When it comes to relationships with certain people, like bosses, teachers, or older family members, social networking sites have a way of complicating things. I remember when Facebook just arrived on the scene in the fall of 2005. I was in my senior year of undergraduate study. As a naturally rather private person, I was tentative with my Facebook account at first, but I enjoyed the opportunity to connect with my current and former classmates in a new way. If you’ll remember, at the time Facebook was exclusively for those with a college email, whether students, faculty, or administrators. My suite mate expressed shock when she found several professors with Facebook accounts. Fast forward several years, said suitemate is now a middle-school teacher. Facebook is now open to anyone, and there are several other popular social networking sites, from Twitter to Myspace. So should teachers and students be Facebook (or Myspace, Twitter, etc.) friends?
Some people hold the view that the professional and personal realms should remain strictly separated. However, a 2007 experimental study by Joseph Mazer found that high-levels of self-disclosure on teacher’s Facebook profiles actually contributed to increased student motivation and a positive classroom climate. While privacy and boundary-setting remain important in the digital age, this study suggests that students and teachers connections on Facebook can bring about positive effects in the classroom. The personalization of Facebook can help students see their teachers as more fully human, and this may actually have a positive effect on students’ academic success. The study was conducted on college students, however, and Facebook, Myspace, and the like may not be the best way for high-schoolers and their teachers to connect.
As a graduate student in Communication, I have experienced firsthand how technology and specifically social media are changing the face of the classroom, I recently took a course entitled “Digital Technology.” My classmates and professor formed a blog through which we expanded upon issues discussed in class. My graduate program also has slowly growing pages on Twitter and Facebook. Again, this is at the graduate level, in a field noted for its progressive embracing of new technologies. Utilizing Facebook in high school classrooms is not quite the same thing. And even as someone immersed in the field of Communication, I remain cautious about “friending” my professors, again likely due to the aforementioned private nature.
So how should teachers interact with their students on Facebook, etc., if at all? I believe that teachers from the high school through graduate school level, can benefit from being Facebook “friends” with their current and former students. Facebook might help a professor better connect with a large and impersonal lecture hall class. Or it may reconnect you with an old former teacher and coach. Some caution is in order, however. No one wants to see her students’ – or teacher’s – drunken spring break photos. Utilize Facebook’s privacy settings, and remember that the site does allow you to customize these settings for everything you post. And use common sense! But when your students friend you on Facebook, go ahead and accept. It may not be the kind of student-teacher interaction you are used to, but social networking is the future!
Mazer, J. , Murphy, R. , & Simonds, C. (2007). I’ll see you on “facebook”: The effects of computer-mediated teacher self-disclosure on student motivation, affective learning, and classroom climate Communication Education, 56(1), 1-17.