March 2016
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Kareen Sharawy, York University English Language Institute, Toronto, Canada

Does technology just make teachers look good or does it really make teachers teach better? We are now part of a world where presidential campaigns, revolutions, and restructuring of regimes happen virtually. Teaching in traditional ways may keep students from digital literacy skills needed to navigate and survive in this kind of world. This article attempts to shed light on some ethical and educational considerations that are emerging with the rise of social media in academia and which may discourage some teachers from “jumping on the bandwagon.” The article also suggests some ways that could facilitate the process of change and transformation in education by defining the change and the new teachers’ roles and skills.

New Ethical Issues and Suggestions

According to Thornburg (2002), “It is no wonder that those who are uncomfortable with ambiguity tend to be highly stressed” (p. 37). The rapid change of the nature of work contracts and job skills because of technology is creating an ambiguous world that is stressing people of all professions. In education, teachers find themselves in a position where they are expected to help students acquire survival skills and use social media in order to accept change with comfort when they can hardly deal with change themselves.

One of several forms of change that many teachers find discomforting when using online social media as a teaching tool is that it would require some level of self-disclosure. The level of appropriateness of self-disclosure in online social networking is not clearly defined; therefore, academics use social media with great caution and reservation (Kaufmann & Lane 2014). No matter how challenging this process is, McBride and Wahl (2005) stress that teachers need to be selective and prudent about self-disclosure because such academic online interaction is inevitable.

Another aspect of change could be seen in teacher/student virtual relationship guidelines, which also are not clearly defined. Some of the teachers’ resistance stems from the either imposed tacit unpublished guidelines or the complete ban on teacher-student interaction on e-platforms, as indicated in an article in The New York Times titled “Rules to Stop Pupil and Teacher From Getting Too Social Online” (Preston, 2011). Some teachers and students may argue that such bans are unconstitutional; however, some schools may have resolved to these extreme measures to avoid complaints and scandals that have occurred due to intentional and unintentional lack of discretion committed by teachers or students (Preston, 2011).

Naturally, teachers may be less than enchanted by online social networking, knowing that they could be risking their reputation, career, privacy, and welfare, but students may require more integration of online social networking in their learning process. This could definitely widen the gap between the cautious and reluctant participants on one hand and the more zealous experimenters on the other. Both parties’ reasoning is justified, but obviously some students may be missing out on sufficient opportunities to practice and integrate social media and acquire new networking skills useful for their academic advancement.

Banning teacher-student virtual interaction can keep education suspended in a time capsule dating to the past century. Therefore, it is essential and critical to integrate monitoring systems that can police and protect students from bullying, slander, and pedophiles and still allow teachers to use the online tools safely and appropriately to foster student learning. Teachers also need a system that prepares and supports them to accept the reality that their online social space will be invaded by the students, and that part of their privacy is going to be lost because we live in a pervasive searchable data-verse.

One example of teachers’ society attempting to regulate the pervasive aspect of social media is the Manitoba Teachers’ Society (2015). The society came up with some policies and procedures that can help teachers create a safe and an ethical online learning environment. Some of the advice encourages teachers to:

  1. Maintain an instructor presence and set appropriate boundaries
  2. Refrain from venting on social media
  3. Contribute to online discussions with thoughtful posts
  4. Use social media with students during work time for work purposes
  5. Establish a reasonable schedule for online activities
  6. Communicate expectations and assignments clearly and consistently
  7. Consider student right to privacy when designing and implementing activities
  8. Value and embrace diversit
  9. Keep students safe and deal with issues of inappropriate conduct carefully
  10. Follow applicable copyright laws and give attribution to the work of others

New Teacher and Student Roles Defined

On Facebook, Twitter, Flicker, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc., the teacher still plays the role of the knowledge provider, but practicing this role virtually can be different from practicing it in a regular classroom environment. This is because new technologies require new identities and new roles.

According to Thornburg (2002), working in the Telematic Age, professionals won't be limiting their services to one client, organization, or country; the knowledge-value worker is described as (p. 34):

  1. A contractor, not a long-term employee
  2. Comfortable with ambiguity
  3. A lifelong learner
  4. Highly mobile
  5. Highly entrepreneurial

Thornburg (2002) suggests that there is a need for opennessto serendipity, which many teachers find discomforting and overwhelming. Because many teachers enjoy the stable, risk-free, long-term employment nature of their conventional teaching role, they worry that they may have to give up those aspects in the Telematic Age if they would be seen as knowledge-value workers or academic consultants.

Furthermore, boundaries of time, space, and matter become very blurred in the cyber world. This allows students to indulge in an educational continuum, which is liberating when they use multiple sources of knowledge mostly available in electronic forms. This approach suggests that learners are becoming more independent and are seeking more forms of individual learning experience. Learners also appreciate the easy electronic accessibility of teachers and data, the speed of delivery of data online, and the ownership of their learning process. On the other hand, this is a scary notion for some teachers who might be wary of the unintended consequences if administrators read their posts, or would refrain from sharing their virtual space with students because they are unable or unwilling to monitor this space after school hours. Hence, there needs to be new roles and new rules of educational management to regulate means, manners, and modes of learning in the realm of social networking sites.

Like teachers, students are required to assume certain roles to regulate the learning process that takes place online. Thornburg (2002) suggests a new set of student skills in this new school, which includes:

  1. Being comfortable with ambiguity
  2. Accepting the concept of lifelong learning
  3. Focusing on the big picture rather than isolated facts
  4. Mastering the discipline of improvisational skills
  5. Accepting the fact that information has a short shelf life
  6. Technological fluency is critical
  7. Developing self-directed learning awareness
  8. Learning and using the skill of collaboration and teamwork (p. 36-42)

There is a need to allow not only a top-down but also a bottom-up kind of interaction in the learning process. The definition of the word “instruction” has become debatable because it indicates that the knowledge is usually imparted from the instructor (the giver) to the receptor (the student), which is no longer always the case. There is a tendency to understand the learning process as an activity of negotiating and allocating knowledge shared by both teachers and students who currently coexist in a hierarchy-less context. In other words, new technologies have transformed the politics of learning. As a result, social media has given students an opportunity to be closer to the source of knowledge and have the ability to receive the knowledge in multiple forms. But, in return, students are required to develop more complex critical thinking skills to assess resources and to judge authenticity and suitability of data. Consequently, both the teachers and the students need to be flexible to adapt, transform, and manage the learning process, which is an extremely unpredictable process. Hence, surprises and changeable learning objectives may become the norm, while consistency and predictability may become old fashioned. Such a process requires both brave teachers and students.


Accepting technologies needs courage, but courage needs acceptance. Nevertheless, it may be difficult and risky to accept an environment that is currently not fully defined and is still changing.

This article has attempted to summarize the concerns and issues that govern and control teacher-student interaction in the virtual world and the new forms of teacher-student collaboration. The metamorphosis of education is inevitable. It started with the evolving of the Brave New Students who will continue to acknowledge the importance of technology and social networking. With time, better policies, and more teacher training, more Brave New Teachers will embrace the movement and lead research that can help define these new pedagogical communication channels. This change and courage are two sides of the same coin, but it needs a brave hand to flip the coin.


Kaufmann, R., & Lane, D. (2014). Examining communication privacy management in the middle school classroom: Perceived gains and consequences. Educational Research, 56(1), 13–27.

The Manitoba Teachers’ Society. (n.d.). Smartphones, tablets and other devices in the classroom. Retrieved from

McBride, M. C., & Wahl, S. T. (2005). “To say or not to say?” Teachers’ management of privacy boundaries in the classroom. Texas Speech Communication Journal, 30, 8–22.

Preston, J. (2011, December 17). Rules to stop pupil and teacher from getting too social online. New York Times. Retrieved from

Thornburg, D. (2002). The new basics: Education and the future of work in the Telematic Age. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Kareen Sharawy has an MA in teaching English as a foreign language from London Metropolitan University, United Kingdom. Currently an instructor and a coordinator at York University English Language Institute-Canada, Ms. Sharawy has also worked as a trainer and a teacher coordinator with AMIDEAST and other organizations in many USAID-funded programs and delivered training in a variety of test-preparation courses for the past 10 years. Her research interests include innovation in classroom teaching, test-preparation courses, and using technology.

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