Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this blog are entirely our own and not necessarily those of our employer or any other occupational therapist.

Friday, 6 July 2007

Occupational therapy education and social networking - an issue of disclosure?

Today I have been skimming the social networking services including facebook, myspace and bebo in order to assess their potential in OT education (if any). In order to do this I have had to register, and provide details about myself that can be seen by others - this made me very feel uncomfortable, so much so that I gave it some consideration.

Throughout my career, the concept of professionalism has been of paramount importance. I have views on what is and isn't professional and my colleagues share some but not all of these opinions. What we do agree on however, is that there are differences between our professional self and our personal self. Generally we keep our private lives private from students and clients and personal information remains personal. In order to join myspace though, I had to give my date of birth and other "personal" details. Do I want my students to know I am XX years old? Or that I listen to XX obsessively on my ipod? On facebook I had to decide whether or not to be "friends" with a number of students already registered. How do you say no politely? I don't consider it to be professional to be friends with our students (although I do hope I am friendly).

I was amazed at the level of personal detail provided to the general public by occupational therapists. Is it OK to tell the world you hate your job when the "world" might be one of your clients?". Is it OK to tell the world that you couldn't go to work due to a monumental hangover when the "world" might be your boss? And the classic for me is the student who tells the world that they didn't really miss an OT exam because they were ill, but because they didn't get out of bed! In this case the world could just be their tutor!

My inclination is to deregister and therefore anonymize myself immediately, yet I know that in order for virtual communication to be effective, those involved have to seem very human in order to counteract the sterility of the computer. I don't think I have ascertained the value of social networking in relation to formal CPD and education, but can see that it has a role for informal support and networking. Those of you who have given this matter some thought, or who have more experience that me please comment - I'm open to persuasion.

22 comments:

Kirsty said...

This really is a whole new world! My main comment at the moment is that the background to the blog seems too dark, especially with all this rain, it would be nice to have something a bit more cheery!
Other than that I'm waiting to see how useful a blog is in practical terms, what use are they really??

Merrolee said...

Hi Sarah
I've finally made it back to your blog - had a blog hiatus while I payed attention to family needs. I also realised how much the evenings gave me the time to cruise the net, put postings on my blog, and post on others... hmm!!! Is this a problem,? But then....if I kept a journal of any sort, I'd probably still do that in the evenings than during work time. The difference is that I sit on a laptop and submit my ideas or put my ideas on others..

But.... to get back to your topic of posting. I too have set up in bebo, myspace, and facebook (well I think I'm in all three....) and have had to rethink my thoughts about being more 'out there' than I have been previously. I wondered why this might feel a little uncomfortable and have come up with the following..

I think we spend a lot of time as students and new graduates learning to divide our personal from our professional selves. Although we actually don't do that - we know in practice that much of our personal beliefs, values and attitudes shape what we do with our clients. What we are careful to do with certain groups of clients is to make sure that we do not share information that comprises either their safety or our safety.

When we move into education perhaps we bring through with us this notion - but do we need to? What is wrong with students knowing our ages, or whether you are an obsessive listener to your iPod.
So while I know and understand to keep parts of our personal lives separate from our professional lives when working with clients, why is this an issue at the academic level?

This would be good to talk about further. Do we keep the personal/professional separate as a form of power - I can know quite a lot about you the student..but you do not need to know anything about me?

Why is it important to keep that distance? How does being 'professional' make a difference to the quality of the learning experience we offer? Yet we know that relationships are important in a learning environment..

What is the difference between being 'friendly' in a class or the corridor, and saying yes to 'sharing' some or all of your information on bebo or facebook? Do you behave any differently in the online environment than you would face to face? For example if someone said 'hi - how are you' in the corridor - would you ignore them politely as you are acting professionally? Or if you were aware a student had an exciting holiday and was sharing photos in class and it was still five minutes before the class was due to start- would you say - no I can't or won't look at these photos because it is not professional? (this is not meant to be personal.. I'm just trying to tease out the values, meanings we give to words such as friendly, friends etc)

I guess I'm asking what is the meaning of the word 'friend' in the online world versus the face to face world?

While I don't set about creating a firm friendship with every student I happen to teach, I have become good friends with some who have gone through our programme. Dunedin is small, we see our students in our personal lives - we may play against them in netball, see them at the gym, run into them while shopping, be served by them in the cafe....so they can know quite a bit about me... as I can about them? What problems does this create? Or is this divide between us a creation that has come from somewhere else ... ie its a meaning, a way of acting or being divorced from its original context where distance was right??

On a much more practical level...apart from the minimum you need to set up with (eg date of birth) you can actually choose how much or how little you choose. So I tend to think about what I'd be willing to tell students face to face and that's what I put in facebook, bebo etc and no more. Do I check out others - not much - I follow up graduates of our programme though - I definitely view them as colleagues and am interested in what they are doing, what is happening for them, where they are working etc etc...

Now the second half of your posting I would totally agree with.... At all times we represent our profession - I too wonder about the message we give when we denigrate the profession in public... its like walking out in front of a croweded outpatient waiting room and saying - OT sucks... don't bother staying! But I'm not sure the people who write these types of postings have quite thought through the implications of saying publicly online what they wouldn't say publicly face to face!

I do like your last comment - what contribution does social networking have in relation to professional development.. my question to start off is... what do people usually find as the most valuable about conferences - its the morning and afternoon teas - why ? Its the opportunity to connect with others who are in the same practice areas - to catch up to share... etc etc... the virtual world is like being at a conference every day!!!
I will find you some literature though that also encourages us to think about knowledge acquisition as being more than listening to the content expert talking talking talking!!!

Okay.. thats a long comment for tonight.... look forward to some more discussion!

Merrolee said...

For Kirsty

To answer your question - think about the value of journals as a reflective tool - a blog is the same, but has the added value, or not of having others read your reflections, be stimulated by these, and be able to contribute to your thoughts - so like a group reflective journal.

If you are interested in knowing more about why people find them valuable - just check out the very active blogs maintained by some well known educators such as George Siemens or Stephen Downes - you will see how their ideas are shaped by the people who contribute to their blog - just as could happen in real life. the difference with the virtual world - is its easier to find people interested in the same things as you!

Sarah said...

Hi Merrollee,
Thanks for your comments, they were particularly timely as I have been preparing to write about blogging and reflection, and how reflection can be deepened through consideration of the perspectives of others. This is a good example of deepening my reflections on this issue as it leads me to consideration of the nature of professionalism in eduction.

Firstly, I think that the term "professional" means different things to different people. I belive that professional behaviour is that which reflects the norms and values of ones role, and demonstrates actions that are commensurate with these. As a tutor I therefore believe that I must understand (to the best of my ability and based on knowledge and experience)when self disclosure may or may not be relevant in the interest of the student experience.

In discussing the "personal self" as opposed to the professional self, I am aknowledging that I prefer some aspects of my life to be private, in this case from students, but also maybe from colleagues or even friends depending on the circumstances. (This makes me sound as if I have a very intrriguing life - I dont really!)

This could be interpreted as creating a power imbalance between educator and student, but what benefit would knowledge of a tutors personal life bring to the student/tutor relationship? Yes, it may help to foster a pleasant working relationship, to humanise the tutor and make him or her more approachable, and yes a chat on the corridor or viewing photographs may assist in this developing such a rapport. I would however, consider such actions to be professional use of self rather than personal, much in the same way as developing a theraputic relationship with the aim of supporting a client to achieve their goals.

And for me, this is the crux of the issue. It is about the student, and their journey. My role is to support them in being the best OT's they can be, and at times that involves making difficult decisions about the standard of their work or practice. These decisions may be more difficult to make and to receive if one has become personally or emotionally involved with a student, as may inevitably happen when the boundries of personal and profesional have been crossed.

But, it strikes me also that cultural influences may be at play here too. Salford is a large city University, and students come from all over the UK. The sense of student/tutor community you describe is not generally evident here, even though some staff live near to the workplace. I can understand it would be difficult to maintain professional "distance" with students who may be friends or aquaintainces in other settings.

I think it would be really interesting to hear from students on this issue, what do they consider to be professional in a lecturer/ How much of the "personal" do they want to see or hear? I'll brace myself for the response!

Merrolee said...

Hi Sarah
Your comments are very useful in considering this role. Culture I'm sure also comes into this in terms of how we might differently define professional and personal. You have a clear differentiation between personal and professional.. and so what I see as a personal sharing you place in a professional context - which is fine - its just a different viewpoint and my thinking perhaps reflects a more inclusive culture that NZ is moving towards, or my own values of having worked for many years in education???

As you note, being friendly isn't about full disclosure of everything in your life - I have friends who know many details about me, and friends who know less about me - facebook and the like is the same - I know who might access that information and I choose what I would share - just as I choose what I would share when I first meet someone...as you also point out....

You also say...

"but what benefit would knowledge of a tutors personal life bring to the student/tutor relationship?"... and my response is.. to turn that around as you do in research - what loss happens if they know you only as a professional person? Yes we do have difficult decisions to make at times, but thats why we have preassessment moderation, post assessment moderation etc etc and all number of policies to ensure fair assessment. Its also why we engage in supervision..

A thought - can we ever have two selves - our professional and our personal.. for me they are very much intertwined.. so I embrace this and use other mechanisms to ensure my safety and the safety of the students.

Another thought - if we are aiming to create a community of practice as in a community of scholars - then inevitably we share more than just our knowledge, we share something of ourselves. virtual communities 'push' this sharing along!

I think its really important to consider where does this need to be 'professional'come from = this need to divorce knowing about someone so that knowing them doesn't influence the decisions we make... just as we have challenged the medical model in health... I'm wondering if there isn't something here about paternalism, ways of acting, or being scientific.. that shapes our relationships with students. I could of course be way of tangent here but as I get older (oh dear.. makes me sound ancient and I'm still in my 40's).... I am more and more fascinated about what shapes our behaviours and our values!

I would love to see some student comments on this topic- and will alert the two American students who are active bloggers to check out this posting. I will also add you to my blog and bloglines - I've had a blogging holiday and now need to catch up!!!

Occupational Therapy Otago said...

Professionalism for me is about the person’s skills to do the job, their competence and their character - attributes such as honesty, integrity, fairness etc. The debate appears to be more one of what is the appropriate level of disclosure/sharing. I see that we share information all the time in society – we keep safe by choosing our levels of disclosure in all of our relationships, clients and students are some of those relationships. Sharing is an integral part of society, it enables us to make links with people, and build rapport. It is how we show that people matter i.e. that you appreciate their views, stances and opinions– thus giving them respect, reinforcing self-identity etc. In doing so your world becomes richer and so does theirs.

As a health professional and now an educator I think it is important that any sharing/disclosure doesn’t take away from the primary focus of the client you are working with or the students you are teaching, e.g. a client or student shouldn’t be put in a position of being worried about you or providing you with support. It is also important to be careful that you don’t put yourself in a position where you could be taken advantage of or that you could take advantage of the client, their family or a student e.g. talking about a plumbing problem that needs fixing when the child you are treating’s Dad is a plumber- he may feel obligated to help. It is also important particularly for therapists to know when to adapt and change your level of disclosure for their own safety. There are studies that show that people working in metal health settings have to be particularly careful.

I think Merrolee’s would you say it to their face test – re online information is a great way of keeping yourself safe and being drawn into the webs seeming anonymity. When working with students in a face to face situation applying the “how would I feel if they repeated this to other students, my peers or my boss test” can be helpful.
We all have different levels of private self and that’s what makes the world and this debate interesting.

Occupational Therapy Otago said...

Professionalism for me is about the person’s skills to do the job, their competence and their character - attributes such as honesty, integrity, fairness etc. The debate appears to be more one of what is the appropriate level of disclosure/sharing. I see that we share information all the time in society – we keep safe by choosing our levels of disclosure in all of our relationships, clients and students are some of those relationships. Sharing is an integral part of society, it enables us to make links with people, and build rapport. It is how we show that people matter i.e. that you appreciate their views, stances and opinions– thus giving them respect, reinforcing self-identity etc. In doing so your world becomes richer and so does theirs.

As a health professional and now an educator I think it is important that any sharing/disclosure doesn’t take away from the primary focus of the client you are working with or the students you are teaching, e.g. a client or student shouldn’t be put in a position of being worried about you or providing you with support. It is also important to be careful that you don’t put yourself in a position where you could be taken advantage of or that you could take advantage of the client, their family or a student e.g. talking about a plumbing problem that needs fixing when the child you are treating’s Dad is a plumber- he may feel obligated to help. It is also important particularly for therapists to know when to adapt and change your level of disclosure for their own safety. There are studies that show that people working in metal health settings have to be particularly careful.

I think Merrolee’s "would you say it to their face test" – re online information is a great way of keeping yourself safe and from being drawn into the webs seeming anonymity. When working with students in a face to face situation applying the “how would I feel if they repeated this to other students, my peers or my boss test” can be helpful.
We all have different levels of private self and that’s what makes the world and this debate interesting.

Sarah said...

Hi Everyone,
Thanks for all your comments - they have prompted many discussions in amongst our team! Jackie, I think you have hit the nail on the head in relation to disclosure and choice - I guess I felt I didn't have much choice on the networking sites if I were to engage fully with the concept. Still would love student views??? Go on, you know you want to......

Merrolee said...

Hi Sarah
Have started rounding up some students and pointing them in the direction of your post.... would be interested to hear a summary of your colleagues discussions that have been prompted by the posting and our responses - this is the wonderful value of blogs - conversations that might have been kept between people in one place get shared much more widely which helps all of us to learn!

Cathie said...

I'm not a student yet, but I can certainly see how it can be difficult to maintain an appropriate level of professionalism within the student/ tutor relationship. I suppose as students, we need to learn as much about keeping adequate boundaries with clients as we do the practical skills of OT - and I suppose we learn those from our educators.

I've seen through my previous studies how an element of self in the delivery of lessons and teaching can be invaluable. I distinctly remember a Psychology tutor telling a story of how she doesn't like choc ices in order to illustrate classical conditioning, and I think I remember more about that specifically because it was related as a personal story (whether or not it was is another matter!!)

I think in terms of such sites as facebook, it's a very different thing altogether. While I do have an account at the moment, I certainly won't be keeping it when I've qualified, because if I've googled teachers or doctors of mine at times in my life, then at some point someone will google me. I'm also aware (now, particularly with the recent news that Oxford have been fining students based on photos found on facebook et al) that when posting photographs and thoughts on the internet, you still have to have the same sense of responsibility as if you were posting in a local newspaper.

Not that there are (m)any debauched photographs of me online anywhere, of course!


The other point I wanted to address was what kirsty said about what use a blog can have. I'd like to echo merrolee's thoughts about using it as a reflective tool, and for me personally, I find the recent upsurge of interest in blogging from an O.T perspective incredibly interesting- it's hard enough to find out information about the profession as it is, and hearing from the people who actually work within it is a valuable way to find out what it's really about.

I apologise for the slight waffling here, I'm not sure if I've been very clear in expressing my meaning at all. sorry if that's the case.

Sarah said...

Hi Again,
Thanks for your comment Cathie, it is good to hear from a different perspective and your experience of the lecturers use of self is something I will bear in mind when teaching.

The Oxford situation is really interesting we were talking about this at work today. Would the students have been fined had they actually been "seen" out and about partying, as opposed to pictured partying?? Anyway, another issue I suspect, but yes, beware of what google can throw up.

I will glady summarise our team discussions Merrolle, perhaps as another post, but tonight is Friday and a glass of wine and trashy TV beckons. Now, is that too much disclosure? I'll risk it...

Merrolee said...

Hi Sarah

Too much disclosure - hmm I think not! Just gives a sense of the person behind the text..

I'm well curious about the Oxford situation - is it possible to post a URL to say a news article or something like that? Reading between the lines - it would appear that students have been fined for sharing photos etc taken from a party online in very public ways????

Facebook thought I had the other day - did you know there are about 5 or so occupational therapy groups in Facebook -but maybe you do as that would be where you saw the negative comments about OT in a public forum perhaps?

Anyway - Saturday morning activities beckon....will continue to round up students and point them in the direction of your posting Sarah... which also raises an interesting point - would you have had this conversation with students face to face - would the issue have arisen????

Sarah said...

Hi,
For information on the Oxford University and facebook position go to http://news.bbc.co.uk/l/hi/education/6902333.stm
I look forward to your thoughts.
Sarah

Occupational Therapy Otago said...

Hi you two
Just wondering whether you are off on holiday?
Looking forward to another stimulating topic
(this is a gentle poke- and encouragement to keep blogging).

Jackie

Merrolee said...

Interesting issue Sarah - managed to find the article. Is this any different from being caught on security camera's and being identified by police, arrested etc. I guess the people who caught them must have seen the recordings on Facebook. So the issue is about accessing what is held privately?? as opposed to security cameras that capture the public activity in the public domain?

Sarah said...

Hi Guys,
Yes, on holiday, and storing up ideas for future blogs. Am hoping that the salford OT team team will contribute to the blog too in the new Semester, at the moment we are all l pretty tired and out of stimulating ideas!
Thanks for all the support and comments - we will be back with a vengence in late August/early September.
Sarah

Jackie Taylor said...

Am I too late to join in this conversation?
My name is Jackie too, but I'm not Otago Jackie, I'm Salford Jackie!
Just a quickie.
I've been an OT educator for a long time, and I know that the way I relate to students now is different to when I first started teaching.
That very statement could actually be unpacked in lots of different ways, but this is the part I will focus on ...
I think that to know me, a student doesn't need to know what I did at the weekend, or what my partner is called. (As it happens, these things may well be used in a lecture, if they will serve to illustrate a point). What is most important for me is that a student finds me approachable, honest, non-judgemental, respectful and knowledgable. If they encounter these qualities in me, then they will know me, and get the best deal from me, professionally and educationally. I reckon I get paid to give the last and the first of the qualities on that list. being honst, respectful and non-judgemental are about being a professional human being. All of those qualities are about providing a good education for students and being a professional role-model.
I really like many of the students who pass through our classrooms (80 a year is a lot of personalities!) but I will not aim to be too friendly, or know too much about their personal lives, because I want to remain clear-headed and impartial when I assess their abilities as students and trainee professionals.
But I guess, each educator, as each OT, has a different approach, and students certainly benefit from being exposed to a range of styles. I know that I did, all those years ago!

Karen said...

I am a first year OT student in the US. I personally would LOVE to see more US OT educators (not that there is anything wrong with international ones), because it really helps me to know my professors are human. It helps me to know that professors aren't magical beings who just suddenly know everything. They are real people, but it is easy to forget that! I really love learning more about my professors - they will be my future colleagues. I agree with Merrolee that the litmus test should be "would you say it to your face". Like, I don't need to know how much beer you drink - but I do like to know you enjoy watching TV and that your child fell on his bike the other day and that you like strawberries and that your favorite OT story was X, Y, Z. Whatever.

I think virtual communities can be extremely helpful in promoting inclusion/unity...as long as they are used "professionally" only in the sense that you would not put anything on there you wouldn't want everyone to know.

This probably isn't the most coherent response, but I have about ten thousand projects going on so I'm only using about .0003% of my brain power. Sorry!

I love your blog, by the way - not sure how I have missed seeing it!

Angela said...

Hi Karen
Thanks for adding to our blog - even in the face of so many projects! I think the fact that this blog has stimulated thoughts and discussions amongst our professional community here in the UK, in NZ and USA begins to demonstrate the potential of the VLE to establish a wider professional community. Maybe you could persuade some of the educators on your own programme to set up a blog (or comment on this one?). Good luck with your studies and keep blogging

jaya said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
andy@yphealth said...

I can underdstand your reticence to become involved in the social networking sphere. I definitely feel that people in general are far too liberal with the details that they give out about themselves on these sites.

Although im no expert, what i feel would benefit you as professionals would be to set up a private network or group within these sites. That would enable you to converse with some like minded people, rather than the general community. You would also have complete control as to who joins the group.

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