Tech and Innovation in Higher Ed: Interacting with Students on Social Media

While searching for interesting articles on technology in higher education, I stumbled across Kelli Marshall’s article, “It’s Getting Personal in Here” for Chronicle Vitae (https://chroniclevitae.com/news/1423-it-s-getting-personal-in-here), in which she discusses social media interactions with students and their effect on student-teacher relationships.

With the rising popularity of Twitter and Instagram and already widespread use of Facebook, students are gaining access to details about faculty members’ personal lives that may not have been available to them a few years ago. While this can help make faculty more relatable, it can become problematic  if interactions shift towards inappropriateness or if posts are unprofessional.

As an aspiring educator who uses Twitter regularly for science outreach, this is something that I think about often. I believe in the importance of showing that scientists and academics are well-rounded people with personal lives, but I try not to share too many personal details. For example, my most recent posts include a link to our conference talk that was featured in the weekly newsletter of the main professional organization in my field, and a picture of my pet tortoise trying to eat a book (she mistook the photo of lettuce on the cover for actual lettuce, which she loves). I’d estimate my feed is about 50% science outreach and updates or retweets related to my field, 25% interactions with other people and commenting on their posts, 20% pictures of my pet tortoise/houseplants/garden, and 5% other topics. I don’t post anything that I wouldn’t want students or employers to see (or my dad, who enjoys reading my Twitter posts).  I follow many of my professors who are on Twitter, but our interactions are mostly limited to retweeting interesting articles or updates about the department. 

With Facebook, it’s much easier to control who can see your posts. I don’t use Facebook for professional purposes, so the only issues I have with Facebook and my professional life are deciding what to do when undergraduate students send me friend requests.  I try to only accept requests from undergraduate students that I interact with regularly in person and am (ideally) not in a clear position of power over. As a graduate student, this second part can be a little tricky, since there is often at least an unspoken hierarchy between different academic levels. If a student working in our lab sends me a friend request, I only accept if I know them well and don’t think it will cause any conflicts of interest. If a student in a class that I’m TAing sends me a friend request, I wait until after the course is over to respond, to avoid potential questions of favoritism.

I am friends with a few professors that I have worked closely with or taken classes with on Facebook, but again, we don’t interact very much beyond “liking” posts and occasional comments. As far as I know, most of my professors are not on Facebook or keep their accounts private, and follow similar criteria for accepting friend requests from students.

What do you all think? Should faculty and students be friends and/or follow each other on social media? Where do you draw the line between being relatable and oversharing? Have you had any experiences where social media interactions with students caused issues?

 

College admissions scandal: What were the motivating factors?

I was catching up on the news of the past week, and came across numerous articles about the college admissions scandal that has unfolded recently. NPR published a detailed summary here:

https://www.npr.org/2019/03/12/702539140/u-s-accuses-actresses-others-of-fraud-in-wide-college-admissions-scandal

In short, 50 people (and counting) are accused of various crimes committed as part of an 18-year scheme in which wealthy parents paid William Singer to help ensure that their children would be accepted to elite universities. In some cases, Singer bribed athletic coaches to falsely claim that the children were being recruited for their teams. In others, he arranged to have somebody else take their SAT tests and/or bribed test administrators to help improve their scores. In still others, he assisted them in getting extra time for tests by falsely claiming to have learning disabilities. Along with Singer, the list of accused includes several former coaches, test administrators, and well-known clients who paid large sums for Singer’s services.

As details emerge, news articles describing or responding to specific components of the scandal have also emerged. For example, students with learning disabilities and those who advocate for them have publicly called the accused out for taking advantage of unjustified accomodations, and explained how this can make it more difficult for students who do need extra time or privacy to get it (https://www.npr.org/2019/03/14/703006521/why-the-college-admissions-scandal-hurts-students-with-disabilities?fbclid=IwAR2bU29doHsBqW6KKEG5UUUtwxsiNS12GgKlXPU8fQUaNsp1xYZxSCqvE6c).

NPR also published an article on whether or not admission to elite universities was correlated to higher income and higher satisfaction later on (https://www.npr.org/2019/03/13/702973336/does-it-matter-where-you-go-to-college-some-context-for-the-admissions-scandal). There is some evidence that students who graduate from one of these schools have a higher income, but their chosen major was a much stronger predictor of future income. Interestingly, satisfaction and fulfillment were not tied to college selectivity in the study discussed in the NPR article.

In the coming months of investigation, I’m very interested to learn more about whether or not the parents involved in the scandal were primarily motivated to help their kids have a better future, or whether more selfish factors (i.e. social status, exclusive reputation, etc.) led them to cheat the system. I’m also interested to see what happens to the students who were admitted under false pretenses, many of whom were supposedly unaware of their parents’ illegitimate assistance. Will they be allowed to stay at the universities? Will they face criminal charges as well? If they have graduated, will their diplomas be rescinded?

What do you all think? Should the admitted students be punished along with their parents? Or should we give them the benefit of the doubt? Will the negative publicity and humiliation of knowing they were admitted under false pretenses hurt their futures more than the illegitimate admissions may have helped them?