Should Teachers and Students Be Friends on Facebook?

Background

Facebook is a social networking service launched in February 2004. As of April 2013, Facebook has over 1.2 billion active users. Users must register before using the site, after which they may create a personal profile, add other users as friends, and exchange messages, including automatic notifications when they update their profile. Additionally, users may join common-interest user groups, organized by workplace, school or college, or other characteristics.
Facebook has become very common in use by individuals ranging from teenagers, workmates, students, professionals, politicians, preachers, advertisers you will find all categories of people on Facebook. Organisations and companies such as institutions, media houses, and even churches also use Facebook as a platform for passing on information to their followers.  

As Facebook becomes more popular, Many teachers are finding themselves in the dilemma, of receiving friend requests from their students, which leaves them confused as to whether it is right or wrong to decline or accept, for fear of being reduced to the level of their students’ friends and colleagues, thus losing their dignity as teachers or being labelled unfriendly and unapproachable.

A Teacher instructing S1 students during a practical computer studies lesson.

The Debate:

Is it sensible for a teacher to have online interactions with his students?  Well for me I feel that there is no problem if what is being shared can help enhance societal values and help students grow into responsible citizens. Whereas by its very nature; (i) Facebook is more for entertainment and socialising. (ii) When you relate on a site like Facebook, you are almost relating as equals, thereby eliminating the seriousness in terms of how you are perceived. It can create familiarity that erodes the relationship that should exist between a teacher and student. (iii) The kind of information shared on Facebook is mostly not academic and hence would not encourage the teacher-student Facebook interaction, whether a teacher could fit in with a student is a question of debate. It is a delicate situation. How do you relate and maintain your influential position?

Some Tips for Teachers on Facebook

Teachers should be role models and this relationship and trust should never be abused. Some teachers stay away from Facebook altogether, while others — like some of my friends — have found creative workarounds such as only accepting friend requests from students who have finished S6. However, it doesn't have to be that difficult. In fact, it is useful and rewarding to connect with your students on Facebook. You get reminded of how great it is to see what your former students are up to years later, as well as how difficult it can be to be a teacher. To be knowledgeable about your student’s passions empowers a teacher to be in a better position to mentor and assist them. So, in honor of all the teachers on facebook, here are some tips for using Facebook and still keep desired distance between teachers and students, and maintain respect.

1. Create Friend Lists

You can sort your friends into lists, without them even knowing it. For instance, if you're a teacher, you can create a Friend List called "students" and adjust your privacy settings to control what people in that list see. You then could allow students to see only the basic information you post for them but not photos in which you've been tagged.

You can create a named list to organize your relationships in whichever way works best for you: close friends, family, acquaintances, colleagues, students, among others. Just select the "Create a List" link on the left-hand side of the home page or create a new list from your Friends Page. Each time you receive a friend request, you'll have the option to add that person to the appropriate list as you accept them.

By using the Friend Lists you've created, you also can filter your home page to get updates from the people you're interested in. If you're a teacher, you can see what your students are sharing on the site by filtering for that group from the left-hand side of the page. If one group is most important to you, you can even set it as the default view for your home page by dragging it to the top of the left hand bar. 

2. Make Use of Privacy Settings

Don't be afraid to severely restrict what certain people can see. For instance, if you're a teacher, you may not invite a student to a dinner party with friends, and the same goes for your boss or other people you don't interact with in those types of social settings. You should use your Facebook privacy settings to reflect the types of relationships you have. 
For example, maybe you want your close friends to see your favourite activities and your contact information so they can reach you easily, but you don't want your students to see those sections of your profile. You can exclude your "students" list from seeing the "Personal Information" and specific "Contact Information" sections of your profile. You can also unfriend people who post or like inappropriate pictures and they won't know until they try and access your page-as long as you have your privacy settings in place.

3. Don’t accept friend requests from people you don’t know.

When your friends update their profiles, the new info filters out to you via the Your News Feed. If you accept friend requests of advertisers, spammers and of people with no decency, you get a constantly updated digest of seemingly mundane facts that can, over time, give you an embarrassing, evolving portrait of your friends' outer lives. (And, of course, your updates also filter out, so anyone who cares will eventually discover, say, your affinity for alcohol if you post your photos while drinking.)

Conclusion

As Facebook becomes a normal means of connection, it's time to step back and examine the underlying purposes that the Facebook tools facilitate.   Facebook currently has everyone's attention but it's not because the relationships on it are unique. At the same time, teachers and parents must understand that Facebook is also outside the home or school.  It's important to have boundaries on both sides. Social networking technologies are not going away. The big question is how YOU use social media like Facebook.


MUKALELE ROGERS
COMPUTER STUDIES TEACHER – JINJA COLLEGE
facebook.com/mrogers4christ

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