With the astronomically high use of social media by students of all stripes, it’s no surprise that schools everywhere are adopting policies regarding how teachers should interact with students online. Up through high school it is often the case that teachers are prohibited from “friending” students or the family of students. There are many reasons for this, including the possibility that someone might inadvertently come across something the teacher said about a student or their work.
At colleges and universities, however, more and more faculty are embracing social media and using them to communicate with students. My school, George Mason University, has no official policy regarding communication between students and professors via Facebook, Twitter, or any other type of social media. While I’ve only used email to communicate with my professors, I have many friends who routinely keep in touch with professors via Facebook and Twitter, although the likelihood of this varies depending on the professor’s age. For example, professors in their thirties are far more likely to keep up with students online than those who are significantly older.
While my professors and those of my friends do not generally discuss class-related matters using social media, it is a growing trend across the country. An article on DailyTarHeel.com, the website of the University of North Carolina’s student newspaper, cited statistics showing that more than a third of college professors use Twitter, and the number is increasing significantly every year (there was a 30% increase just from 2009 to 2010).
Educators at colleges and universities are also using social media more and more to assign and discuss homework, although it has not reached the levels one might expect. The article on DailyTarHeel.com reported the findings of Faculty Focus, a resource for university educators, which asserted that most professors currently don’t see much use for social media in the classroom, though an exception to this might be research projects for communication courses or other social media-related subjects.
Interestingly, a Facebook group, called Faculty Ethics on Facebook, gives commonsense suggestions for how university professors should interact with students on social media. Some ideas they offer: 1) do not let social media contact influence grades, 2) do not spy on students, and 3) do not selectively accept friend invitations by one’s students – either accept invites from all your students who send them, or none of them. Of course, one hopes that anyone who goes into teaching would already understand the ideas behind these very basic guidelines.
Daniel Wiser and Katie Oliver. Professors and Departments Increase Use of Social Media. DailyTarHeel.com.
Faculty Ethics on Facebook. Faculty Guidelines. Facebook.