It has been an interesting week for me in Facebook. I have reconnected with several colleagues that I had lost touch with in the past few years. Facebook to me is great for connecting with family and friends, but as with any social networking application, a host of questions arise concerning possible uses for instruction. And so far, I have not used it for instruction.
In the past week, Jeff Nugent had a conversation with VCU faculty members Mike Abelson, Melissa Johnson and Stephanie Rizzi who shared their experiences with using Facebook and offered their perspectives on the pros and cons of “friending” students. Their podcast is here. I listened to this podcast while at the gym, and I found myself arguing with them mentally. (I have not yet reached the point where I begin talking to myself while wearing an iPod!)
My colleagues here were nervous about responding to “friend” requests from their students. They seemed to agree that it would be inappropriate for them to friend any of their students. That got me thinking about my use of Facebook and my own students.
For me, my context is different. My podcasting colleagues here at VCU teach college freshmen – I teach graduate students who are also teachers. As such, I already consider my current students as my colleagues. So I would not be adverse to my students friending me, though I do not actively seek them out. Part of my reasoning for not actively seeking them out is that Facebook for me is a social connection, not a professional connection. My friends right now consists of three groups – family, colleagues, and former students. And by former students, I mean students I had 15 years ago at the University of Nebraska. My colleagues span VCU, Gwinnett Tech, and Herkimer County Community College. I use other social avenues professionally, such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and the blogs I follow in Google Reader.
I think that one reason people are nervous about Facebook is the negative press it has gotten lately. The Chronicle had a recent article on How Not To Lose Face on Facebook. It noted:
“For years college administrators have warned students to watch their step in online social realms, noting that sharing too much could hurt them later on if future employees saw their drunken party pictures or boorish writings. Now that professors and administrators are catching Facebook fever, they should heed their own advice.”
Good advice, but it underscores that many faculty (and students) do not understand the various settings they can control in Facebook to selectively release their posts to specific friends. Nick O’Neill had a nice explanation in his post “10 Privacy Settings Every Facebook User Should Know.”
But as I thought about Facebook and privacy, I wonder if we are asking the right questions. The whole issue of one’s digital footprint is raising vexing questions. Is anything truly “private” anymore? Maybe I am a little paranoid, but I was blown away by Pattie Maes‘ TED Talk demonstration of wearable technology.
Pretty cool, huh? Yet think about this from the ubiquitous web perspective. If Pattie’s vision becomes the norm, everyone will be walking around wearing a device that constantly scans the environment and through facial recognition potentially pulls up information on every person you meet. Being worried about your cheerleader picture in Facebook might be the least of your worries. “Privacy” will take on new and interesting meanings.
I am still wrestling with whether it would be good or bad to walk in on the first day of class, meet a student, and instantly know that student’s GPA and Facebook profile. As my good friend Kathryn Murphy-Judy noted to me today as we discussed this, would a sound-bite be meaningful if you did not know that underneath a bad GPA was the death of parents or the ending of a relationship. It takes time to build a relationship with people, and would this ubiquitous web presence speed that up or derail it on occasion? I do not know. The only thing I do know is that the world is changing and ignoring that change is not an option.
I would be interested in your thoughts? Do you use Facebook for instruction? Do you friend your students? Do you have conversations with your students and colleagues about their digital footprint? Should we? – is that part of our role as faculty?
What ever else, we certainly live in interesting times!