Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Facebooking Faculty

At a meeting last month, I discovered that a senior colleague from another university has a Facebook page. I asked some other colleagues if they had Facebook pages and was very surprised to find that many did. Soon after, I got a request from someone to be their ‘friend’ on Facebook, and lately this has become an almost daily occurrence.

I have been consulting with my Facebook expert colleagues to try to figure out how to proceed. At present, I don't see why I would want to participate in this aspect of internet culture.

One colleague in particular has thought a lot about issues of faculty-student interactions via Facebook, and shared with me his personal philosophy:

- Always accept an invitation from a student to be a Facebook ‘friend’ but never send an invitation yourself;

- Don’t do anything with Facebook except reply to messages and post photos from student-oriented events; for example, don’t write on a student’s “wall”;

- If you look at your student-friends’ pages, be careful about whether/how you talk about it with them. This colleague never discusses with students what he sees on their Facebook pages, but another colleague once advised a student to remove some offensive material that might have negatively impacted that student’s education and career options if a potential employer ever accessed Facebook.

I have no interest in participating in this aspect of student life, but my colleagues assure me that it is worthwhile as long as you limit use of Facebook to professional interactions. My colleagues say that in their experience many students think it is cool to 'friend' their professors on Facebook, and only a few are bothered by it. I think I still need more convincing.

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

facebook is increasingly being used by grownups. You can ignore the college social aspects. It is a way to share photos and stay in touch with out of town relatives and friends, and a spam free way to send and receive personal email and keep it separate from professional email.

Landsnark said...

Rate Your Students has had a debate, on this subject recently: http://rateyourstudents.blogspot.com/2007/10/whos-facebook-for.html

Definitely this is something that can go over to the creepy side if misused. I still feel uncomfortable with the idea myself but for no particularly rational reason. I'll be interested to see what others say in their comments here.

Anonymous said...

As you discussed in your previous post, the life of a faculty member is filled to the brim with things to do. For myself, I see no reason to add maintaining a Facebook page to this list. My addiction to email is a big enough distraction, though at least there I can cite many good professional and personal reasons for the practice. My teen-age daughter has also permanantly disabused me of the notion that I'll ever be cool. To each their own but I am not joining this trend.

Mark P

Karen said...

As someone who left academics (and misses it terribly) I really enjoy the contact it allows me to have with my professors. I grew very fond of some of them (that happens when you spend many days together without showers, I suppose) and I don't make it back as often as I'd like.

I can't tell you how much it means to me to have one of them send me birthday wishes, or ask when I'll be back up - not to mention how nice it is to stay 'on top' of what research is going on or trips being taken.

I agree you have to be thoughtful about your use, but no more so than with any internet communications. The only real downside is the time it takes - and that's really not too bad once you've got your account set up. I wish I could 'friend' you =)

TheRareCollegeStudent said...

As a college student, I do think that having Facebook is a rather touchy subject. although it is most likely very fun for you all, as you get to see what we are like when we are not in your classroom.
I think that lurking would be a better move for you, since you already feel a bit uncomfortable with the situation. If you are curious about some of your students, chances are that a) we have a Myspace or Facebook and b) it is not private.
It is much easier, and you don't have to worry about crossing those professor/student boundaries.

April said...

Timely post. I just was on my facebook page this morning. I have one because I had it when it was very new, students only, and at the time I was a student. Now that I'm seeking a professional/academic job I often think about taking it down entirely. But, I have connected to old friends, and I communicate with family members who live far away through the site. So my personal compromise is the setting the security levels as high as possible so only my friends can see my activities, which border on the personal rather than professional level. I'm still not sure it's the ideal situation, but it's the one I'll use for now.

Katie said...

As a grad student with a facebook account, I can tell you it's decidely strange finding a professor/adviser on facebook (I'm not sure how I'd feel about students I teach finding me - I haven't taught any classes since I've had a facebook account). In any case, I've never "facebooked" a professor, and can't imagine doing so (although I do have facebook friends who've gone on to become professors). I guess I consider it more for social/personal networking than as something that I want to use for work networking...

Anonymous said...

I think having a facebook or MySpace account is analogous to putting bumper stickers on your car. My wise wife convinced me long ago that bumper stickers just give others (divers, police, random people with keys) a reason to judge you. The last thing I need is a religious fanatic police officer being annoyed by a Darwin fish on the back of my car.

Once you put it out there, you had better be comfortable with everyone and anyone judging the content--like for example a trollish colleague. Unfortunately, most students don't put any thought into the information they broadcast.

Ψ*Ψ said...

It's a quick and easy way to keep track of people who move and change phone numbers and addresses. When I used to teach organic workshop, I facebooked all my students after the first day. It helped me learn their names much faster than I would have otherwise.
It's entirely possible to be fairly professional on Facebook as long as you don't go overboard with it. My profile portrays me as a supernerd, which is pretty accurate :)

Anonymous said...

I never accept friend requests from students.

John said...

I'm a professor and have a facebook page. Facebook has been a good way to find and chat with friends I haven't seen in years. I'm not interested in using it to socialize with students or to find out about their lives, though I have accepted friend requests from a handful of students.

Anonymous said...

I personally think that career is seperate from personal life. I don't believe that a professor must always remain a professor even outside the lecture hall. Professors may in fact have friends that are his/her students and not base their grades on how friend-like these people are. I believe if a student can become friends with someone at a "higher" level than him/herself, and if a professor can become friends with a student, then great things can be achieved.
I find that those who only associate with people at their own level (i.e professors will only be friends with others who have professional careers) are ignorant, in a sense, because they used to be those very same students, and others in such fields, and yet seem to think that they are better people, unable to associate or become friends with those whom they teach.

Young applied math prof. said...

I am a faculty member with a facebook account. I keep a limited profile that is open to all my students which has my photo, education and my office contact details. I mostly use facebook to keep in touch with family and friends -- professional and other.

I have a lot of industrial contacts and am often asked by graduating students (undergrad and MSc) for references. I ALWAYS check them out on facebook and give them a heads-up about anything dodgy that an interviewer is sure to find.

YAMP

PhysioProf said...

I have absolutely no desire to befriend my students, post-docs, and other trainees. I don't talk to them about my non-professional life, and I don't want to know about theirs.

Kyerin said...

I've just finished up with being an undergraduate and my advice about Facebook would be - get a page, then never use it. Check it once a week in case anyone has tried to contact you. There's no need to post a list of your favourite CDs or fill in a quiz to see which movie star you're most like. Then people can get whatever satisfaction they get from adding you as a friend, but there is no intrusion on your personal life. Like most things on the Internet, no one can find something you haven't put there. It works for me.


On a side note, I'm from Ireland and until recently the popular networking site here was Bebo. Most of my college class and my friends from secondary school have Bebo pages but I would use it only to leave them a message, post a photo or announce something to the masses. If an employer were to check my Bebo or Facebook page the most they would find out about me is that I like Japanese films and rock music, and that I throw a killer Hallowe'en party.

Recently there's been a bit of a Facebook explosion but to be honest it's such a small country that yelling out the window is easier than online 'networking' so I've never really seen the point.

Even if my lecturers were on Facebook or similar (they're a bit lowtech) I can't imagine I would ever ask to be their 'friend'. I mean, I'm not their friend in real life, you know? I even avoid adding people my own age unless I genuinely want to keep in touch with them.

Apologies for the long comment, it started out as a one-liner, I swear!

Charlotte said...

I have a couple of my professors from my undergrad school as friends on Facebook. It dosen't really bother me because I don't have anything on my page that's offensive. But the professors that I am friends with on Facebook are ones that I'm pretty close with/have known for a while.

Anonymous said...

I would agree with a previous post that Facebook and other social internetworking phenomenons are a great way to keep in touch with people far away in time and space, but it is important to keep the on-line personal sphere separate from the professional sphere, especially in a faculty-student position. Even within friends there are different degrees of what one reveals to another, and a faculty-student-friend relationship can easily be misunderstood. The students mean well by inviting the professors into their circle, but I find in the end it can be a bit tricky for the teacher to remain professional if he/she is lurking in his/her students' personal pages.

Anonymous said...

I take a different approach to this. I'm a young professor and I use Facebook extensively. I've had to move countries to get a job, so Facebook helps me to still feel connected even though I'm in a very different place. I have lots of personal stuff on my Facebook profile page (stuff that I don't have on my web page), and I am friends with other profs/colleagues on Facebook. However, I tell my undergraduate students not to try to add me as a friend on Facebook, because I won't accept their friend requests and I keep my profile private. Facebook is for ME as a person, it is not something I use as a way to relate to undergraduate students. I will accept graduate students as a Facebook friend if they ask me and if I feel comfortable with them seeing my page.

chall said...

I would agree with the last post here... Keep your profile private.

I know, it might seem like not using it as it was "meant to" but really, that way it is for you and your former school friends i.e. people you want to be 'friends' with, rather than your undergrads.

Furthermore, I really think it is a nice way of keeping in contect now when I am across the world from my former collegues and friends. Although, I must admit that I don't check it every day or so. The institute where I am located have blocked the site. Much to my liking :)

Overachiever said...

I think it's interesting that students at your university find it cool to facebook professors - I'm an undergraduate right now, and my classmates have exactly the opposite sentiment.

Consider yourself lucky to not have been sucked into the facebook phenomenon. Though I have a private profile that I check/use daily and that doesn't have anything incriminating, I'm still wary of the fact that employers can check facebook and wonder how foolproof the privacy settings really are.