Wednesday, July 6, 2011

School Business on Facebook: Time for Some New Student-Prof Communication Rules?

(Before I start this post, I have to express heartfelt appreciation to all followers/visitors of this blog. My counter is nearly at 4,400 visits in just 90 days. The positive comments, e-mails, and tweets I've received are so incredibly appreciated. I am beyond passionate about this message; I'm thrilled to interact with you in this niche aspect of the college success genre in such a rich, enlightening, and engaged way. I feel so honored that you are all with me on this journey!

Second quick update: I received a very important and useful tip from Jennielle, an Enrollment Manager and higher ed "tweep" that I want to share.  Jennielle responded to this post on grabbing the #1 communication skill before leaving college: She writes: "I am not a recent graduate, but I am always looking to hire recent grads. If your students are having a hard time finding jobs, tell them to visit their alma mater's admissions office! Admissions offices love to hire alums, but we also love to hire communications majors. They are perfect for the job." Many thanks, Jennielle!

Okay, onward!).

"You CAVED!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

This is what my sweet sister-in-law posted on my Facebook wall 90 days ago when I finally, finally, finally (finally!) relented and got on the social media bandwagon that I had been avoiding for years

I said it in this post:  I like face-to-face communication.

I like the phone.

I don't like replacements for those interactions.

Just this morning, in fact, I was madly texting with a dear Mom friend of mine. Finally, I picked up the phone and said, "This is ridiculous. We're obviously both up."

Yep. That's how I roll... er... call.

Back to my point: For these reasons, silly as they may seem, I avoided Facebook.

My students taunted me forever over my Luddite perception of social media. I think for the brief time that MySpace was popular, I experienced some grief over that, as well.

Now that I'm on Facebook, my reasons for being there are still pretty sanitized:

I'm blogging about student-professor communication.

Students access material via Facebook.

I need to be on Facebook. 

In my last post, I discussed my opinions about students befriending a professor. I didn't bring up Facebook in that discussion, even though "friend" has taken on a whole new connotation in tandem with social media.

Now, along with my late bloomer Facebook status, I may also be late in realizing that social media requires some updated student-professor communication "rules".

Once again, Twitter has led me to a number of articles about students, professors, and Facebook. One piece from Adjunct Nation, in particular, called Adjunct +  Facebook = Disaster, struck me:  A part-time prof (a brother-in-latecomer-status on Facebook like me!) speaks of an unfortunate experience where a student used Facebook to request a "grade fix."

Bottom line? This prof now has a pretty hard-edged policy about friending students via social media.

I'm sure this prof is not the first to experience squiggly lines of business versus personal contact on Facebook.

In my brief three months on the site, I was contacted regarding a minor school issue. I admit it made me uncomfortable--but not uncomfortable enough to worry about it.

Now I'm rethinking that idea.

I completely understand why students wouldn't think twice about contacting a professor on Facebook regarding class-related issues. After all, this piece from Communication Studies reveals that 57% of people are communicating more online than face-to-face, so it would make sense that Facebook would seem a perfectly acceptable place to raise issues.

It is important to remember what Facebook is:  Social media.

(Not telling you anything new right now. I get it! But wait, there's more...)

Emphasis on the word "social".

Social environments, either face-to-face or online, are not the place to discuss class business.

Students, let's look at this in another way:  You have just finished your dinner at the Cheesecake Factory. On your way out, you see your prof sitting with his/her family. You stomp right over to the table and ask why you received an 85% instead of a 90% on your last assignment.

Would you do that?

For the love of Godiva (my fave cheesecake at the above-mentioned), I certainly hope not!

I speak from a comparatively benign related experience.

When I taught at my last college, I was approached in the frozen peas by a student who worked at Publix grocery. Why did he visit me as I was deciding between the snap peas, the baby peas, and the peas and carrots? He needed help with his speech topic!

In the frozen peas!!!

Think of Facebook like Publix or The Cheesecake Factory. This is "out of school" territory. School business doesn't belong there.

A number of colleges have implemented policies regarding professors and their use of Facebook, such as the requirement to have a public page separated from a personal one. Along this same line, I wonder:

Are fellow faculty out there in the world implementing social media policies in a class syllabus? (If so, please comment!!!).

I imagine this would be found right in the same place where we discuss our office hours, location, how to reach us via phone, e-mail, and our e-mail communication policy.

I don't have a policy, but when I'm back in the classroom, it's coming.

In the meantime, what's the communication lesson here? 

Students, when it comes to communicating with your professors, if you are already connected on Facebook, save class-related issues for either campus e-mail or the e-mail in your course management system (Angel, BlackBoard, Moodle, etc). Both of those places are perfectly appropriate for you to send a message saying, "Professor Jones, I am having a problem and I need to discuss it with you."

Of course, you can probably guess that depending on the severity of the problem, I say you're better off going to the next level of communication "richness":  Pick up the phone or make an in-person appointment.

You can definitely check your syllabus or your college handbook for an official policy regarding student-professor Facebook use. If your professor does have a public page sponsored by your institution, then ask your prof about his/her policy is regarding class-related communication in that space.

You can say, "Professor Jones, I see that you have a Facebook page. If I need to discuss something about our class, is this an appropriate place to send you a message?" The prof may direct you elsewhere, but at least you will get the straight scoop about where your communication should happen before you make a social media error.

Interestingly, I have known some students who have their own professor Facebook policy:  They won't even consider "friending" a prof until after a term is over. (Personally, I agree with this, unless the page is strictly for college use!).  

From a practical perspective, if you are using e-mail to deal with a problem, you would want to have documentation of that. The documentation looks far more professional between you and your prof in your course management system e-mail or via a college account that belongs to one of you.

I'm sure this post will lead to further discussion and I'm going to end with some questions:

-Again, I'll ask my wonderful colleagues out there in the world:  Do you have a social media policy regarding where to conduct school business?
-And to my fabulous student readers:  What are your thoughts about doing school business on Facebook? Do you perceive that if your professor is "friending" you that this should be a perfectly acceptable environment for classroom issues? How do you think that Facebook will evolve communication with profs in the future?


  1. I think that Facebook and other mediums (texting for example) have changed interactions between student and teacher, but I see it as being for the better. It makes teachers more "real" and "approachable." As quoted in one of my favorite movies (Mean Girls) who remark on seeing their teacher at the mall "Its like seeing animals outside the zoo."

  2. I'm in the group who wont "friend" a prof until the term is over. I mean, what if I need to complain about them??? Kidding! But really, classroom issues don't belong in social media.

    I've never been a fan of phone calls, but I'm all for prof office hours and e-mail. I think face-to-face is the best. Things happen/resolve much more quickly (no waiting for replies) and you don't have to worry about your tone coming accross wrong, which can happen easily with text.

    Like you said, Facebook is SOCIAL media, and should be used as such.


  3. Anonymous, I absolutely had to laugh at the Mean Girls reference. What an awesome quote. You have a point there... if students are on FB, then profs can show more of their human side there, too. Some colleges have policies against this, though, and many profs have a personal policy against it. Not that they want to be seen as "inhuman", of course. My concern is that when the connection is there, the lines of class business can blur, possibly making the social connection even more uncomfortable. I am looking forward to more discussion about this. Thank you so much for writing!

  4. Serenity, hmm.... I think you should guest blog about why students should see their professors. You know, in your spare time :-).

  5. I'll get right on that.


  6. cccounselorjanel@gmail.comJuly 19, 2011 at 8:48 AM

    Great post. I am a high school counselor an maintain a "Counselor Young" FB page that is separate from my personal FB page and exclusively for interacting with my students. We do not have school emails for students, my kids don't even seem to use personal email, and there is no larger interface (like Blackboard). I created it as a way to disseminate information on college, SAT/ACT dates, sports/activity schedules, school info, etc.

    Some unexpected benefits have been having students email me or write on my wall with simple questions that I don't have to call them out of class for. This allows me more time to spend with students with deeper personal issues in real-time, face-to-face contact. Oddly, I rarely get students who use FB to broach sensitive issues though I have learned to disable the chat feature as that, for me, is too much like talking on the phone with a student and seems a bit too personal.

    Another benefit is that it's a perfect way to keep in touch with my kids once they've gone on to college. I'm continually stymied/touched that they still ask for advice and I'm happy to have a convenient way for them to track me down.

    I did get admin approval before creating the page and I haven't really had any concerns except that there are many staff who "friend" students on their personal pages. If I am friends with them, students can find my personal page but I just deny the friend requests. My Counselor page represents me the way I am in teh office at school ... fun, approachable, and confidential but without personal pictures or information.

    It works well for me! Thanks for the post.

  7. Thank you so much for your comment! I know that many schools are requiring faculty to have official school pages and this makes sense. If FB is where the students are, then they will likely access school-related resources in the same way. It seems that your students are using the interface in a way that makes sense and I love the thought that the surface questions on FB create more time for personalized service. I appreciated your sharing how you use FB with your students! Ellen

  8. if Facebook can be use on How To Put Your Business On Facebook. Why not this? Facebook is a great way to reach out.

    In My school once we had this portal were students and teachers get to interact. Teachers can also post their notes, and just about anything.

  9. I agree, Facebook is a great way to reach out--but in my opinion, school business should be limited to school-related communication tools. The portal sounds like a great idea! Are you talking about a CMS? Ellen

  10. I have a fan page and that is where I interact with students. Some join my personal page but I do not instigate. As I am a Tutor:Mentor in higher ed I don't get asked to ammend grades ~:-) I find the ongoing long term relationships I am building with some students a boon for each of us, even after they have graduated. Have only once had a student who was quite rude~ I simply disengaged from the conversation.

  11. PSI Tutor:Mentor, thank you for writing! You know, you did hit upon one aspect of Facebook connection that would be important--the ability to stay in touch with students. This is one thing I struggle with since now our college is using campus-based e-mail addresses, and if the student doesn't apply a forward to his/her personal e-mail, I can't find them again. Excellent point and it sounds like your use of Facebook is working in an impressive way! I am very appreciative that you wrote! Ellen