Patrolling the boundaries in social networking

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Rob Jewitt, a lecturer in Media Studies at the University of Sunderland, writes about the university’s recently introduced social networking site for students. Embedded in his description of the site’s features are some interesting reflections on the kinds of challenges universities face in the social media era:

Many staff find it uncomfortable befriending students on social networking sites like Facebook as there have been many instances of students who have exploited that relationship, either by verbally abusing staff members or abusing the fine line that demarcates the public and private spheres.  I’m sure I’m not alone in having been contacted inappropriately by students around assessment time.

Of course, it goes both ways.  There are many a time I’ve witnessed students talking about their nocturnal activities or their great feats of alcohol endurance over an assessment period, only to be contacted by them begging for an extension of some kind.  Facebook filters are nebulous and often difficult to keep track of, but with these My Sunderland controls only the people you want to see the content are going to get the message(s) you post.

The question of what to share and with whom is the one that people ask me about the most. We all face the challenge of how to set boundaries online, but it’s particularly tough for people in frontline service fields like educators, medical health professionals, social service providers. So it’s not a surprise that institutions in these fields might be tempted to develop their own social networking services specifically to accommodate their social and privacy requirements.

But developing a privacy-savvy university network is no substitute for educating teachers and students around their best approach to Facebook and other mainstream networks. Facebook isn’t going anywhere (yet), so rather than hoping to sidestep the challenges it poses to professional boundaries, I’d love to see people in educational and caring fields offer some modeling around how to engage appropriately and respectfully online.

4 Comments on this site

  1. Warner

    Some people get way too carried away with social networking and their personal/professional lives blended a bit too much.

  2. Raul Pacheco

    Alex,

    As an educator myself and someone who is VERY heavily involved in social media, I grapple with the public/private divide all the time. Which leads me to the last sentence you wrote – “I'd love to see people in educational and caring fields offer some modeling around how to engage appropriately and respectfully online”. I have some insight to offer, and a challenge to pose.

    First off, you should know that I don't think I have the right answer, and that's something that frightens me. Because if *I*, with all the time I've spent online testing platforms, engaging and building communities, don't have the answers, I can only imagine the challenges that professors and teachers who *don't* engage in social media are facing.

    Now, from my own experience (and this comment may be republished on my blog as an entry), here are some things I have done to navigate the public/private ever-blurring divide with my students:

    1) I don't friend my students on Facebook. I don't think it's a good idea simply because it blurs the line between professor and student. That said, I do know that they have “Liked” my Facebook page and that's proven a really good engagement tool online.

    2) I do follow back my students on Twitter. That helps me interact with them really quickly and answer their questions fast (on @raulpacheco).

    3) I take the conversation about online behavior and social media to the offline realm. In the classroom, I talk to my students about my social media involvement and I set the boundaries and rules of engagement, from day one. I explain why I keep both worlds separate.

    I have to praise some of my current and prospective students – they have understood the separation of my identities (@hummingbird604 and @raulpacheco) and they choose to follow who they identify with more. But throughout the academic year, and in the classroom, I'm not their friend, I'm not their online buddy nor the semi-famous internet celebrity. I am their professor, and as such the boundaries are firmly set.

    Hope this sheds some light on the issue.

  3. bali car rentals

    why there was a patrol within the limits of the network,
    if all the users of the site, signed and registered up date why there should be limits?

  4. bali car rentals

    why there was a patrol within the limits of the network,
    if all the users of the site, signed and registered up date why there should be limits?

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