Last week, Nova Scotia teachers were in the process of job action that culminated in a strike on February 17. If you follow me on Twitter, you might be aware that about that same time I was preparing to present at WestCAST 2017. WestCAST is the Western Canadian Association for Student Teaching. WestCAST conferences bring together education students and faculty from across Canada with a focus on western provinces. The most recent conference, #WestCAST2017 , was hosted by my Vancouver Island University Faculty.
On the first day of WestCAST 2017, I was delivering a presentation entitled, “Digital Footprints & Digital Professionalism for Today’s Educator” (If you want to find a version of the presentation and resources, check out the Resources page of The Centre for Educaiton & CyberHumanity @ VIU https://wordpress.viu.ca/cyberhumanity/resources/ ). That same morning, the Nova Scotia teachers and their union were in the news. As an extension of my WestCAST activities, I thought about directing a tweet to the @NSTeachersUnion account on the topic of digital professionalism but decided against it. During my WestCAST session, I discussed with attendees why I wanted to tweet the Nova Scotia Teachers’ Union, what I wanted to say, and why I didn’t do it.
As a previous K-12 teacher of many years in British Columbia, I have been a long standing member of the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) and have served on the executive of a provincial specialists’ association (BCTF PSA). I respect the work that BCTF does to promote teaching and learning in British Columbia. It is not news that the BCTF and BC provincial government have had a contentious history. (If unfamiliar, check out the decade plus interactions that reached the Supreme Court of Canada: http://vancouversun.com/news/local-news/b-c-teachers-win-landmark-supreme-court-of-canada-victory ).
My teaching career in BC has spanned a number of job actions coordinated by the BCTF in response to wide variety of issues. I have walked a number of picket lines. However, during the BCTF’s more recent job actions around 2014, I had been working in post-secondary for a number of years. I watched from the sidelines as K-12 teachers became frustrated and angry over their ongoing situation. What was significantly different this time was that many teachers had social media accounts and were using them to voice their frustrations—and not always in professional ways. As the Vancouver Sun reported, “Social media has become the online extension of the picket line for teachers” (Robinson, Shaw, & Sherlock 2014). The Sun article went on to cite the BCTF Media Relations Officer Rich Overgaard when he noted that the social media activity was “unprecedented…completely constant and sustained since the beginning of the rotating strikes” (Robinson, Shaw, & Sherlock, 2014). While the BCTF has put time and effort into providing social media and professionalism training for members, whether through ignorance, frustration, or what boyd (2008; yes, she uses a lower case “b”—not a type-o here) would term a lack of awareness of “unintended audiences”—there remained teachers who coloured way outside the lines of what I consider digital professionalism.
In 2014, I’d already been teaching about digital footprints and professionalism here at #VIUEd for some time. During my 2014 presentations on the topics at the time, students raised the issue of teachers’ vitriolic comments, vulgar language, and bitter engagements on social media which involved the government, members of the public, & even fellow teachers at times. (BTW such comments on the topic continued for a year or so after.) Now, let me clarify, not all teachers in BC on social media were interacting in what might be considered as unprofessional ways, but there were enough of them self-identifying as teachers (through profiles, posts, or related content) for a person interested in social media and digital professionalism to take notice. Moreover, this slippage in civility was not one sided and involved people from other sectors. It is interesting to note that despite the “unprecedented” activity of BC teachers on social media in 2104 and people anecdotally remarking on the nature of the content—as far as I know, no research has been done on BC teachers’ social media content, perceptions, and the effects before, during, and after job action. In my opinion, there’s a thesis in there for someone—unfortunately, not me. I’m too busy working on my current PhD thesis on the topic of information privacy and teachers’ use of educational technology.
Some who discuss the professional use of social media might question the use of an educator’s own personal/professional account for activism. (Note: This type of account is separate from a school-sponsored or authorized presence.) I, however, think there are appropriate and inappropriate times for such uses, with degree or extent of the impact as an additional consideration. I think that there are ways to do it “professionally”. If you are a principled person, there will come a time in your career that challenges to those principles might move you to speak using your professional voice on platforms such as social media; however, that action needs to be considered, conscious of the extent and implications of your actions as well as their ramifications; should be founded on solid ethical ground, and you must be willing to be held accountable for it later. If you balk at any of those points, you likely shouldn’t do it.
So, what did I want to tweet to the @NSTeachersUnion last week but didn’t? I wanted to suggest to the @NSTeachersUnion that they remind members of the potential professional impact of their social media posts during their job action and any period of continued negotiations or contention. Why didn’t I? As discussed during my #WestCAST2017 session, it is important during events like strikes or similar job actions, to have people emotionally committed to collective action—it builds solidarity and support for your cause. As so frequently happens on social media, I was ultimately concerned that any comment or reminder about digital professionalism during challenging times could be seen as a threat to the aims of their job actions, and potentially make me the target of misdirected anger and abuse. I guess this blog post could do the same, but I think in this digital age, when teachers and their unions move into periods of contention, they should pause to consciously and publicly remind themselves of their digital professionalism .
In the end, I will leave you with a quote from Ellaway, Coral, Topps & Topps’ (2015) article “Exploring Digital Professionalism”. Though published in Medical Teacher, their quote holds true for the teaching profession in general:
“Acts of protest and dissent using digital media…need to be undertaken responsibly and professionally” (p. 846).
BTW: This is my personal/professional blog and is not sponsored by my place of employment. 😉
- boyd, d. (2008). Taken out of context: American teen sociality in networked publics. PhD Dissertation. University of California-Berkeley, School of Information. http://www.danah.org/papers/TakenOutOfContext.pdf
- Ellaway, R., Coral, J., Topps, D. & Topps, M. (2015). Exploring digital professionalism. Medical Teacher, 37(9), 844-849.
- Robinson, M., Shaw, G., & Sherlock, T. (2014). From the picket line to online: Teachers go to battle using social media. Vancouver Sun. http://www.vancouversun.com/business/from+picket+line+online+teachers+battle+using+social+media/9941977/story.html