by AndrewMc | 1/24/2009 07:26:00 AM
Do you use Facebook? If so, for what? I'm a relative latecomer to Facebook (or fb, as it is commonly referred to), having joined about two or three years ago. It's a handy little tool for keeping in touch with family members and old friends.

But I also find it useful as a means for connecting with my students. And therein lies the danger, and the opportunity [no, it isn't. Well, probably not.].

Back to the point. I've found Facebook to be everything that the media describes it to be: interesting, annoying, a great way to keep in touch with folks, and a font of more private information about people I only sort-of know than I'm really interested in knowing.

But . . . .

. . . . it can have its uses. For me Facebook allows me keep in touch with friends/family, and have a means of communication with students. I have about a hundred or so current and former students as friends. So, I'm fairly circumspect and quite careful about what I put up there. For instance, there are no pictures of me on my Facebook page. And, of course, I tell my family and friends not to "tag" me in pictures where we're having drinks, or doing anything that I think would look bad to students.

There's a danger, I think, in looking too unprofessional and breaking down some of the respect that is necessary for effective teaching (although I confess to being a notorious curser in class. Bad habit.). I also don't offer to "friend" my students, because I feel like the power differential makes my offer of friending different than an offer from one of their peers. It's odd, I know. But there it is.

I'm not completely uptight, though. I'm a "fan" of several different kinds of beer, for example. My students can see that. I'm in some political groups, of course, despite the fact that my students are overwhelmingly conservative. I have some other semi-personal information on my Fb page as well. But whenever I put something up on Facebook, I keep in mind that my students can and will read it.

So, I try to have some stuff up there that says "hey, I've been a student, and I had a hard time from time to time." I've also mentioned places I've lived and the jobs I've held. I've put up links to interesting, humorous, or educational webpages, blogs, and videos. I also try to update my "status" with humorous statements or strange cultural references. Most of my personal information, interests, etc., is meant to be humorous but somewhat thought-provoking, not serious. (My "religion" changes frequently. Student-friend, "Dr. Mc., what religion is "Discordianism?") It's a kind of a connection that I feel makes me look a bit more "real," without going overboard. It also goes well, I think, with the kind of easy rapport I build with my students.

Which brings me to a story. Last semester I taught the first half of Western Civ (as I always do) to a class of 84 students. I don't always teach a large section, because it makes it harder to connect to the students. In a class that big, there will always be some students who are harder to reach than others. One kid sat in the back for the first two months. He wasn't doing well, and he didn't answer my occasional e-mails offering help.

One morning I updated my Facebook status to say "So, when I die, do *I* go to Thug Mansion?" It was a pretty random update--in truth I didn't think about it too much. Just a cultural reference that I figured most wouldn't pay attention to.

That student was in my office that afternoon. "Oh man, Dr. Mc, that was hilarious. I about died laughing." I laughed and say "oh, yeah, yeah. Great song." Long pause, and then he said "You know, this class is really hard. I really need help."

Two or three years of status updates, posting and guarding information, and accepting a few friend offers here and there--worth the opportunity.

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Blogger Ahistoricality on 1/24/2009 12:37 PM:

I so shouldn't be commenting on this, because I'm going to come off as hard-core curmudgeon. In fact, maybe I just won't. I'm glad it works for you as well as it does.

p.s. crisis/danger/opportunity by a real Chinese linguist. (hat tip)


Blogger AndrewMc on 1/24/2009 1:13 PM:

I'm not sure facebook "works" so much as it has its uses.

Re: Crisis. Yes. The link you provided is the same one I did, under "no."


Blogger Ahistoricality on 1/24/2009 6:24 PM:

I'm pretty sure that's what I meant by "works for you."

Sorry I missed that link; I thought I checked them all, but they're pretty tightly packed.


Blogger AndrewMc on 1/24/2009 10:04 PM:

Yeah, mental asides don't translate well into a parenthetical series of links.


Blogger Unknown on 1/25/2009 1:18 PM:

I don't plan to be Facebook friends with my undergraduate students. Grad students, maybe, if I ever have any. Former students, maybe. Former students who've graduated, absolutely.

As for making sure there isn't stuff on my profile that students might see and object to, that's something we all should do whether we're teachers or not, because potential employers can see that stuff if they're the least bit web-savvy. Unfortunately, not enough people have as much restraint as you or I. I'm thinking in particular of the under-21 crowd who like to post photos of themselves imbibing, apparently forgetting that it's an illegal act. It's particularly troublesome when they're the children of politicians, as the daughter of then-Sheriff and Congressional candidate Brad Ellsworth discovered.


Anonymous Anonymous on 1/26/2009 9:07 AM:

I had/have a Facebook account, but found it too much work to keep up with it--call it Facebook spam. My son says Facebook has a mixed reputation with his generation. His college had Facebook accounts for the students but allowed students to lock out people. Those who spent time accumulating Facebook "friends" were known by a derisive unprintable nickname.

My main reason for nixing Facebook, though, had to do with the much publicized security issues. Like it or not, you need to think of anything on the web as a database.


Blogger AndrewMc on 1/28/2009 5:33 AM:

The problem with saying "no students" is that once you're on Facebook, if you keep it up regularly, there's an expectation that you friend everyone.

I've ignored friend requests from some particularly strange students, but I'd worry that a blanket "I don't friend undergrads" would be seen negatively.


Blogger Unknown on 1/28/2009 11:12 AM:

I think if you make it clear somewhere on your page (which they can see if they go to your school) that you don't friend students, period, then they'll understand it's not personal.


Blogger AndrewMc on 1/28/2009 5:44 PM:

Yeah, so it's not so abrupt-seeming. I can see that.