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What Should Be the Boundary of “Friending” People on Social Media?

Last month, I shared a news video, reporting that the State of Missouri passed the law of “limiting” the amount of contacts that a teacher may have with his/her students on social media. According to this NBC News video, the City of Dayton, Ohio is moving a step forward --- the city’s public schools’ teachers and staff are prohibited from communicating with their students online or over text.

Jill Moberley, who spoke for the Dayton public schools, acknowledged that students are leading the social media trends and that they heavily use social media in communication. And because of that, she believes that the School District should be “forward thinking” by “prohibiting” the communications between students and teachers/staff on any form of social media or texting. “Children and teachers have to be protected,” says Dr. Dianne Parks-Love, a grandma of a student, “when you set parameters, then the protections are there; and there is no room for misunderstand.” Parents who support the School District also feel “friending” between teachers/staff and students will create a conflict of interest.

I certainly understand why people are worrying about the “social-networking connections” between students and professors, teachers, and staff. I am, however, very pleased that universities are a little bit different from high schools because most college students are no long “children.” Social media is where people communicate these days. Rather than blocking my students who choose to communicate with me on their preferred medium, I believe that I, as a professor, have the responsibilities of setting a good example for my students on how people should and can communicate professionally on social media. How can I accomplish that? By communicating with them in a professional manner on social media.

Actually, I wonder if the legislators are aware that some social media tools, like Twitter, do not even need to get a user’s permission before another person can “follow” this user. In this case, whom should be “punished” or “sent behind bar” if a student follows his or her teacher on Twitter? In addition, if one knows Facebook well, s/he should know that one can still receive updates or feeds from another person as soon as s/he sends “friending” invitation to that person, regardless if the person “accepts” the invitation or not. These days, universities and companies are actively using social media in recruitment and student/job candidate selection; professors and admission staff also actively communicate with prospective high school students on social media. So, under the “forward thinking” rationale, when the high school students get accepted, they should no long be allowed to talk to their professors or staff on social media anymore?

There is nothing wrong with setting the boundary. My question is what boundary is more appropriate when social media has become an almost must-have communication tool for everyone? Instead of trying to build the “Berlin Wall” among people, I feel it is more realistic if the administration sets up a practical “social media policy” and reinforces the policy at work. In this particular case, it may seem more effective if parents and teachers can educate themselves as well as students of what are the appropriate and inappropriate communications/behaviors on social media. What do you think?


Comments

  1. I agree with you and I'm glad I'm in a college setting and not a restrictive hs setting. Actually, just last night I had a student reach out to me via a private message on facebook informing me of an emergency - he was in the ER going into surgery for a ruptured appendix. He didn't have any other contact information for being on campus to reach out, but had his account and used it. I in turn was able to reach his professors and get him the help he needed.
    We need to teach the professional ways in which to use the tools to set positive examples. Privacy restrictions are important and should be learned and utilized. If, in the hospitality world, we expect our companies to use these tools as methods to communicate with, we have to help set that positive tone with our students - as to how to use them.

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  2. Michelle Bevilacqua HPM 314September 6, 2011 at 4:25 PM

    Social networking sites are becoming more and more popular by the minute. Students, teachers, administrators, parents, and even grandparents are using social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. I completely agree with the restrictions in high schools, middle schools, and even elementary schools. I do not think it is appropriate for a student and teacher or administrator to have contact through social networking sites. It is inappropriate and can easily backfire on the teacher or administrator that is participating in these actions. I believe that the law should be passed in every state so every student, teacher, and administrator is protected and knows what is allowed and what is not.

    I also do not believe that this should affect colleges. Students in college are more mature and older than those in high school. These networking websites are a great tool for students in the long run. It is a way for students to connect with their professors and keep in touch with them after the class is over. Keeping in touch with their professors may even help them get a job when they are ready to graduate. Overall I believe that using social networking sites between a student and a teacher while in high school is a bad idea but I believe that it is okay when a student is in college because they will be able to handle it better.

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  3. Thank you for your comments, Professor Markham for sharing a real story of how social media could be in people's lives. Many professors or teachers are reluctant to accept social media, however. Probably, some students know better than most professors. I am so happy to hear your support that we need to teach our students the "right things" about social media.

    Thank you, Michelle. I also feel very grateful that SU supports my initiatives of using social media tools in class. I know some universities do not want their professors or staff to use social media --- they probably feel they are "forward thinking" also.

    ReplyDelete
  4. The independent school that my children attend has a facebook page. The school also has a policy that the students and parents can contact teachers whenever they have questions or concerns. The teachers home numbers are listed in the school directory. I have no concern or issue with the thought of students and teachers using social media to communicate if all parties agree on it. I believe this is another progression in communication. Everyone has to remember that whatever they post on a social media site represents them. Such information can promote negative and positive depending on what is posted and the context in which it is used. For instance, the teacher my middle child will have this school year, went to Africa with her family to work with Starfish International. What a wonderful thing it could have been to have been able to follow them during their stay there. By using social media the kids could have followed her stay. Learning about the area where she was, the community, what they were teaching and the school they were building.

    Debra M.

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