Hickman students discuss teacher-student Internet ethics at forum

Tuesday, September 27, 2011 | 10:39 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Technology might always be changing, but school board member Jonathan Sessions said laws should focus on what doesn't change — the nature of relationships between students and teachers.

Hickman High School students got the chance to voice their opinions about how they use social media to communicate with teachers outside of class at a forum called "Speak Your Mind," hosted at Hickman High School on Tuesday.

The forum featured four local panelists:

  • Jonathon Sessions, school board member and owner of Tech 2, a computer technology consultation and management firm
  • Selcen Phelps, associate professor of management information systems at Westminster College
  • Wayne Brekhus, associate professor of sociology at MU
  • Stephen Webber, Missouri state representative

Although the panelists represented a broad spectrum of specialties and backgrounds, it was clear they agreed technology is a tool that can and should be used to enhance communication and education.

Sophomore Ashwath Kumar raised a question that sparked the central theme of the evening's discussions, according to George Frissell, "Speak Your Mind" founder and coordinator and Hickman language arts teacher.

"Is technology making us a bad society?" Kumar asked. "Or are we a bad society that's using technology in a bad way?"

Panelists and students agreed many of the issues raised with emerging social communication are problems inherent in society, not problems caused by technology. Technology simply amplifies them more quickly to larger audiences, a problem that Webber said is rooted in how we educate students to use technology.

"Almost every problem we have, a better-educated society could solve it," Webber said.

Senior Mason Scott said he doesn't approach communicating online any differently than communicating in person.

"I think kids already censor themselves when they talk to teachers, regardless of medium," Scott said.

However, there might be a point when some restrictions would be appropriate, junior Zooey Brewer said.

"I dislike that we have to place limits because I think it should be clear what are appropriate relations," Brewer said. "But I feel like you do have to place limitations at some point, I just don't know what those are."

The Amy Hestir Student Protection Act sparked much of the recent conversation about social media and student-teacher communication on the Internet.

In August, two Missouri teacher's associations demanded clarification of the bill, which would limit the ways teachers could be privately contacted. An injunction filed by the Missouri State Teachers Association was granted to stall the bill's implementation before a revised version of the law passed in September's special session of the Missouri General Assembly.

The revised bill requires districts to form their own policies regarding private, electronic communication between teachers and students. Gov. Jay Nixon has yet to sign the bill into law.

Hickman's next "Speak Your Mind" forum is scheduled for Oct. 26 and will give students the opportunity to discuss the economy.

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