I very much like Colin's post about Facebook from yesterday. He tries to get at the complex nature of what's going on with Facebook. Students feel like it's a "private" space akin to a dorm room or something. However it's publicly available and staff and faculty can wander around in that space at will. And, as Colin's post suggests, they do.
Colin's post made me think about something that I was involved in many years ago in seventh grade. As a "gifted" student, I had a free period in which I was supposed to be doing homework and working on projects--actually computer programming. There were 5 or 6 of us who were basically left unattended in a classroom. Needless to say, sometimes things got rowdy. Despite being gifted (can I say how much I hate that term, but that's the term that was used then), this was all we got. All of our other classes, except math, we took with the regular kids. And most of us hated them. But we saved most of our hate for our English class in which we were made to read straight through an English book and take multiple choice quizzes which were graded and handed back. Then, going through the rows, each person read a question and gave their answer. That was our classes. No discussion. Not even the writing of an essay. And the teacher, we thought, was mean. She berated people who gave the wrong answer. If you so much as whispered, you might have to write "I will not talk in class" 500 times. The class was, in so many ways, the epitome of all that was wrong with education. Even at the age of 12, we recognized we were being short-changed in some way, that we weren't being treated fairly. Our way of dealing with it? Take it out on the teacher, of course.
One day we're all sitting in this gifted classroom, having finished all our homework, and we're talking about how much we hate this English class and the teacher. Somebody makes a dare. Go into the hallway and yell "I hate Mrs. X." One by one, we did this. Note that her classroom was across the hall, a little diagonal from the classroom we were in. The dare was significant because there was a good chance she might hear it. And hear it she did, when about the third one of us (not me) shouted just a little louder than the rest of us. And we all got in trouble. We were threatened with losing our free period and other punishments.
In a way, this is similar to the students on Facebook who shout (digitally) how much they hate a professor (or on ratemyprofessors.com). The students who do this on Facebook, however, are shocked that there are consequences for their actions. We, on the other hand, were not in the least bit shocked that we got in trouble. I'm certain we hurt that poor teacher's feelings just as students who publish mean things about professors hurt their feelings.
I'm conflicted about Facebook and MySpace. On the one hand, I think it's good for students and teenagers to have a virtual space to connect to others and share their thoughts and ideas and even advertise parties and the like. On the other hand, I think they need to learn a lot about having their words in the public sphere. And, I'm also conflicted about administrators who trawl such spaces. I think it's appropriate for another student to express concern about say, another student's drinking problem that's manifested itself on Facebook, but it seems to me in some way inappropriate for administrators to go looking for violations of some kind. As Colin pointed out, Facebook doesn't fit neatly on the public-private spectrum. Does an administrator trawling through Facebook equate with him or her wandering the dorm hallway and poking their head into rooms? Or does it equate with him or her scrutinizing the publicly posted flyers?