Last semester was my first semester teaching and before that I had to participate in the GTA summer training seminar. During the seminar, they had a long discussion about why it is not okay to friend your students on Facebook. To me, this was a little ridiculous; I have nothing to hide. I don’t post inappropriate links or pictures, so it never occurred to me that it could be a problem. After a bit of discussion, they decided that if you have a “clean” so to speak profile, you can add people, as long as you add everyone who would ask that is in your class. That is to treat everyone the same. Or to wait until they are no longer in your class to add them. That seemed fair to me.
Luckily I never had to deal with that last year. I was friendly and caring to my students, but I didn’t encourage to add me on Facebook either. I really wanted to keep in touch with them, but I left the decision up to them. This semester I’ve chatted with a few students I had last semester and one volunteered to help me with a piece of homework in which I needed to do a student interview. This particular student was particularly chatty and friendly when I had her and after the interview she sent me a friend request on Facebook.
I have to admit I panicked a little bit. Was it okay to accept it? I wasn’t friends with any other students. She’s in the class I’m teaching, but not in any of my sections, does that make it okay? Is it an unfair advantage for her? After I thought about it and debated on it for quite a while I decided that since she is not in my section, I have no access to her grade, so I added her.
I’m glad that now I’ll be able to keep in touch with her and follow her as she works through college, but I also wish I could do the same with my other students, especially since I teach freshman. It’d be great to see how well they do and progress through their college experience. But the area of what is acceptable when it comes to being friends with students on social media sites and being chatty outside of class is still very fuzzy. Is it okay for me to add a student after a class is over? If I do, do I have to add every student? Should I encourage my students to add me at the end of the class?
Aside from keeping track of a student’s progress after they’ve moved on from your class, it could even be used as another method to share information on class. You can make circles and groups and share links, articles, videos, and other things relevant to the course. It really seems like it should be something that shouldn’t be limited.
So I think an experiment is in order. I’ve set up a Google+ profile to use for personal professional use. By personal professional I mean using it for class, links, things I find interesting, my thoughts, and personal topics but keeping it professional. I want a profile to use to connect and network with students, companies, professors, and anyone that would be interesting and useful. I do think for now I will wait and not encourage students to add me until after they are no longer in my class or section, but not be so hesitant after so that I can have the opportunity to follow them through their journey.