CC Licensed Image via Google.

Techbrarian Confession Time: I really, really, really want to try Google Glass. Back in February, when they were choosing betas to “give” them to (read: offering folks with a compelling enough reason the chance to fork over $1,500), I threw my ring into the hat and prayed my mother would never find out I was willing to pay that kind of money to covertly cosplay as Georgi La Forge and freak people out in public places.

Half-mad with tech-lust, I pulled the “I’m an educator– you guys love us, right?” card: “I’d find the ABSOLUTE BEST educational use for them,” I wheedled, lying through my lying little teeth. “I’d teach with them on and integrate them into my classroom work.”

(Lies. Deceitful, awful lies.)

Shockingly, Google saw through this facade, and the closest I’ve come to Glass has been trying on a friend’s, and watching cooler folks than I smugly wearing them around Brooklyn. There’s a dilatory part of me that thinks this is all for the best. Bringing a technology like Glass into a school library is a bullet that Lazy!Clair would like someone else to bite first.

Tech like Glass plays into that most terrifying of teacher-fears: that students could goof-off in class, pass notes, take pictures, and even record you without you ever knowing. Picture that lesson you know you botched posted on YouTube; that shirt that you realized ten minutes too late had the coffee stain on the belly, forever immortalized on a hundred Facebook pages. Or perhaps even more terrifying– parents watching the live stream of your class, sending email after email to let you know they disapproved of how you explained xy and z, or want you to repeat this particular part of the lesson just for their child. The sanctity of the classroom– the very idea of it as a quiet, safe, and intimate space that a teacher controls– destroyed.

A pause to mention that Glass can’t currently do a lot of what people are afraid it can. With no data plan, connectivity relies entirely on connecting to your phone via Wifi or Bluetooth. Battery life isn’t amazing if you’re recording heavily, and taking a picture or recording a video requires a verbal command. And an illuminated screen will help make it clear when someone’s camera is activated. It’s a device that’s still decidedly in the land of beta testing, and at a $1,500 price point (with a consumer price rumored to be under $500) it’s not something that everybody will be running out to buy on opening weekend.

But it’s the potential of what a device like Glass could become that makes people nervous. If wearable technology becomes commonplace, it will represent a huge shift not just in how we view being “plugged in,” but in social media. I have to open an app to share something on Twitter. I have to take a minute to write out something, pause what I’m doing to type, spell-check, edit, and then post. Social media currently requires premeditation and reflection– stop, express, post, move on. Wearable tech takes that premeditation and replaces it with a live-stream experience. A pair of glasses that allow you to share your entire life via social media at any time, without people knowing; how can a policy keep that from happening?

The short answer is it can’t. But frankly that isn’t a revelation: no matter how well-written, researched, and thought out it is, your social media policy will not help you control how your students use social media. At all.

In many school libraries, the message students receive about social media can basically be boiled down to: “check yourself lest you wreck yourself,” and most of them understand why. Leaving a social media footprint that can withstand the scrutiny of a Google search is essential for attaining college admission, a summer internship, or a prom date. Censoring access to social media websites while on campus would be counter-intuitive to everything we believe as librarians, so instead we have turned to education.

Be careful about what you post, we tell them. Don’t bully. Don’t harass. Don’t photograph or record others without permission and a proper heads up. When a teacher is teaching, or a librarian is librarian-ing, put your iPad/smartphone/computer away or to the side. We teach our students that there is a time and a place for everything– smartphones, iPads, Facebook, Tumblr, whathaveyou– and that unless otherwise discussed, that time and place is not in class.

Established social media policies are handed out, included in school handbooks and official websites, and compliance is expected as part of the rules of attendance. But your social media policy is a shield, not a sword and it exists only to justify the consequences of it being broken.

I’m not advocating for the wide-spread dumping of social media policies, but with the invent of mobile, personal technology and it’s omnipresence in our lives and classrooms, training is a better ally. Education and understanding will always be more powerful than doctrine. Just as we train our kids to put their iPads face down on the desk when the teacher is talking, or to leave their phones in their lockers, we’ll eventually have to train our kids to put Glass or something like it away when it’s time for learning. Just because a technology can be worn all the time doesn’t mean it has to be, and it’s up to us as educators to help our kids understand when the situation is appropriate. Hence why I wouldn’t wear Glass during a lesson; it’s modeling a behavior to the students that I’m telling them doesn’t belong in the classroom. It’d be no different from me texting in the middle of a research lesson– not inherently evil, but wrong just the same.

Glass is cool, sleek, and instantly polarizing. Is it the newest revolution? A sign that the Jetsons-esque time of flying cars and push-button food** is fast approaching? Or is it invasive and unnecessary; tech for tech’s sake? Whatever it winds up becoming, Glass serves as a handy reminder of how important it is to teach students about responsible social media (and mobile device) use.

**In NYC, we call this technology “GrubHub.” The future is awesome.

One Thought on “Rethinking What We Do: Social Media Policies

  1. Great points in this post.

    Thinking about social media policies and Google Glass, one of the things that comes to mind is the fact that whatever policies schools and libraries have, they have to be flexible. If there is a lot of “no you can’t do that” and “this technology is not allowed” then it means we are always dealing with what we didn’t think about when first developing the policy, because the tools are bound to change and grow.

    So, if we focus less on the can/can’t do and more on helping students gain skills, then, no matter what happens in the future – from Google Glass to who knows what’s next – we’ll be doing our job. And, students will be able to figure out what to use and how and even teach their parents, friends, own kids, peers, etc.

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