyFlax68 always ends his Direct Messages with a brief phrase he's coined, the same phrase at the end of that assignment.
GrundyFlax68 and I have been "twitter friends" (no twitter crush for me) for three years now. GrundyFlax68 is my buddy, my pal, my backup, and the person I have vented to about my hoarding neighbor's habits, or to let him know the pomegranate tree he advised me to prune looks dead now. He has a wicked sense of humor, is hilarious online, and now, yes, you know where I'm going (there's no subtle buildup to this "big" reveal): GrundyFlax68 is a 23-year-old lanky guy with an unfortunate haircut who spent much of the class yesterday and today drawing a fake tribal tattoo on his arm with a Sharpie.
In order to be 90% sure of this, I asked the class today to "share" a little bit about their hobbies, talking about which of their hobbies or activities they think will be helpful in supporting their academic endeavors and which they think might become a problem for them when papers are due. He revealed that he spends a lot of time on twitter, but that his tweets are "more intellectual than you'd imagine." I blinked twice at that one because I don't contribute anything intellectual to twitter, nor would I characterize his posts as intellectual in any way. Words have been exchanged over varying interpretations of scenes from Disney movies, but that's as intellectual as it has gotten!
Tonight I logged in to absolutely make sure. And yup, his tweets reveal that he's signed up for a class with a prof he's not really sure about because they had an assignment due on Day 2 and she made them write a "lame-ass opinion piece" in class about something he just bullshitted his way through. (Yes, his entry was way more abbreviated than that, but I don't want to post it as is here.)
So... there's no question that I'm never revealing to him who I am. But it's going to make for an interesting quarter if he ends up staying in my class. I'm not sure if I should attempt to encourage him to switch sections before the Add/Drop date, or whether to just do what I had originally planned by being the consummate professional (but how?). Either way, it feels like both good and bad karma are trying to tell me something here.
Ever since creating an online persona, I have dreamed of this happening to me. Just once, I'd love for a colleague to say, offhand, "don't care more about their education than they do," or follow me on Twitter.ReplyDelete
This could be a lot of fun and educational for you as the student and Twitter persona work their way through the semester. You could play a bit of sock puppetry by using your Twitter voice to backup what his professor said in class.
What would you do if he admitted on Twitter that he cheated?
I don't know! I'm still a little astounded that this has happened. I mean we're at a small (tiny!) SLAC in a remote area of the country! How likely is this to even happen? HOW?!!!!Delete
I agree with Ben - this sounds fun. One thing we rarely get is an honest backchannel into what the students are really thinking about.ReplyDelete
I wouldn't sockpuppet though; it might give the game away.
Stop tempting me. :)Delete
"Pretending to play my game" goes into my "why haven't I thought of putting it this way? " file.ReplyDelete
As for GrundyFlax68, I'd love to hear Isabel Dalhousie (fictional applied moral philosopher) parse this situation. You've already lost him as a Twitter friend, and he's already used up the default goodwill (I hope) all students start with. It's not much different from overhearing a student with a distinctive voice badmouth you in the restroom, and staying in the stall until she leaves. Whatever he tweets is by definition public, so you're not violating his privacy by continuing to read his tweets.
Except. What if you later sought out ways to secretly overhear the restroom complainer. Wouldn't that be uncomfortably close to obsessive?
You have him at a disadvantage two ways. One, both of you tweet under pseudonyms, but you know his identity, and not the other way round. Two, you assign his grades, which tips the balance of power in your favor.
As fun as the semester could be, you are in ethically murky waters. But I don't know how you could recuse yourself (encourage him to switch sections) without putting your own pseudonymity at risk. The easiest solution would be to just stop following him on Twitter, which will also prevent him from messaging you directly.
Good points! I'm pondering whether to just decide not to tweet anymore for the quarter...Delete
I just don't buy this!ReplyDelete
What don't you buy?Delete
Tricky situation. The backchannel does sound tempting, but I agree with Proffie G that reading it presents something of an ethical quagmire, since he doesn't know your identity, and you have a good deal of power over him.ReplyDelete
I don't know enough about the workings of twitter to understand all your options, but it seems to me that you need to avoid seeing any more of his tweets about the class, at least until the quarter is over, preferably without it looking to him like you're treating him, specifically, differently than your other twitter followers. Maybe there are other options of which I'm unaware, but it sounds to me like the easiest one would be to simply be too busy to pay attention to twitter this quarter. If that's not possible, then you'd need to find a way to filter him specifically, without his catching on that you're still actively interacting with others, which sounds tricky.
I suppose the other, bolder, and perhaps ultimately simpler option would be to out yourself to him, perhaps in a private message, and suggest that, if your suspicion about his identity is correct, you unfollow each other for the quarter. That would work only if there's no major downside to his knowing your irl identity (and/or other students/colleagues knowing your twitter identity, since you can't be sure he'll keep the secret, even if you ask him to). Maybe I'm missing something about how you became twitter friends that explains what seems like a pretty big coincidence, but the more I think about this, I really wonder if he doesn't know, or at least suspect, already, and maybe is even trying to let you know who he is by dropping hints in class and on twitter. If so, he could be anything from socially awkward (but perhaps quite technologically advanced) to something more alarming -- manipulative, stalkerish, or something along those lines. If so, then addressing the situation directly seems like the best way to defuse it -- but, once again, that depends on how badly you need to protect your twitter identity (and how much you need to use twitter for other purposes this quarter).
No chance of my revealing my identity to him. I work at a conservative Christian SLAC where any number of my tweets could lead to my losing my job because of (for example) my support for LGBT rights, or calling BS on certain Creationist beliefs, for starters. I would hate for him to know that and then remain in the class and use it against me to coerce me into giving a better grade. While he hasn't appeared to be that kind of person on twitter, irl he seems to be a different persona, just like I'm not the persona I am on twitter that I am irl.ReplyDelete
Given all of the advice, I have already "muted" his feed, which means his posts don't show up in my feed so I have to actively seek him out to see them, and I've indicated to him that I'll be "off the grid" for a while due to travel. I am tempted, though, SO SO tempted, to still check in to see how I'm doing from the POV of a student. :)
This is just one of those "WHOA!" weird things, and while I know there are all kinds of warnings about posting things online that could get us fired, I've been careful to have a completely separate identity and not to use work equipment to tweet using that handle.
Would you start checking if he actually had some problems or gave you excuses that might not be true? How would you feel if he admitted to things like cheating or telling you lies and you found out too late to do anything about that? I realize that professors don't have time to find out what their students are doing online, but doing it when possible could actually be a good idea. If students don't want that to happen, they should just keep their online identity secret, have no such identity at all, or never post anything secret or objectionable.Delete
Initially, I was really thrilled that you got the opportunity to monitor a student's tweets about you during the semester. Proffie G and others make good points about the ethical issues this raises. More practically, it would look bad (though it wouldn't be really wrong) if your student found out that you had been monitoring his social media.Delete
It's a good idea to mute him for the term. After you submit your grades, scroll back through his Twitter feed and read about yourself!
It sounds like you've got a workable plan, as long as you can avoid the temptation to check his feed until after the quarter is over. It also sounds like the travel/off the grid excuse is a good choice for disappearing, since it also constitutes something of a red herring if he does suspect the twitter handle/irl identity connection. That excuse, plus less time on twitter in general for the quarter (which will also reduce the temptation to check his feed), sounds like a good plan.Delete
The whole question of whether the SLAC could fire you for outside-of-work opinions expressed by a pseudonymous persona not easily connected to your real name/professional persona is a fascinating one, since some of the usual reasons associated with "conduct unbecoming" clauses (e.g. effect on the reputation of the institution) wouldn't apply, but some others (which I suspect would be more popular at a religious SLAC -- e.g. the idea that your actions and opinions say something about your overall moral worth) would. But, fascinating as the question may be, I wouldn't want to see you at the center of a test case litigated in the present legal/political climate.
What would happen if the student revealed some serious wrongdoing that you can simply not ignore, such as cheating, and you only found out after the semester is over? You would then have to choose between revealing your online identity and willingly ignoring serious wrongdoing by the student. If you got the hint during the semester, you could simply pretend that you noticed the problem yourself. If you miss it and then you find out after the semester, it may seem odd to say that you looked at the student's work for some reason after the student's grade is final.Delete
If you are not willing to simply follow the student's tweets during the semester, you could avoid this scenario by checking his tweets once all the work is graded and the final grade is just about to be submitted. Because this is not necessarily practical, you could do it a little earlier.
I am not sure that things posted online "in character" are necessarily the views or opinions of the real-life person.Delete
I was once on a panel that investigated an alleged case of cheating, which had been brought to our attention by a student who had read something on social media. It turned out to be a case of fiction inspired by events in real life, with a few real-life facts thrown in. The writer thought that the story, or one like it, "could have happened" and ran with the premise, but there was no evidence that it did happen. Nevertheless, we altered our procedures to make the scenario even less likely to occur.
It's different when the facts reported online can actually be verified and doing so is feasible. For instance, if the student or the student's online persona says that s/he plagiarized, the professor can check the student's work more carefully to find out if that's true. If the paper is plagiarized, it's not a matter of opinion: it is a verified fact.Delete
When your student reported an alleged case of cheating, the student probably hadn't seen the actual work or witnessed the cheating while it was happening. And of course, a professor does not have to check a student's whole life story. On the other hand, a professor who gets a hint about a possibly plagiarized paper can just pay more attention to that particular paper and verify the facts.
What OHP said about "in character".Delete
I wouldn't take anything on FB / Twitter at face value.
On such sites, does anybody ever claim to have worked hard at something? Much more likely to be blase about stuff like the quality of the projects, their effort, etc.
It is correct that an online report of wrongdoing is sufficient cause to investigate further. But till such investigation yields corroboration, then the reports are allegation, not fact.Delete
In my example, the student who pseudonymously wrote about cheating had indeed witnessed none, but he could have just as easily claimed he himself had cheated or plaigiarised his own paper with equal truthfulness.
If this happened to me, it would freak me out to no end. For one thing, it could easily be he has somehow figured out your real-life identity. So, agreeing with the above: forget Twitter for the quarter, or as long as he is in your class. Certainly I wouldn't look at his "tweets" at all.ReplyDelete
One of the reasons I don't do Twitter, FB, any of this. Students. (Even this blog is a bit of a risk.)
OMFG: I actually agree with Monica!ReplyDelete
Indeed. I hadn't considered the discovering-malfeasance-after-the-fact angle, but it's a realistic possibility, and checking the feed after all but the very final grading is done is a sensible solution.Delete
Unless you just don't have a copy, for instance because the work was done on paper and you have already returned it to the student without making a photocopy.Delete
Yup. You never want the pseudonymous, online writings to be the only 'evidence'.Delete