Social networks can blur the lines of professional relationships

By| KyKernel opinions writer

It used to be that the only way to send letters was through the post office, the only way to hear someone’s voice was in person and the only way to find out what a friend did the night before was to ask them the next day.

The Internet changed not only these things, but it changed higher education; and not just by offering search engines and Wikipedia.

Students use email, FaceTime and Facebook to study together and share knowledge, as well as to share personal information.

Professors have the opportunity to use the same mediums, but often do so for different reasons.

Where many students use sites like Facebook to network with their friends, a growing number of professors are using sites like Facebook to interact with their classrooms even when school is not in session.

The reason is clear: Facebook gives teachers a direct and easy link to students through a medium they already use. Posting homework and study tips, and sharing information that relates to class on a page students are almost guaranteed to see can change the way classes are taught.

But it can change the professor/student relationship, too. While email and Blackboard offer similar outlets for teachers to connect with their students professionally, Facebook also allows students and teachers to connect in an unprofessional manner.

It can alter the sharing of information from what happened yesterday in class, to what happened last night at a party.

When someone is sending an email, the information shared between the individuals is limited to that one exchange. However, when someone visits another’s Facebook page, the amount of shared information skyrockets.

Students’ religious beliefs, political opinions, photos and posts suddenly become accessible. This information is not typically prevalent in professor/student relationships. Our fear is that its sudden availability could alter those relationships in one way or another.

While a good professor wouldn’t let something trivial, like what a students nightlife looks like, influence their actions in a classroom, a bad one might.

While a good professor would just post about education and their own musings, a bad one might “poke” their students, and invade their privacy.

Unfortunately for responsible professors and students, it does not matter what a “good professor” would do different from a “bad professor” on Facebook. Using social media blurs the lines between professional and social lives. And where lines are dotted, people will cross over.

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