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Can we be friends?


I joined Facebook last summer as part of a grad class on social networking and its potential for education. At first I thought it was just like MySpace, a twin sister with a less notorious reputation. I was soon to find out that Facebook is really the slightly more sophisticated older brother, the college-bound hairbag that spends time in coffee houses strumming his guitar.

Like any new technology, when I started poking around at Facebook's capabilities I thought, "This is crazy". Why do I want to tell my ridiculously large group of friends my every thought, what I had for breakfast, and what I plan on doing after work? It was difficult to fathom that those 23 people really cared. (I don't like to brag but I am now up to 50.)

But also like any new technology, this site started to seep further and further into my daily routine. That's right, I facebook. I facebook so much that I don't have to capitalize my new friend's name - I use it as a verb! As in, "So I was facebooking last night...", which brings me to my next point.

So I was facebooking last night when I received a friend request from a student. Instinctively, my gluttonous popularity said "51, here we come!" but consciously I paused. Should I really "friend" (yeah, I use that as a verb now too) my students?

The thing is, I'm not that beatnik university student, I'm their teacher. I shouldn't be "Katie is dot-dot-dot loving the sunshine!", I need to be Mrs. Hanifin. Or better yet, Old Lady Hanifin - the mean one with the stink eye.

Can we be friends? Passed like a carefully-folded note under the grade school desk, I don't know whether to check "yes" or "no".


I wrestle with this as well - on a couple of levels. I joined Facebook when my boss invited me (another common "is it wise" Facebook question). Since joining, I've worked out a set of parameters that seems to be working for me.

One of the things to remember, I think, is that it's a two-way street. You've got to decide if you want to be friends with them and they have to decide it's OK to be friends with you.

Clearly your student has decided it's OK. But were the ripple effects considered before the invitation was issued? Might be a good point of face-to-face conversation - a teachable moment sitting right there.

I'm friends with students I had in class years ago and I know that almost all of their classmates are on Facebook. Some of my former students were ready to break that classroom barrier, some weren't. I'm comfortable with either decision - no hard feelings either way. (I also will be honest and tell you that some of their posts make me proud of them and some make me cringe.)

Honestly, I don't think that I would be comfortable being friends with a current student. I do think that there is a place for a personal/professional separation.

That said, the "rules" are gray and what's right in one instance, may not be right in another. Teachable moments are all around - for all of us. It's one of the things I love about technology!

It is never a good idea to mix personal social networking with student interaction. Whenever you post something you have to consider who is reading your thoughts. Do you really want to know what's happening with your students outside of the classroom? It is a sticky spot. Best to say no to Facebook friendship with students.

Really facebook can be a valuable tool for interfacing with students, but it seems to be an either/or proposition.

By that I mean you can integrate your students into your network and post appropriate (and occasionally educational) messages and links, in which case it can be a valuable learning tool and easy way for students to casually ask you questions in an approachable way (my not much older then me aunt, who teaches at a high school, uses this method)

Alternately you can maintain your network as it is, mainly consisting of your adult friends. After all you don't want to facebook "OMG I was so drunk last night that...." to mixed company (not that you would ever facebook that of course). In that case its better to not friend students.

The third way would be to create a separate facebook account for class and direct students to interface with that one. It could be Ms. Hanifin's facebook where you would be your proper teacher self then let your hair down on your personal one.

FB has now created a way for you to choose which group of people a particular status update goes to. So every time you do a quiz, you don't have to send that to your students.

That said, my son has refused my friend request, which is okay with me (although I occasionally tease him about it). His girlfriend friended me, but eventually seeing her posts about him got too weird and I took her off my newsfeed. What she posts abut him is really none of my business.

This has to be an area that districts look into ...because social networking platforms are about everything we try to do in the classroom---collaboration, communication, etc. I came across a school oriented Facebook-type app called FatClass (www.fatclass.com). It's a lot like facebook, but students can only post one pic and you can not conduct wide-ranging browsing or searches of profiles. This looks promising...

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Recent Comments

  • Julie: This has to be an area that districts look into read more
  • Princess Mom: FB has now created a way for you to choose read more
  • Edward Coughlin: Really facebook can be a valuable tool for interfacing read more
  • Nicole McLaren: It is never a good idea to mix personal social read more
  • Jen: I wrestle with this as well - on a couple read more



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