29/365 Initial Thoughts on Caring in Online Spaces

I’ve written extensively here about the Ethic of Care, and it’s something I’ll speak about to anyone who’ll listen.

Lately, I’ve had the chance to talk and listen to people about a quesiton that’s been jumping around my brain. Namely, how do we enact an ethic of care in online spaces?

Today, I had a conversation with a former student. She’s in college now, studying to be a teacher, and wanted some advice on what to disclose to her eventual students and what to keep private.

Her concern was driven by her experiences in school and the realization she would have benefitted greatly from an adult in her life who’d been open about being where she’d been.

She wanted to know how I’d approached similar situations in my practice.

She’s in Philadelphia.

I’m in Boulder.

What’s more, I was in class at the time.

The conversation popped up through the google voice plugin I’ve installed in Chrome.

She was texting me. I was typing back on my browser.

As I built my understanding of qualitative theory and research practices, I was also attempting to guide a future teacher in her thinking about her practice.

Somewhere in there, care resides.

She had the number because I’d created it when I was in the classroom so that I might ask kids to submit questions or responses using their phones. If they had no phones, they were able to send the text via a chat client.

She kept the number.

I’m glad she did. (I hope others did too.)

If I can continue to care for my students, let them know my care for their learning didn’t end at Day 180, I’ll leverage whatever tools possible to do that. I understand the counter-arguments to this approach. It can be abused and used for nepharious purposes. I understand this to be true. I have a hard time seeing how those who would abuse these tools are going to be convinced to stop using them because those who would use them to help students refuse to consider the tools.

If anything, this is an argument for their widespread adoption of these practices by thoughtful and caring professionals who are driven by high standards of compassion and see their work as nurturing their students in safe spaces. Without such a precence, digital environments will be devoid of care. Minus that care, danger fills in the empty spaces.

I’m still tinkering with a more unified theory of care in online spaces. The conversation today helped me to see it in action, and that observation helped me to understand the power and necessity of such connections and availability.

It also left me with questions. Would this student have recognized my care for her if we’d not interacted in face-to-face environments? Did she benefit from our conversation in the same way she would have if we’d been in the same physical space? Was the caring relation reciprocal in the same way if can be in face-to-face interactions?

I don’t have answers to the questions, but I’m glad they’re getting more specific as I look more closely at trying to understand the issue.

5 thoughts on “29/365 Initial Thoughts on Caring in Online Spaces

  1. “Without such a precence, digital environments will be devoid of care.”

    I have to agree, and even while there might be a few sideways glances or questions about “Why” we might make ourselves so available, I have to think that these come from folks who really have no idea about the general landscape of the web that we send young people into without guidance or, yes, care.

    This Unified Theory of Care in Online Spaces intrigues me greatly… maybe 30/365 will get us closer ; )

    Thanks for lobbing this out here. Always appreciate your thinking and questions, Zac.

    • Thank you, sir. I’m not sure that I’m going to have a more coherent answer in the next post, but I’m certainly wrestling with these questions and will be following up.

      Thanks for the comment, Bryan. It makes the writing easier.

  2. Mr. Chase, I enjoyed reading over your thoughts, questions and example regarding an ethic of care in online spaces. Your technological contact with a former student is admirable and highly useful in today’s world. For me, answers to these questions vary according to whether the online space is in a private or public sphere. Your private interaction was an excellent example of ethical communication. You provided an atmosphere of listening; offering your student the safety, value and freedom found in invitational rhetoric.

    As suggested by Rita Manning, the fact that you share your phone number offers a “picture of humans as essentially involved with relationships with other humans” (Johannesen, Valde, & Whedbee, 2008, p. 208). In this respect, I think private interactions are governed by traditional ethics of care. After all, face-to-face communication is but one mode.

    It is hard to imagine whether a theory of care for online public spheres can be projected from that of private spheres, but I expect it would be interesting to study. For that reason, I applaud your work toward a Unified Theory of Care in Inline Spaces and look forward to hearing more. Thank you for an interesting and enlightening article.

    Peggy Russell
    Drury University Student
    Works Cited
    Johannesen, R. L., Valde, K. S., & Whedbee, K. E. (2008). Ethics in Human Communication, 6th Edition. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, Inc.

    • Peggy, thank you for such a thoughtful comment. I’d not heard of Manning before; I’ll definitely be checking her out.

      I’d not considered the public vs. private aspects you bring up in your comment. I wonder if you could say more about whether or not you think public caring would translate. While I think you’re right that more study is necessary and will likely prove fascinating, what is your gut reaction?

      Thanks for keeping this conversation going. Looking forward to hearing from you.

      – Zac

      • Zac,
        Thank you for the kind reply. Your question immediately made me think about expressions of public care in online spaces. With the advent of smart phones and other technology it seems easier than ever for the public to reach out in terms of disasters or well-known events. In similar fashion, entrepreneurs and not-for-profits can reach investors more easily than before.

        While I think this is wonderful, I don’t think it answers your question. For an ethic of care to exist in online spaces, I believe the creator/founder of a site must be responsible for promoting that culture. Perhaps if people discontinue use of less ethical sites in preference to those that value them more, change can occur for the better. I put a lot of value in leading by example.

        Rita Manning wrote a book called Speaking from the Heart: A Feminist Perspective on Ethics. I have enjoyed learning about her ethic of care with a human nature perspective. Thanks again for the reply. Best wishes for a beautiful spring.
        ~Peggy

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