Friday, February 5, 2016

Teaching and Trust

There appears to be two camps when it comes to delighting in the failures or faux-pas activities of students. This concept is best seen in the vogue for publishing Exam Howlers. See for example this list of 32 howlers.

Now, you either think these are hilarious or you can see the more destructive side to this activity. Sjoerd Levent (follow @slevent) has led the campaign to stop news sources from reporting this shaming of students. I firmly sit in the camp that sees the publication of these "howlers" are very worrying. Some educators are gleefully entering into a competition to see which of their students should be openly and publicly mocked and shamed the most.

I have taught at numerous levels, from high school to undergraduate, and the number one thing that you want to develop with your students is trust. Trust that what is discussed within the confines of the classroom stays there. Trust that answers in examinations remain private and confidential. Building that trust and respect is paramount, yet the activities of educators who extract "howlers" from exam papers and send them into competitions chips away at that trust.

Furthermore, the Guardian newspaper's website features a blog from the 'Anonymous Academic' whose recent post further helps to erode the trust between students and teachers. It extracts large chunks from students emails with teachers, and openly invites readers to join in the mocking and derision. Yet, while the anonymity of the author is protected, that of the students is not. While their name may not be attached, they would easily be able to identify themselves.

You can read the blog post here. And if you disagree with this behaviour, do tweet your comments to @GdnHigherEd.

It claims concerns about the influence of social media on the communication inabilities of students to discern what is appropriate or inappropriate. Yet, the irony is that the 'Anonymous Academic' similarly cannot distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate behaviour. The internet age and social media has facilitated a culture which allows some educators to think that it is acceptable to publicly share students comments, private communications, and exam answers. It claims a veneer of anonymity for the student which in reality is not there.

As an educator, I cannot claim to never have talked about funny things students have written or said. No one is perfect. Educators have a stressful job and need to let off steam every now and again. However, that steam should be let off in the confines of the staff room, in the privacy of your our home, over drinks with other teachers. It should only happen behind closed doors and away from the earshot of students. 

Transferring that to the internet is a dangerous step, and one which undermines the trust students should have in us. And if we want students to respect us, we must also respect them, not publicly mock or deride them.

I want the Guardian newspaper to remove that post and acknowledge that the anonymity of students is equal to that of the academic.

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