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To FB or Not to FB

Facebook, Twitter, and Email, oh my!

The Internet has revolutionized our professional lives. Scholarly literature searches are done completely differently now, and it has radically altered the way our students engage us. They will email us at the drop of a hat and wait hours or days in frustration for us to get back to them when 30 seconds with the syllabus would have answered their question. Faculty set up twitter pages for their classes and use them to get questions from the class during lecture. Social media is changing the barriers between us and our students.

I have struggled with how to sign my email to students and finally settled on using my initials. Writing “Robb” is way too informal, “Robb Wilson” seems redundant, and “Dr. Wilson” seems pretentious to me (long story behind that, but not worth the electrons to post it). Many if not most students are oblivious to netiquette in email, addressing me as “Hey Robb” or forgetting to indicate what section they are in or using texting shorthand and highly colloquial language. (I guess to them it is “cooloquial,” or something.) Sometimes, I will write back demanding proper/complete information before I will answer their question, other times, I’ll make the demand and give them the info, reminding them that they are asking me for a favor, so it is in their best interest to ask properly.

Then we get to Facebook. I know many faculty have an FB wall, and some even create them for their classes, which is cool. I flatly refuse to get on FB, especially to create a personal page. I know there are various privacy settings, but there is way too much info you can get even off of a private page just by doing the right Google search, and I want (and feel it is professional) to keep certain work/personal boundaries unscalable to students (and administrators). Once in my first year or two at my current institution, a student asked her TA for an extension on a lab report well over a week in advance, which is unusual. She claimed she was going to Kansas for a family reunion. On a whim, the TA looked up the student’s FB page where she declared, “Woohoo! I’m going to a Kansas beerfest this weekend!!” The TA did not grant the extension, and warned me the student would likely contact me for it. That weekend, pictures of her plastered at 10:30 am on Saturday were posted. Lo, and behold, Sunday night I receive an email from her saying she was in Kansas and too ill to travel. Can she have an extension? No. Get well soon. Then there is the problem of TA’s ‘friending’ their students. Bad idea.

I’m answering email from students 24 hours a day already, why do I want to friend them, and have them know who my friends and activities are? Perhaps there’s a mentorship or ministry opportunity there, but I feel like too much of my life is on the Internet as it is. I say, unplug from the Matrix for a while from time to time.

There’s something about the Internet that gives folks the false sense of anonymity. How often have you been on a plane sitting next to a total stranger and gotten their entire life story, skeletons included? It’s worse on the web. Because people are alone on their computer, they don’t think/realize that what is published online is available to anyone and everyone. Security professionals warn against putting your family info and birthday on the web. People can figure out your age and mother’s maiden name very easily and, whoops!, there goes your identity. We need to realize that and teach it to our students. Chances are, most will think we’re overreacting. That’s fine.

On the other hand, it can be a positive thing to share your life on line. While I choose not to for myself, here is a beautiful and tragic story that evolved on Facebook and was shared by the Washington Post.

Then, of course, there’s blogging….


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