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To ‘friend’ or not to ‘friend’: Professor-student Facebook relationships

Most faculty members aren’t comfortable connecting with students on Facebook, according to research on the ubiquitous social media site

Student-led Facebook groups rail against the presence of faculty on the site.

Kathryn Linder used to accept Facebook friend requests from her students, until the Suffolk University official considered the repercussions of blending her social and professional lives.

Linder, assistant director of the Center for Teaching Excellence at Suffolk in Boston, activated Facebook’s most stringent privacy settings when she realized students could see her profile page and various posts, comments, videos, and photos.

“Eventually all they could see was my name and eMail address, so it didn’t seem purposeful to accept friend invitations anymore,” said Linder, who published a list of suggestions for how instructors should interact with their students on social media sites. “It’s important to keep in mind that it is the instructor’s responsibility, not the student’s, to create and enforce appropriate boundaries for social networking in the classroom and out.”

Other recent coverage of Facebook in higher education…

Facebook stalking of sorority pledges rattles students

At least 20% of Facebook users exposed to malware in their news feed

Facebook’s revamped messaging: The future of communication?

How to use higher education’s ‘new toy’: Social media

Few in higher education faced the dilemma of “friending” students on Facebook when college students first flocked to the site in the mid-2000s. But as Facebook accounts become commonplace among all ages, faculty members find themselves in the awkward position of accepting or rejecting students’ friend invitations, and according to a 2010 research paper, most instructors choose the latter.

Three out of four faculty members surveyed said interacting with students on Facebook could jeopardize the “balance between being a teacher and being a friend” to students, according to a report published by researchers at Lee University in Tennessee.

The hesitancy to “friend” students on Facebook didn’t stop professors from clicking the “accept” button when they received student friend requests.

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One Response to To ‘friend’ or not to ‘friend’: Professor-student Facebook relationships

  1. Brent.Walters

    January 31, 2011 at 5:14 am

    The whole problem can be solved by teachers using separate accounts: one for students and one for personal use.

    Facebook presently prohibits this though (each person can only manage one account at a time), so somebody needs to start lobbying to get this policy changed.

    The rest of the criticism, about potentially showing favoritism or discussing personal matters, is specious as we need to avoid the appearance of impropriety offline as well.

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