The Adjunct + Facebook = Disaster?

By Randy Eldridge

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.

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5 Comments
  1. Mike says

    It is a very grey area when you talk about connecting with students on any social media. Keeping the balance is important. I have friends on FB and LinkedIn that are students and coworkers. I am very clear that I do not discuss class or school related issues on either. However, they are more than welcome to contact me for such through proper channels. It is like anything else social… the boundaries and parameters must be established. The social networks provide a great avenue for informal learning and networking that just can’t take place in the online classroom. Keeping it in perspective is key.

  2. Diane says

    I, too, was faced with the same situation concerning students wishing to be my ‘friend”. After speaking to all of my classes and telling them that I only befriend graduates two years after they graduate, the requests stopped.
    By creating two separate FB pages, I am now in touch with former students and am delighted to see their wedding photos, career successes, and family pictures. I do, though. only connect to students with whom I had a good rapport and who had kept in touch with me via return visits to campus.
    Concerning grade request changes, this happened via official school email, only the writers of such emails happened to be the parents!

  3. Timothy McKean says

    Hi Randy,
    I myself have just joined Facebook and have yet to really decide on a policy for friending students. I guess I’ll have to try it and find out.

    One question I had for you is why was it such a bad thing that your student made that particular request on Facebook? Did you feel that you couldn’t respond directly becaus of he social nature of the tool? Are messages public to other friends? How is this different than if the student made the same request to your face or via email?

    Thanks for the clarification!

  4. Ben Beshwate says

    Thank you for the article. I have had a few students send friend requests to me on facebook. While I don’t know the rules of the school, etc. I always felt uncomfortable sharing my personal life with students, and just ignored their requests. On one hand I feel bad – maybe the students feel like I don’t care, etc., but on the other they should understand that my personal life is exactly that, and that their are several other ways to get in touch with me. Next semester I am toying with starting a blog that will only be available to students in the class. We’ll see if that experiment works.

    Thanks again for the article – It is nice to know there are others in the same situation.

    Ben Beshwate
    Cerro Coso Community College

  5. Rosaleee says

    I think we all need to be much more careful about how we use social media. Consider this:

    Warning: Job Screening Agency is Now Archiving All Facebook Posts

    http://yourblackworld.com/2011/06/29/warning-job-screening-agency-is-now-archiving-all-facebook-posts/

    It’s a good idea to periodically google yourself to see what’s out there attached to your name. Tough job if you are named Joe Smith or Mary Jones, but if you are one of those you can probably rest easy as other searchers would have the same problem locating items specifically about you.

    I have learned the hard way to not post much online under my actual name, even though I started out believing it was more moral and righteous to “own” your words rather than hiding behind anonymity. There are just way too many insane, obsessive people out there who will hunt down anything that they can turn into something negative about you, and then use it in locations where you never expected to see it repeated. I had an internet stalker whose efforts caused me to remove my youtube and many other public postings.

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