I have always tried to incorporate social media and networking sites for educational purposes during my time here in Korea. While I was in Daegu, Facebook wasn’t very Korean-friendly, and not too many of my friends were brave enough to apply for a profile. KakaoTalk and KakaoStory were Korean alternatives, and they sprang up while I was in Gangneung.
Traditional teachers might balk at using social media, or engaging students with it. As a foreign language teacher, I’d hardly classify my job as ‘traditional’, so these kinds of tools are right up my alley. An EFL teacher’s job is to help bridge the gap between two cultures, and it probably wouldn’t be wise to outright dismiss some of the most powerful tools to do exactly that.
With that being said, it’s still important to have some basic guidelines to govern the nature of the interactions. Social media can get awfully personal, and having your inner social circles suddenly thrust upon unsavvy students may result in… shenanigans.
Social media is split between different degrees of privacy. You can choose to make it public, or you may choose to keep things restricted to a set of people. Always be aware of the fact that anything you post online can find its way into the hands of people who may react strongly to it. If it’s online, it’s never safe from prying eyes. Always keep that in mind when you post something; it could be your employer who’s doing the reading. You’d think that would be common sense, but you’d be surprised by how many people on an EFL visa in Korea lose their jobs over internet shenanigans.
My stance on Facebook has shifted over time. Initially, I would add my students in Daegu if they made the plunge. These were high school and university students, so they had a certain level of inherent maturity. When I came to Gangneung, I didn’t add students off the bat. I did if they had graduated from our middle school, but I eventually ended up deleting them all. For many years, I had a ‘three months’ rule. If I didn’t correspond with someone in a three month span, they would get deleted from Facebook, and that eventually happened with the handful of students who had added me.
For the longest time, that was fine. KakaoStory had been my go-to service for connecting with the students. While the number of my Facebook friends dipped to 48, my KakaoStory run up to a thousand. KakaoStory recently fell out of favour for many of the older Korean teens, and they jumped ship to Facebook. This resulted in dozens of students trying to befriend me on my most personal social media platform. I would deny them, and sometimes point out to my Crimson North Facebook page. Eventually, I came to a workaround.
Initially I told my students that if they wanted to add me on Facebook, they could “follow” me. That way, they would only have access to the information I had made public (basically my profile picture and cover photo. Up to that point, I wasn’t uploading posts that had public privacy settings). I experimented with making my Instagram uploads public and seeing how things went with that. Many would still try to add me, but I would delete their requests.
After graduation, I decided to make use of lists. You can make friend lists on Facebook, and then restrict what certain lists can see. I’ve been using them for years, but still didn’t want to make one for my students, as it’s a hassle to change the settings of each upload to be invisible to a specific list. However, there is one list that does this automatically for you, and is a default option. It’s the ‘restricted’ list. Anyone on this list can only see your public info, despite being a friend. It’s nearly the same thing as someone following you, but under the guise of being ‘Facebook friends’. So far 100 students have been added, which leaves about 1400 to go.
Why not just make them full-fledged Facebook friends? Because I post polarizing stories half the time, and the students don’t need to be exposed to them. I’ve seen people use platforms to push stuff onto students, and that’s not the kind of person I am. I’ve seen students shift core beliefs to move them in line with people they respect. With the number of foreign adults on their friends list, any views I espouse will be magnified.
My friends also shouldn’t worry about censoring themselves if they engage me in a discussion. If they want to be frank on an issue, then they shouldn’t worry about being taken out of context by a student. A lot of headaches can be avoided by putting minors on a restricted Facebook list.
I actually have been the admin for our school’s Facebook page, though. I accidentally created it when I added it to my jobs, so I quickly moved to make it the official one for the school. For the longest time, I didn’t post anything to it, because I didn’t want to step on any toes and overstep my ‘jurisdiction’. Now, one of the math teachers is also an admin, so I’m a little more relaxed about posting stuff using that page (largely done in English… or simplified Korean). I didn’t want to use it to promote the awesomeness of Zackary Downey, but when the students started demanding I share the YouTube videos I made at school functions, I acquiesced. All of this took place at the very end of the school year in 2014, and if I were staying another full year I would definitely expand on the school’s Facebook page. I would use it to post event updates, general well-wishes, and probably even contests.
Twitter was popular in Korea before Facebook made it big here. Some of my students do have their own Twitter accounts, and have added my Crimson North one. The number who have can’t be larger than a dozen, though. Maybe only one has ever tried to have a conversation with me on it, although some are prone to favouriting tweets every now and again (usually my YouTube videos).
Unlike Facebook, everything I post on Twitter is public, and I don’t worry about offending sensibilities, or being too negative. Twitter’s a different platform compared to Facebook, and it requires a different identity and mindset. Whereas Facebook is primarily about connecting with friends and family, Twitter is the place where you talk about society, politics, art, and the rest, into the maelstrom that is the internet.
I have never specifically used Twitter to connect with students. EFL is all about language, and Twitter is a little restrictive with its character limit. I’ve used it in class by having students examine specific Tweets, but usually nothing more than that. Twitter gives you a very focused canvas, which is okay for university or other advanced students. When it comes to middle school students though, it would be more productive to use a different platform.
I have used Google+ to great effect, believe it or not. It’s an excellent alternative to Facebook. On Facebook, 99% of the time I don’t add people whom I have never met in person. My Google+ is open to the public, and some of the students’ parents have added me to their circles over the years. Like Twitter, though, I don’t censor it, and my views are readily apparent. Usually if I think I am posting too many depressing news stories on Facebook, I’ll shunt them over to Google+.
When it comes to the students, I have used Google+’s excellent community-making abilities for my after school classes (particularly the debating ones). I made one for each class, and I would use it to share information with the students and answer questions, or give homework assignments.
Google+ is also connected with YouTube, so if you wanted to do some livestreaming with a school in another country, it would be very easy to do.
My Google+ stuff with the students was cut off from the public, though. Very high privacy settings, so the general public couldn’t get into the communities. I also restricted access to students who weren’t members in the classes. It also helps that many students (or people) don’t use their Google+ profiles despite many already having them.
YouTube has been a massive part of my teaching methods since the very early days of Daegu. I’d frequently use videos in my lessons, and here in Gangneung, my Prezis are chock-full of short videos to illustrate a point. I would also use my YouTube channel to interview my students, and have people halfway across the globe respond. And of course, with EPIK, I’ve used my channel to show real student interactions in, and outside, the classroom.
When I first got started with the students in Gangneung, they were wary of the video camera. At the time, the NEAT exam was the next big thing, so I made sure to use the camera as often as possible, to accustom them to speaking into one. As years went by, my YouTube channel became a ‘thing’, and eventually the students started demanding I film them. This led the school to make sure I was well-looked after during events, and the like, so I could shoot stuff and upload it to the channel (where parents would also watch the videos and comment on them).
One of the things I made sure on YouTube was to never let my stuff become too famous, due to how often I feature my students on it. I’m also very aggressive with policing the comments and will ban people without thinking twice. I don’t let trolls muck up a good thing, and the same goes for overzealous nationalists.
Some of my students do have their own channels, and many have subscribed to mine. I don’t really interact with them on the platform though. I operate YouTube under my Crimson North label, and like Twitter or the Facebook page, there’s a wall that goes up. It helps prevent the students from becoming targets from some of the more unsavoury individuals lurking online.
KakaoTalk is an instant messaging program, and I use it every day. Not necessarily with my students as frequently, but it’s an essential app in Korea. In Daegu I would give my phone number to my students, because we did a lot together. In Gangneung, I was wary with handing it out to over 900 students at a time, so I used my Kakao ID instead. It was easier to block people on Kakao than it was to apply for a new phone number because people you didn’t wish to communicate with had gotten ahold of it.
The students use KakaoTalk to ask me questions concerning school stuff, and not really to chat. Things like test coverage areas, homework, speech competitions, and the like are the regular reasons for correspondence. Usually I have a rule along the lines of “I will not respond to anything sent to me after 9PM”, but I bend it from time to time.
KakaoStory is like Facebook or Google+. I used it to engage with students on a personal level through photos and status updates. It worked really well until most of the older students quit it en masse, and the younger ones just used it to spam diet photos and fashion accessories (or a million links to Ask Me sites). I still use it, but it’s usually my older Korean friends who try to connect with me through it.
I’ve had the students make fake corporate blogs in the past as part of an after school class. Many of my students have blogs of their own, but I don’t frequent very many of them, unless its uploaded art they produce. I’ve often promoted blogging as a good way to work on writing skills.
However, when it comes down to it, I don’t communicate to the students through blogging platforms, and they have rarely reached out to me through blogs. Many students, and coworkers, over the years have read this blog. While I am very vocal in my diatribes, I’ve made no effort to conceal this site from their eyes (it was part of my resume when I applied to EPIK). All of my YouTube videos have a link to this website as well. If you’re a person with a relatively large enough online presence, and don’t use an anonymous handle, it’s a very fine line to walk. You have to really be on your game to make sure you don’t tick off the wrong people.
While I didn’t conceal my blog, I made it a little more difficult to find from certain segments of the online world, while in Gangneung. I gummed things up a little bit so it wouldn’t immediately jump out in search results, unless you were looking for certain keywords. That saved me some grief later on.
I know many people want to come to Korea, start a blog, and be a viral success. But if you’re a teacher, internet fame should take a backseat to the priority of your students. Being famous on the internet is a lot of work, especially with the amount of attacks you receive from all quarters. Teaching can be a stressful job, so the last thing you need is further complications. Korea also doesn’t practice free speech, and the anti-defamation laws can be a real headache if you don’t know what you’re doing. The last thing you need is to make your students targets of some keyboard warrior a dozen time zones away.
[Featured image from https://www.flickr.com/photos/wilgengebroed/]