Teachers in Facebook

What do you do when a student invites you to join a social networking site like Facebook? This happened to me recently. A former preservice student “tagged” me in one of these sites, and I received an email
notification urging me to join: “Please respond or [student’s name] may think you said no :(”

I did want to catch up with this student. I knew she was teaching overseas, and I wondered if she was still thinking of pursuing a PhD in education. Still, I was reluctant to join a site that seemingly required a lot of personal information from me to set up an account.

Earlier on in my doctoral program, I’d accepted an invitation from a preservice student to join a precursor to these kinds of social networking sites. At the time, I didn’t think anything of it. I thought it was pretty harmless. I didn’t have to reveal that much about myself, and to be honest, I identified myself as a peer, another student rather than their teacher. Besides, I was just the teaching assistant.

At a recent faculty retirement party I attended, Facebook came up over cocktail conversation. A couple of professors were invited to join their students’ Facebooks and both of them had refused. Though it seems flattering that the students considered their teachers so central to their lives as to merit inviting them into their social sphere online, now, that it’s actually happened to me, I’m a bit wary.

Do students really want their professors in Facebook? Hewitt & Forte’s (2006) study suggests that a third of them don’t, not really. Should teachers stay out of Facebook, as Jill Walker suggests? Maybe if I already had a Facebook account, it wouldn’t be such a big deal, but I think want to maintain some boundaries between my private and public lives.


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