Recall my first post on the use of facebook? Written just five months ago, it discussed the use of facebook by professors and students. That was in January 2009, when facebook had proudly announced that it had 150 million users. As of last month, facebook now has over 200 million users, for a growth of 50 million in just five months.
As the number of people using facebook continues to grow, facebook itself has evolved and, I have to admit, so have my “friends list” and my facebook profiles, and so has my approach to facebook and how I use it as a tool for social interaction. Earlier this year, it seemed worthwhile to experiment with having two profiles for myself: one for interacting with students and professional contacts, and one for interacting with family and former schoolmates. With the recent growth in facebook membership, managing two profiles eventually became too complicated and time-consuming to maintain, and my experiment came to an end, with consolidation of the two profiles into one.
If you’re curious why I am “friends” with current students on my facebook profile, I’ll say that it’s a good way to maintain contact with them. For a variety of reasons, my institution’s email system is frequently inaccessible. If a student needs to send me a message, facebook can be a backup method of communication, without me having to give out a personal telephone number. It’s also a relatively non-confrontational way for a student to keep in touch, something of particular benefit to those students who are shy and are less likely to speak up in the classroom, but have just as much, or more, to say than those who are more comfortable speaking face to face.
Initially, I was concerned about the semblance of fraternizing with my students, however, I have colleagues who are on facebook and are “friends” with their own students and after discussion, I feel that this is a method of contact which builds bridges. So far, all of the students (current and former) who are on my friends list have maintained the same respectful air that I see in my classroom interactions with them, and if anything, having them on my facebook friends list enhances teaching and learning opportunities.
Other concerns of mine were my students’ access to my personal information, or my possibly offending (or, alternatively being a bad influence on) them. After a point, however, I realized that there is really not a significant quantity of personal information on my facebook profile, certainly nothing I wouldn’t bring up in a classroom. On the subject of being a bad influence (and I say that tongue-in-cheek), I do see it as important that all those of us in the up-and-coming generation of new instructors and professors remain cognizant of the fact that we are all, in any context, either in the classroom or on facebook, serving as role models and examples to our students. I will admit that I do occasionally miss feeling free to post links to youtube videos of questionable content, as I used to do, however with the variety of relatives I have who are now on facebook, (ranging in age from early teens to mid-80s), the content on my facebook profile is going to be more or less appropriate for all ages, regardless of whether my students are on there or not.
Lastly, the direct way that I use facebook as a teaching tool is in discussion of resumes and networking. Facebook allows its users to post work history to their profiles, similar to a resume, and we all know that one of facebook’s ostensible purposes is networking.
So, dear readers, I have some questions for you:
How do you approach facebook in your personal and career networking?
Do you see personal networking and career networking as separate or combined?
If you are an instructor or professor, do you have students on your facebook friends list?
If so, how has this affected your interactions with them, if at all?