What are the pros and cons of having teachers use Facebook with students?

Posted by Debby on 15th December and posted in Cultivating Communities, Social Media

In October, a Pepperdine colleague of mine asked this question via Facebook Questions. There were several responses, including one that said her “general opinion about students and teachers being friends on Facebook is pretty similar to my opinion about students and teachers sleeping together: not if you’re currently in his/her class or if you plan to be at any time in the future.”

I have quite a different view, which so far has gotten the most positive votes on this thread. Here is what I shared:

I teach computer information systems at a community college, so my perspective might be a little different from my K12 colleagues. I also teach the majority of my load online, although I do usually have one or two on campus classes each semester.

I maintain a pretty active FB profile (as Derek will attest to!). It is an eclectic mix between personal and professional. Very often I will share links or discuss educational topics and get quite a robust response from friends, colleagues, educators, students (past and present) so it makes for a very rich discussion environment. One educational thread ended up with over a hundred responses a few months ago. It was awesome!

Because I teach online, I try to make myself accessible whenever possible. Having a profile makes me a “real” person to many of my students, as opposed to a static name on a page somewhere. It builds trust and opens communication channels. I very often have students ask me questions via FB chat (and google chat and all the other chats). I teach about social media as a dynamic, active personal learning network space, taking them well beyond what someone had for lunch or who is dating whom, and I do it by modeling what it *can be* instead of what lots of people *perceive* it to be. We talk about what happens when your mom or your teacher or your boss (or future employer) stumbles across your myspace/facebook page with drunken party pictures all over the place. We talk about how to use it to expand your network (safely) to increase your opportunities for learning. We don’t just talk about it though… we do it throughout the semester as they build their network on Twitter.

I do know many K12 teachers that will either have a “professional” FB page that students can add or make it their rule to only add “alumni” students. My rule of thumb on FB is that I never search out students to add them (too stalkerish) but if they send me a friend request, I will usually add them. I am pretty sure that I don’t put anything on my page that I would be embarrassed by.

Overall the response has been positive to my online presence and students like the accessibility. I haven’t run into any problems because I set the boundaries right up front and students know what to expect. We can hide our heads in the sand and pretend social media doesn’t exist (block it all!)… Or we can use it as a learning opportunity to teach our students what it means to be good digital citizens engaged in actively building a personal learning network that will benefit them well beyond the classroom walls. Of course, unless we figure out how to do that ourselves, it will be hard to help our students figure it out as well 🙂

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