Random Thoughts

Who Chooses the Communication Tool?

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   by Florian SEROUSSI

Over this past school year my wife and I have slowly been watching a change in the way her Middle School students communicate with her. It has me thinking that we no longer get to decide the communication tool for a conversation. 

It started back in September when my wife received an e-mail from Facebook via a student. My wife is not friends with any students on Facebook but that didn’t and hasn’t stopped them from sending her messages about school. The first time it happened we laughed and my wife was a bit freaked out. But over the course of the year it’s been happenings more and more. Kids, who are always on Facebook, and using it like e-mail decided it was OK to contact their school counselor that way…and is it?

A counselors role is to be available to their students in time of need and crisis. Do we really care how they contact their counselor? What program or method they use? I sure don’t and even though at first it freaked my wife out she’s coming to terms with the fact that this is e-mail for the kids, this is how they have decided to communicate and we no longer control the communication tools.

Then a couple weeks ago…on a Sunday….she gets a text message from a students (our school directory lists cell phone numbers of admin and counselors). Now, forgetting your homework for the weekend and texting your counselor about it on Sunday night really does not qualify as a crisis, but the fact remains that this student decided that was the communication tool they were going to use. Are we going to see more of this as well? Time will tell.

All of this has me thinking about schools and what are the communication tools we set up and are they the right tools? Do our schools need a Facebook profile so that students and increasingly parents can contact the school in that way?

I keep thinking about all the places I carry on conversations. Some initiated by me, in which I choose the tool, but most by others. Some conversations are in Twitter, some on Facebook, others in text messages, and yet others in e-mails. Sometimes a conversation crosses platforms other times it stays in the original form factor. 

So the question becomes should every counselor be required to have a Facebook page?

How about Teachers?

Who decides?

I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.


  1. Karen janowski Reply


    I think you have pointed out another paradigm shift that has naturally occurred. In the past, once you left the school building, there was no expectation of an ability to communicate with your teachers. You had to wait until you were actually face to face.

    Now, in the digital age of anytime, anywhere, everyone expects to connect with family, friends, colleagues or acquaintances whenever the need arises.

    It seems logical that students would have thar expectation as well, doesn’t it? It’s the world we’ve given them.

  2. if i have a question/notice for my students…
    and i text them.. i get probably 95% response within 1 minute.
    and i facebook them.. probably 90% response within the day.
    and i email them… probably 10% response within the week.

    most of my students text me if they want to communicate. facebook me if they want me to see something.

    (the %’s above are a gut feeling here in the early morning.. but i bet they are pretty darn close.)

    as always.. great thinking/post Jeff.
    thank you.

  3. Jeff,

    Your post raises an interesting tension I think. Here are caricatures of the two extreme positions I see.

    We should require students to learn proper (ie traditional) ways of communicating with others. Letters or emails should follow a proper form (like having a greeting and a closing), voice messages should be enunciated clearly (and left on office phones, not personal phones), blah blah…


    We should embrace whatever means of communication kids are using these days and evolve with them. They’re on MySpace, we should all get MySpace, they all switch to Facebook we should all switch to Facebook, they use text message, we should text them back, blah blah.

    I think both these caricatures hold some truth though. The first is that context is important. Your boss is not necessarily your friend and means of communications should be adjusted accordingly. The second is that communication tools evolve and we need to evolve with them.

    Personally, I like to judge new means of communications with respect to standards of interoperability: if gmail disappeared, would we still have email? yes. good. If Rogers disappeared, would we still have text messages? Yes, good. If Facebook disappeared, would we still have Facebook messages? Nope, oh oh…

    Twitter and Facebook are great, but they have something in common: as far as I understand, they are not federated architectures (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federated_Architecture). Identi.ca and Diaspora are though.

    I think as educators our mandate with respect to new social media is twofold: We need to learn as much as possible about emerging technologies so we can guide our students into (1) adopting technology that empowers them in the long run, and (2) help them figure out what the most appropriate use for them are.

  4. Mike Pritts Reply

    “A counselors role is to be available to their students in time of need and crisis. Do we really care how they contact their counselor?”

    Now first of all I am not a counselor, so I might be talking out of line, but my initial thought was even if our student’s need us or feel comfortable enough to contact us using a variety of communication tools, where is the line drawn between personal and professional. Not to mention where their parents or guardians are? I understand that we live in a world where every parent isn’t actually a parent, but that is where teachers and school faculty get a bad name from people who abuse the right to be contacted. That is where school faculty members get into trouble and ruins certain technologies because students feel comfortable enough to contact faculty when and where and how they would like. In my eyes I don’t think Facebook should be used as a communication tool. An email could have been sent just as easily and the same out come for your wife’s student would have occurred.
    An educational Facebook like Edmodo is a great technology tool and can be used in the same way, but I think the difference is that Edmodo has stronger firewalls and security than Facebook, if you choose to use it.

  5. Both parties have to choose the form of communication. Though I have a Facebook and Twitter account, those are not daily check ins. If you want to contact me by those methods it could be a rather long delay. Months perhaps with twitter. Email is checked daily, multiple times per day. Oddly, email will likely continue to survive for many reasons. Email has a privacy element to it, or at least much more than facebook and twitter. My personal network, not my professional network and I do not want those two realities to mix or cross at least in a wide open uncontrollable way like what happens on facebook. That would be a huge mistake because I would be opening up my own privacy.

    Basically you have to be aware of the methods of communication of the person on the other end. That is the responsibility of both parties. One party does not choose the method of communication, or if they do they may find that they won’t get through. That isn’t the teacher’s fault.

    The kids also need to realize that a personal network, and a professional network are not one in the same. In fact, it is unwise to mix the two if you care to hold your job or give a more professional appearance to your working connections. Sure a rapper or artist could pull that off but it would not work for a financial advisor for example unless the page was set up as a business page not a personal page.

  6. Great Post!
    One tragic thing is when schools set policies limiting the usage of social media between teachers and students for whatever reason. Sometimes it is a reaction to a situation, but usually it is done out of lack of knowledge. Policies like these tend to limit the communication and process of learning that can occur with students. Our students are living in this world yet, we are limited in our usage of it with them…even for learning.
    Regulating the use social media between teachers and students does not define ‘appropriate communication.’
    Appropriate communication is appropriate communication whatever the medium may be!

  7. Great article! Since I have been in education I have always given out my number and have encouraged both students and parents to call. In the 17 years that I have done this I have never had a problem. Students use my Facebook almost as much as they email me. I actually think more students use my Facebook account. I even have students that call my cell phone. Some are even protective of the number I had one student call to see if it was ok for another student to have my number. I am in favor of reaching students by any means necessary.

    Thanks for the article.

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