30 Facebook Dos and Don’ts for College Professors

| June 22, 2011 | 5 Comments
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Flickr:Birgerking

Privacy in the age of social media is almost an oxymoron. What’s acceptable to broadcast to each other and the world is constantly changing — and that’s especially the case in education. We’ve created a short poll about student/teacher Tweeting habits, and would love your feedback.

In the meantime, check out these suggested Facebook guidelines for college professors, which Online Colleges asked me to repost.

Do you agree?

  1. Don’t vent about students: You may forget that the student you’re ranting about is friends with one of your friends, and might still be able to see your status updates.
  2. Understand your motives for friending students: Many professors become friends with students on Facebook so that they seem more accessible and to encourage intelligent discussion. If you want your students to continue to view you as a more conservative professor, don’t bring any relationships online.
  3. Don’t blast updates to the whole university network: If your school is on its own Facebook network, make sure your privacy settings are set so that your updates aren’t sent to everyone on campus — this oversight can happen even if you’re not friends with them.
  4. Find out if your school has a social media policy: Some universities now have policies for faculty use of social media: you may not be allowed to friend students or discuss work at all, even on your private account, so make sure before you update your profile.
  5. Consider waiting until students have graduated: Becoming friends with students after they’ve graduated could be a smart policy if you’re nervous about saying the wrong thing or offending someone.
  6. Use Facebook to help online students: If you’re an online instructor, use Facebook regularly to interact with your students. Since they’re not able to meet with you in person, it’s especially important that you’re readily available across different platforms online.
  7. Use Facebook as a back-up tool: If class is cancelled because of bad weather, direct students to Facebook, and send out course materials, readings and discussion questions so that your class doesn’t fall behind.
  8. Take advantage of Groups: Create Groups for different classes, study groups, projects, or special discussions. It will help you stay organized and bolster the community spirit, hopefully encouraging more active participation.
  9. Set up a separate account: Set up a private account under a nickname, and use another Facebook account to connect with students, share class materials, and fuel discussion.
  10. “Mind your brand”: Everyone on Facebook should realize that they can’t keep their private and workplace identities completely separate on social media. Realize that everything you put up on your profile, including your updates, contributes to your personal brand.
  11. Don’t login when you’re upset: A few teachers at lower level schools have been fired because of nasty comments they’ve made about their schools or students. Mouth off to your friends in person, and wait until you feel calmer to get online.
  12. Decide if you really want to spy on your students: Do you really want to know that your student missed class because he or she was hungover, even though they emailed you with a nobler excuse? Sometimes, ignorance is bliss, particularly if you want to remain an unbiased grader.
  13. Don’t get violent: Threats about campus violence are taken especially seriously these days after shootings have occurred at colleges across the country, and even comments made as jokes about killing students or colleagues can get you fired.
  14. Get student feedback: Facebook is an easy way to get feedback from students regarding what they learned in class, how they can apply it to their daily lives, and what they wish you’d discussed.
  15. Connect students to each other via your own profile: Encourage students to ask each other questions and critique each other’s work by giving them a forum to do so on your profile or in a message feed.
  16. Use Pages: Set up a Facebook Page for a particular class, like this Spanish professor did to encourage students to speak to each other in the foreign language without being graded.
  17. Enrich the in-class atmosphere: Connecting with students online can “bring more closeness into the classroom,” a graduate student and Kansas State teacher told UWire.com. If students feel more comfortable with you because they know more about your personal interests and experiences, they’ll be more likely to open up in class too.
  18. Expand your professional network: Friend colleagues you meet at conferences, lectures and other events to network professionally.
  19. Host discussions on Facebook: Add tabs for polls, surveys and discussions, and require students to jump in for “class” participation points.
  20. Take advantage of Facebook’s convenience: Send out bulk messages that everyone can see instead of setting yourself up to reply to lots of separate emails.
  21. Avoid the time suck: You can’t blame your students for playing on Facebook instead of studying if you’re doing the same thing: set aside certain Facebook time for fun, and the rest of the time, use it for something productive, like posting course materials or responding to questions.
  22. Use it to store and save information: Ask students to dump research and brainstorming ideas — and help them add resources – into a Page for easy collaboration.
  23. Find out where you’ve been tagged: You can find out if you’ve been tagged or added to photos and videos, even if you missed the e-mail update. Untag yourself from anything offensive or unprofessional.
  24. Stay active: If your students want to become friends with you on Facebook and you’re open to the online connection, make an effort to engage with them. Keep your profile updated, and respond to questions and comments; otherwise, you’ll seem cold and snobbish.
  25. Publicize your Facebook profile: Make it easy for students to find you on Facebook, if you want them to. Add a link to your email signature or website if it’s convenient.
  26. Invite everyone: Don’t arbitrarily friend students as they find you if you plan to use Facebook as an extension of your class projects and discussions. You’ll seem like you’re favoring the students who find you by accident and are leaving everyone else out.
  27. Don’t trash the school: Professors often like to get involved in campus campaigns and student events, but don’t randomly trash the school or your university president with remarks that undermine their integrity or hint you’d rather be working somewhere else.
  28. Remember who’s watching: Your department head or university president might be silently reading your updates, so keep everything clean.
  29. Let students know if you won’t friend them back: Students might be offended if you don’t accept their friend requests and don’t explain why. If you start getting requests, announce your policies for using (or not using) Facebook with them.
  30. Only post or send messages you’d be proud to say in person: Don’t get flirty, overly risque or sarcastic on students’ walls or in messages. Remember that just because it’s online doesn’t mean it isn’t real.
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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1369227467 Nelie Rea

    I found these suggestions interesting and also contradictory. I am a community college professor and have a policy of not accepting friend requests from students until they graduate. I have found facebook to be a great way of keeping in touch with graduated students though and learn where they end up.  It isn’t a perfect policy because since I teach at a community college sometimes students return for another degree (which i think is much rarer at 4 year colleges), but generally it keeps the boundary between me as a friend and me as a professor–and I think although those roles can overlap, they also can conlfict and I need my students to be clear I am first of all their professor. I also am not sure I want to know everything they post on their facebook pages when I am their professor–and if I friend them then block their posts I worry they will be hurt that I didn’t read something they posted.

    .But then there are all the suggestions here  about using facebook in online education (the majority of the classes I teach are online). I can see the appeal of that since it is a more familiar platform for students, and I actually do post a lot of articles related to psychology (my subject) anyway.  So I guess I could create a separate account for that (since I prefer to keep the no current students policy with my personal facebook account). But then that adds one more place (on top of work email and messages in each online class) for student questions and messages each day. I’m not sure I want to add that burden–and the possibility that I’ll overlook an urgent question if they post it there but not in the class. Still, I can see the appeal in terms of creating a sense of community in a class and between online students.

    • http://twitter.com/rescuecom David A. Milman

      Yes, I agree, there is a problem with using facebook for online education. I disagree with that suggestion. I’ve summarized some the info here, as well as other sites, in one of my blog entries, but I chose to warn against using facebook for class. If you’d like to see my list and my take, read: http://www.rescuecom.com/blog/index.php/uncategorized/facebook-for-college-professors-the-ten-commandments/

      That said, it probably depends on college policy. My main problem with using facebook as an official class communication tool is that it’s just not formal enough.

  • Fed up Educator

    I keep my facebook limited in many aspects. I only accept students after they have graduated and I only post positive statements.  I have several issues with the social networking system. One issue is when students slander the school, program of study or educator on facebook; why are there not repercussion for them. They are protected under freedom of speech while it seems educators are not.  I have mixed feelings about social networking. I am considering removing my page to avoid the hassle. The problem with this is that not being able to check the tagged photos scares me.  Anyone can take pictures of you without your knowledge and post it without your permission. That dinner out with your husband showing you with a glass of wine may end up in the wrong hands.  My private life is my own! What I do outside of my place of employment (with the exception of illegal activities) should not have any bearing on my ability to do my job. The teacher who was fired because she had a picture of herself with an alcoholic beverage posted on her facebook account is ridiculous.  I promise you those kids who saw this were not damaged. I think employers need to adopt the “Ignorance is Bliss” policy themselves.

    • radjunct

      I used to feel exactly the same way about facebook, and generally quite resistant to it until recently. Its like a busy street where it is too easy to get trampled. However, I have come to the realization that I may not be able to prevent someone from posting a picture of my drinking wine, but I also have the ability to post intelligent posts, documentation of research and generally present by basic awesomeness for all to see (esp potential employers).
      If that image of me relaxing with friends and some wine in hand outweighs all the other things that present a more complete and complex picture of who I am then the flawed judgement isnt mine. The mixing of our personal and professional lives is unavoidable, the key is to navigate that representation with some intelligence and strategy, make it work for you rather than against.

  • http://twitter.com/Audrey_Adams1 Audrey Adams

    I think this list applies to just about any employee at any position. It’s about finding that middle ground where one can stay up to date in the online space without saying too much, or the wrong thing. The key is for everyone to become better educated on the “rules” of social networking sites and the legal actions that can be taken against them for breaking those rules. #30 on this list really sums it up – if it might get you into trouble for saying it in person, you should probably avoid saying it online, too. Here’s a video interview with Attorney Gloria Allred, where she explains the legal actions that can be taken against a person for their online behavior: http://bit.ly/kDwShj