Ok, I admit it. I’m 42 and I use Facebook. A lot. Maybe even too much. I was never on Myspace or any other social networking site you can think of. I’ve used LinkedIn for a long time primarily for professional networking purposes. Oh, and I also have a Twitter account. I never post on it, though. I signed up for it to follow the rantings of a celebrity that I will not name in order to save myself further embarrassment. I read Twitter…I think it works well in staying current with breaking news, or what’s happening in a particular area that I’m interested in. Other than that, I don’t use it. I mean, I’m not really interested in knowing where Chad Johnson is running today, or where Lindsay Lohan partied last night.
But Facebook is another story. I resisted as long as I could. Then, they broke me. By they, I mean society. I take no responsibility for it. After joining Facebook, I soon realized it was actually pretty useful. Not being a big “phone guy,” I realized that I could stay in touch with people without having to spend hours on the phone. How great is that!? The best part of it is that I can share pictures of my daughter with my parents who live some distance from us. The bad part is, before I got my privacy settings under control, anyone could find me. Well, I didn’t really want to be “found” by anyone. I wanted to be the one doing the “finding.”
When I first began teaching, I didn’t give social networking a lot of thought. I remember recieving a friend request on Facebook from a former student. No problem. We were connected. Then, at my current school, a student I had and who was still attending sent me a request. I clicked on “accept” and we were “friends.”
Besides Facebook, I have also received requests from students on Linkedin. For some reason, I never accepted those requests. In my mind, at the time, it was ok to connect with students on a social level, but not on a professional one. I know it makes no sense.
The last friend request was from a student we’ll call “Lora.” Lora was an average to below average student who could have done much better had she applied herself—came to class, and turned in her assignments. I had been connected with her for some time and had her in one of my classes. She was failing miserably. Then one day, I logged into Facebook and saw that I had a message. It was from Lora. Begging me to please, please, please give her a D in the class because she knew that she was doing badly and she was really, really sorry, but she’d had so many personal problems this quarter, and if I could just pretty please giver her a D just this one time she promised to do better next quarter.
I was shocked, horrified, angry. Angry at myself for having gotten into the situation. I had to think of a way to handle this properly, so I did what a lot of men do when faced with difficulty. I ignored it.
In class that final week, Lora took the final. She did well and passed the class with a D. Not wanting her to think that her message had anything to do with her passing, I spoke with her about her message after class. I told her that it had been inappropriate for her to contact me asking me to “fix” her grade, and that I would no longer be able to connect with her outside of class. She understood. The conversation was painless. I learned my lesson.
Since that incident, I no longer connect with students on any social media. My privacy settings are set. I can’t recieve messages from people I’m not connected to. Students know that I won’t accept requests from them. Not only do I now know that it’s inappropriate, it’s also against the rules of the college where I teach. My school prohibits instructors from communicating with students in any way other than phone or official school email. That doesn’t mean that everybody follows the rules.
One of my co-workers is connected to almost every student in his class. Just last night, I heard one of the students discussing the instructor’s recent trip to the West Coast, and his upcoming surgery. I know another instructor who actually brings up his Facebook account in class and shows the class. I’m guessing these two adjuncts never received a message from a student asking for their grade to be “fixed.” Or maybe they have?
Facebook and other social media can be a great way to connect with students. I worked at one school that made all full-time staff create separate “work only” Facebook accounts to use when connecting with students. They used those accounts to only discuss the school, events, job opportunities and other areas of intererest, never anything personal. Given how connected students are to social media, I think that is a nice compromise. Many times it is easier to reach a student online than on the phone or email.
However, I no longer feel comfortable interacting with students via social media. Do you use Facebook and other sites to connect with your students? Is it a good idea? I’d love to hear your thoughts and about any experiences you’ve had.
About the Adjunct By Choice: Randy Eldridge is an adjunct instructor and tutor. He teaches criminal justice courses leading to Associate’s and Bachelor’s Degrees. He earned a B.A. in Political Science from Capital University and an M.S. in Criminal Justice from the University of Cincinnati. Prior to entering the world of teaching, he worked as an Adult Probation officer for Butler County in Ohio. He is a U.S. Army and Desert Storm Veteran, serving four years on active duty. When he is not teaching, he enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter. He’s currently debating whether or not to pursue his Ph.D.