Should professors and students be Facebook friends?

That’s the question: should teachers/professors be Facebook friends with their students? The other day, a debate on this topic was on the CBC culture and entertainment radio program Q, and I’ve been thinking a lot about it ever since.
The “yes, let’s all be Facebook friends” side boiled down to this: to be better at reaching students: Those of us in the “instructional fields” need to be where our students are. Given that everyone and their dog is on Facebook (the statistics say this and the stats are confirmed every time I ask in a lecture who is on Facebook and virtually every hand goes up), at least one place we’re guaranteed to find our students is on Facebook.
This same “pro-friending” line of thinking included the caveat that to properly Facebook befriend our students, professors need to be savvy in the ways of Facebook, in particular the privacy features, such that professors can have great control over what of their lives they want to share, and that which they do not want to share, with their students.
The “no, professors should not be Facebook friends with their students” side of the debate went something like this: most professors don’t seek out their students, and want to be friends with them, in the other places students might be found (we don’t visit you at your house, play sports with you or meet you at the bar) so why would we, therefore, feel compelled to be students’ friends on Facebook? As for the “all you need to do is be proficient with your privacy settings” argument, the point was made that information flows both ways.
Do students really want professors to see their inner Facebook lives?
This piece of information about my life will give you a sense of where I fall on the debate continuum: I’m not even on Facebook. I have chosen to not be on Facebook for a variety of reasons, but one reason is that I can circumvent an unwanted friend request by not being “friend-able” in the first place. But, during the CBC radio debate, I did find myself wondering if my absence from Facebook somehow makes me a less “viable” and “tuned in” professor (especially given that I am a Communication professor).
My answer, after some pondering, is no. As a teacher of Communication, and as someone who researches Communication, I think my role should not be to run breathlessly along trying to keep up with, and perhaps join, students in using the latest communication technology, but rather as someone who might be able to create a kind of “pause” in the frenetic pace of communication technology such that we can explore the ideas and implications for such technologies.
Creating a pause, and gaining some perspective, in the march of communication technologies long enough to ponder and study them critically is increasingly difficult (actually having some of those technologies – laptops, cell phones, Blackberries, etc. – in the classroom probably adds to that difficulty), but maybe the ever-increasing difficulty of obtaining space for such exploration and analysis is a key indicator of its importance.
So, I leave it to you to decide if being Facebook friends with your professors or students is right for you, but if you really want to see my summer vacation photos, or want to know the highlights of my weekend, you’ll have to ask.

The View From Up Here by Jennifer Good, Brockpress
Jennifer Good is an Associate Professor in the Department of Communications, Popular Culture and Film at Brock University.

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