students · teaching

Guest Post: Dear Professor, I Don’t Want to Be Your Facebook Friend

Here’s a post by Janna Flaming, a student in “English 108D: Digital Lives”; she wrote this in September, for a response paper assignment, and it was just so great, and so related to what what happening on the blog (remember those posts?) that I wanted to include her ideas in the conversation. Thanks to Janna for being the first student guest poster!

In the article, “Dear Professor, I Want To Be Your Friend” Denise Horn writes about allowing her students to befriend her on Facebook. However, it is my position that student/professorial relationships should not include Facebook friendships. This is because there are possible issues that can arise from a Facebook friendship between professors and students. For example, the policies and procedures reinforcing professors’ governance, in the unknown geography of cyberspace, are poorly defined. Also, favoritism for students that have access to Facebook could inadvertently reinforce a previously established social digital divide. Therefore, Facebook friendships have no place in student/professorial relationships.

In the current digital age there have been many problems that have occurred because of unclear boundaries in the geography of cyberspace. Since student/teacher relationships were traditionally built on the university grounds, the hierarchy and boundaries between them were clearly defined. However, in cyberspace, because geography is ambiguous and professorial governance is unclear, when professors and students become Facebook friends, the established hierarchy starts to waver and the boundaries between personal and professional lives are blurred. In Denise Horn’s article, I agree with her colleagues who express concern about privacy when connected to students on Facebook. A breach of privacy in cyberspace may also change professors’ ability to have authority over students. It is better to leave Facebook out of professor/student relationships, because professors allowing students to befriend them on Facebook raises questions that have no clear policies or procedures to provide answers.

Professors should also not befriend students on Facebook because there is a social digital divide. Those professors who allow students to befriend them on Facebook may be giving disproportionate time and attention to those students who have a lot of access to technology. Professors may therefore find it difficult to give poor grades to students with whom they have built a personal relationship through Facebook. As a result, professors should leave Facebook out of the classroom, as it might reinforce already present social class divides between students.

Professors should not befriend their students on Facebook since this relationship may inadvertently heighten an already present social digital divide and have an impact on professorial access. Furthermore, because of unclear geography in cyberspace, professors’ ability to govern students may be compromised when issues arrive online. I believe that professors should not allow students access through Facebook to prevent any possible issues that could occur because cyberspace is changing traditional university relationships.

7 thoughts on “Guest Post: Dear Professor, I Don’t Want to Be Your Facebook Friend

  1. Of course I see the truth in Janna's point – social networking enters unchartered territory and is changing the rules of student-teacher relationships. But it is also changing the nature of every relationship, not just within academia.

    There is much to be said about the “traditional” hierarchy within the post-secondary world, however I'll keep it to a single point: even when the boundaries between student and professor have been clearly drawn, there are constant defiances of it. How many personal friendships and relationships were first fostered in the classroom between professor and student?

    Facebook, as I see it, is just another outlet for discourse. Sure, it's a cesspool for photos in the bathroom mirror and Justin Bieber YouTube links as well, but I have also found it another handy method of communication. In an age where students wouldn't dare call a professor on their home phone, something done frequently in the 1960s and '70s, Facebook becomes an avenue of quick question-and-answer.

    While writing my undergraduate honours dissertation, Facebook was an essential method of communication between myself and my supervisor. If it was late and I had an issue that I felt would destroy my entire project if it wasn't fixed immediately (ah, the dramatics of thesis-writing), a short Facebook chat question was all it took to save the day.

    So my stance? Facebook profs: friend on!


  2. I have to agree with Jill on this. I don't think that these lines between professors and students have ever been that clearly defined. Some professors keep a very solid wall between themselves and their students, and some don't. Before Facebook, certain kinds of students have always tried to cross that boundary into the area of friendship, some flirted and some even went as far as dating and marrying their professors. I did my undergrad in a very small university located in a very small town and professors and students frequently ended up in the same pub drinking and socializing together. Some professors held social events at their houses.

    I think this only really becomes a problem when the professor is selective about who to include in these less formal circles. If you are taking only some students to the pub and not others, or befriending some on Facebook and not others, it reeks of favoritism either way. And if you are sharing information only through Facebook knowing that some of your students are not a part of your social network, that amounts to the same problem.

    And as far as the issue of privacy goes, learn to use the privacy settings on your Facebook account! Or just don't post things you don't want the public to see. The internet is always a public space.


  3. And facebook is not always only about personal relationships. My students analyze the political uses of fb in activism. At times, this means that I will be interested in their fb organizing and connections. It seems to me that we need to consider the relationships between personal, social and political relationships. After all, isn't this what “the personal is political” was about?


  4. Just would like to add, that as a fine arts degree person, the whole idea of being a practicing artist requires networking. This for me, includes seeking out people who would be good social hubs or supporters of my work. Who better than the professors that have provided mentor-ship to me in the past. I have to admit that certain unique areas of study and programs might be more accepting of a digital relationship with students. Or, dare I say, almost require that sort of aspect.

    However, I do agree that it is a slippery slope. That is why, I as a student, in order to protect myself, and my teachers, I do not attempt to befriend, or network socially with them digitally or otherwise until after I am no longer a student of theirs.

    Perhaps then, the issue isn't friendship with students on facebook, or whatnot, but more people being responsible for their actions, and making sure they aren't putting themselves or anyone else in a possibly volatile situation.


  5. I'd like to support Janna's posting because of something that doesn't get discussed much any more: the problem of uneven access to technology. We often pretend that “everyone” in the world has the same access to technology and that they have the education and money to afford new gadgets.

    Well, not everyone does. One of the challenges of teaching in a wired classroom in 2010 is that not all my students have laptops or pdas. But at least there are still labs to even that out a bit. With friending on Facebook, there are students who may not be able to do it. Or there might be other barriers. The students with less could very well get less from me.

    Something like 42% of Canadians are on Facebook. That's a lot of people. But what about the other 38%? We should still be thinking about how to teach to everyone, not just the “everyone” with access.


  6. I understand and agree with Janna's points about the digital divide, and the need for boundaries between professors and students; however, one of my former professors (one of the two who are added to my fb account) uses a lot of digital media in his classroom, and he provides podcasts of his lectures. I think fb can be a great way to share information, and encourage students (and others) to be politically engaged and to analyze the political ramifications of social media, etc . . . Although some students may not have access on their own, that does not preclude them from gaining access through friends who share that information with them. If I find something particularly relevant to a friend who rarely visits fb (or refuses to open an account) I make a point of sharing it with them in other ways. In fact, I have seen professors tell students important information, which those students gladly pass on to their friends who are not on facebook. Personally, I would not add a professor on fb unless I had graduated, we had too many mutual friends so it would be awkward not to be connected (*cough*friendswithspouseandbestfriend*cough*), and if they had enough of their other students/former students on there that I didn't feel it to be inappropriate. The students I taught as a TA never add me (I scare them, apparently) lol


Comments are closed.