To Facebook Friend Add or Not….

I am not shy. This was an asset back in the early 90s when I sold computers and corporate network solutions. It’s an asset in the classroom now. Not being shy, though, means that sometimes I may trample over appropriate social boundaries without even realizing it. In my defense, those boundaries seem sometimes to be made of butter and they’re difficult to really hold on to.

One of my current challenges is Facebook. About midway through every semester I’m confronted with two or three students who want to “friend add” me. Facebook, for those who reside in technological caves, is one of many choices currently available for people who want to combine the internet with socializing. Other such sites are (and this is just a small sampling) MySpace, Twitter, Flixster, Bebo, LinkedIn, and Friendster.

According to, a web analytics company that tracks web trends, Facebook is the top-most used social network site. People clicked on this site over 1 billion times last January. (For those who love statistics, here’s the link). Anyone with an internet connection and an email address can make a profile on Facebook and start interacting with other folks in groups, playing games (referred to as apps), or comment on other peoples’ profile pages (called “walls”). Ease of use is probably the reason it’s so popular.

My dilemma is always how much of myself should I reveal on my own Facebook wall. While I mostly use the site to update friends and colleagues on my dissertation process, I do post occasional political rants, family pictures, and articles that interest me. Members of my family, including my two teenaged daughters, are on Facebook and we often interact with one on the site. Then there are the students – either merely curious or genuinely looking for a continued connection, current and former students make up about 30 or so of my total 217 friends.

In the classroom, it can be difficult to reign in personal views and ideas about hot topics. As instructors, we’re in a delicate position of influence. How much more difficult is it in a virtual place like Facebook, where revelation is built into the user interface, part of the entire experience, to know when a boundary is crossed?

I had a moment of concern last semester when I was frustrated about one student’s repeated failure to come to class or turn in the assignments, but email me his sob stories about all of his reasons why. This is not the unusual part – we’ve all dealt with this. My misstep (if it was one) was in reacting instantly to one such email after the final had been missed. I posted what is called a status update (these are 420 character comments that, when posted, everyone on your friend list can potentially see) about my frustration. I wrote something like:

When you don’t come to class, don’t turn in work, don’t read the assignments, do I really need to make special arrangements for you to take a test you’ve already missed?

I posted it quickly and then dashed off to give another final.

Last semester was a frustrating one, just in general. Students were getting sick with the H1N1 flu, they had financial challenges that I can’t even begin to illustrate here, and there were also the brand-shiny-new students that come every Fall who always need extra help. I was also teaching a new class in both online and classroom format, so I was more than a little stressed about “things.” I regretted my status post immediately and as soon as I returned home I opened my browser to delete it. I was shocked that several students (some in that class) had all posted words of support for me. They commented variously that they were frustrated when classmates acted entitled and didn’t even try. They each praised me in some way as a caring and involved teacher. I was overwhelmed by their kindness.

I may not always know where the exact boundaries are in this changing world with ubiquitous tech dripping over everything, but I am impressed at the instant feedback that can be gotten – and from my target market, my students. These are, after all, my customers. Where else but on Facebook (or some other social media source) can an adjunct faculty member get instant reactions? I won’t post these sorts of status updates again, of course; I think it was inappropriate. But the response was intriguing nonetheless.

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