Should students and professors be Facebook friends?

(Learning as I go: Trying to figure out why I can’t get my photo to show on the site.)

A colleague has asked for my thoughts on my use of Facebook and how we balance having students as “friends.” Good question.

In a nutshell, I have found that maintaining relationships with students on Facebook is no different than other ways of communicating with them. We have a million ways to reach our students — email, phone, direct conversation — and the important aspect is the message, not the medium. Facebook as a medium allows quicker contact and to multiple users at the same time.

I’ve been using FB regularly for eight months now and have found that it’s a fun and useful social tool. Yes, social. I do very few academic things on Facebook, mostly for my personal sanity — once I leave work, I need to leave it behind for a while.

So the messages I send on Facebook are generally personal. I have found that, in general, the same messages I send to my high school classmates and work colleagues are as fitting for my students. There’s very little that I need to hide from my students. Anything that isn’t suitable for a mass communication method like Facebook is sent using some other medium.

The use of Facebook has enhanced the relationships I have with students I have as “friends.” I have to be careful, yes, but no more so than with casual conversations with them at school. In other words, it’s just another way of communicating with them and you have to be cautious. Facebook allows me to know what’s important in my students’ world: latest songs, where they hang out, who’s dating who, etc. I thought “friending” them would dilute my authority, but it hasn’t. It has actually made for stronger relationships because they can see that I care about them beyond the classroom.  I’ve yet to have to retract or backtrack from a comment I’ve made or seen on Facebook.  But I’ve come close.

The toughest situations for me with students who look up to me as a personal (opposed to professional) mentor. I have to be careful not to allow myself to get too personally involved and attached. When a student is rattling on about a bad relationship, I have to let it go without comment in order to avoid crossing an ethical line, a line that I’ve established for myself.

facebookfriendsOne student made a conscious decision not to friend any of his instructors until after he graduated. I respect that decision and maybe more students should follow his lead. At that age it’s not as easy to censor yourself on Facebook and they aren’t as aware of the more global impact a simple message might have on their lives. They want to talk about their Thursday night drinking binges and that might not be the best information for their instructors—or anyone—to have about them. But again, FB is just another carrier of the message.

Overall, I have enjoyed having students as friends on Facebook. I learn interesting things about their lives, which I apply more in the aggregate, to the general student population, than to each student specifically. I can keep up on music and clothing trends, latest hot

spots in town, when they have big tests coming up. It also lets them see other sides of me, which I think is good for them — to see that their instructors are defined by more than just what they do in the classr

oom. There is very little that I censor from my students. Any message I feel is not good for them is probably a message I would prefer to hide from all my Facebook friends.

Facebook has been good for my teacher-student relationships. Any problems that may result would be as a result of the message itself, not the medium that carried that message.

WHAT I’VE LEARNED: Place the cursor where you want to insert the photo. Repositioning the image later is not easy and is best done in HTML view.

My Facebook friends include many of my students.

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