Sunday, December 13, 2009

Why Can't We Be (Facebook) Friends?

Last week Michael Kaechele wrote a blog post about students following their teachers on Twitter. The post generated a lot of comments on all sides of the question. This is especially true for the things we post on Twitter. If your updates are not protected, anyone can see the things that you post on Twitter. In fact, due to real-time search engines, you don't even have to have a Twitter account to see someone's updates. There are two ways to deal with this, protect your updates or accept that everything you post on Twitter is public. Some people might suggest that you could block people from following you, but again, that doesn't prevent someone from seeing your updates in a search engine.

Students friending their teachers on Facebook is a different scenario than students following their teachers on Twitter. On Facebook, your updates are protected from those who you don't approve. Likewise, accepting a student's friend request on Facebook is much different than having a student follow you on Twitter. The act of accepting a student's friend request is an active choice whereas not blocking a student from following you on Twitter is a passive choice. The question then is, should a teacher accept a student's Facebook friend request?

There are a number of variables to consider before deciding if you should or shouldn't accept a student's friend request. The answer is not the same for every teacher. Thanks in part to Dateline, as a moderately young (31) male teacher if I accept a female student's friend request, the perception is very different than the perception of an older female teacher accepting that same student's friend request. For me the answer is clear, I do not accept any friend request from students (male or female) nor do I accept friend requests from recently graduated students. I explain this to my students and their parents at the beginning of each school year and they all understand.

On the other hand, a great example of the good that can come from a student friending a teacher on Facebook or Myspace can be found in the example of Beth Still and her student Mundo. The short version of that story is via Myspace Beth was able to reconnect with Mundo who had dropped out of school.Through this connection Beth was able to get Mundo back into school to finish his coursework for graduation. In Beth's case having students in her social network services was a great thing.

I'm curious, are there schools that have formal policies about this? What is your personal policy about accepting Facebook friend requests from students?