Although the university’s current policy on using social media in the classroom is a step in the right direction, it may still take decades to develop a much better mechanism, says a Concordia expert on the subject.
The office of the provost recently issued a press release reminding the university community that when the use of social media is integrated in a course’s curriculum, professors must ask students to sign a consent form. The statement indicated that the third parties that manage social media sites such as Facebook could theoretically profit from the work posted by a student.
But English professor Darren Wershler, formerly of the communication studies department, indicated that people must realize there is always a possible danger when posting work on any web site, and described the aforementioned consent form as a “slippery slope.’
“I can understand the need to develop a kind of protocol, but if you need a permission slip for one kind of classroom activity, will you now need the same for everything else?” he asked. “Concordia has certainly taken a step in the right direction with social media by supporting, for example, open-access journals, but it is going to take more time and more practice to develop a mechanism that really protects students and their work.”
Vice-provost teaching and learning Ollivier Dyens explained that using social media in the classroom can be very exciting, but stressed that the issue still merits further study. He acknowledged that the chances of having a student posting their work on Facebook and then seeing it somewhere else under a different author’s name are very slim, but it could happen.
“There are a few cases of it happening across Canada,” he said. “In 99 per cent of cases there wouldn’t be much of an impact. But say a student comes up with a discovery and posts it online, there’s always that possibility that it might be used somewhere else.”
Wershler noted that one of the problems in understanding the consequences of posting on web sites is the lack of attention given to the fine print in the site’s licensing agreement, though he admitted that it’s understandable.
“Some of these licenses can have almost 70 to 80 pages and almost no one looks at them,” he said. “But what these agreements inevitably say is that [the site] owns the rights to what is posted on the site. It is naÃ¯ve of people to put anything on the Internet and think that it’s not going anywhere else.”
Dyens stated that the classroom use of social media will be discussed more in-depth at an upcoming information session with students and faculty.
“My dream is that students and their professors can play with these tools as much as they want, but safely, because it is a good way to engage students,” he said.
Professors are encouraged to indicate any required use of social media in their course outlines, and Dyens said the office of the provost is also looking at including such information in official course descriptions so as not to give students any surprises.
Finally, should students feel uncomfortable with posting their work on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter or any other social-media site, Dyens noted that students are always free to drop the course before the appropriate deadline.