Boundaries, Social Media, and Higher Education

Dear Higher Ed Colleagues & Students ~

I would like to have a discussion with whomever would like to participate about the topic of  “boundaries” between students and faculty (or advisers, or other higher ed staff) in higher education when social media comes into play. A few months ago, one of my colleagues made a remark that she was worried about “crossing boundaries” with students in social media spaces.  Her comment caused me to consider some questions:  Aside from our professional and personal ethical frameworks and institutional policies (and the law), where *are* these boundaries; are they clearly demarcated; and do boundaries become altered in any way if they are within virtual spaces instead of physical spaces?

I’d like to hear others’ perspectives about this topic, so I am posing a few more questions to get our noggins rolling. If you’re  willing to chime in, please do so in the comments area. Please also tell us who you are and what perspective you are offering — are you a student (undergrad? grad? adult or “traditional” college student), professor, higher ed staff, or ??? Also, can you share any articles or resources on this topic of boundaries in social media spaces with the rest of us?

Thanks in advance for participating!

To Facilitate Our Conversation … :

1) To what extent are you concerned about boundaries being crossed between students and faculty (or other higher ed staff) in various social media sites (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, blogs, wikis, YouTube, etc.)? What might your concerns be?

2) What about using social media sites has you more (or less) concerned about boundaries to begin with?

3) Has your thinking about boundaries and privacy and social media shifted at all since you first began using social media? If so, how?

4) What might constitute “crossing a boundary” in a social media site that would be different from crossing a boundary in a physical space for professionals in higher education?

5) What practices do you enact to ensure that you don’t cross boundaries in social media sites?

6) To what extent might the concepts of privacy and boundaries be conflated when considering social media sites?

7) Are there other, or different, questions we should be asking about boundaries between professors and students in social media spaces?

Again, thanks for participating!


"Flowtown's Map of Online Communities: 2010" from Mashable



35 thoughts on “Boundaries, Social Media, and Higher Education

  1. Thanks for asking these questions and for beginning this discourse. I did have concerns as I participate in social media as part of my leisure- it is a way to express my personal identity, my preferences. It allows me to connect with and make new friends- and to communicate and be in relationship in a kind of short-hand way. While I am fairly open about my life and feelings, and I don’t really do anything that I feel the need to hide from students, I have had the feeling that the boundary is one I wish to hold.
    I though long and hard about that as a Feminist- who is critical of hierarchical boundaries within institutions. What it came to for me was the sense that there are times when I must exercise the authority inherent in my position- aware of the power within it, thus it is confusing for students to not have the clarity of these roles we inhabit in our jobs (we evaluate, we have inherent, if relative, power, we hold these power positions also by virtue of age and gender).
    So a year ago or so, I made the decision to NOT be Facebook friends with students (or clients for that matter) that I currently have a power relationship with. When that relationship ends, then we can symbolically change our status with one another through a change on social media (if desired).

    As a bit of an ethicist, I have always made a distinction between boundary crossings (which are not always a bad thing) and boundary violations (which are breaches of professional ethics). The thing about the crossings is that it can sometimes provide a bit of a slippery slope toward a situational violation- based on (perhaps) unclarity around when one is in their power role and when one is not…even then, the power of that choice is often in the hands of the powerful one. So, because I care for my students and respect them, I just don’t want to put them in a position of confusion…so I stopped that- and I respond to gestures of friendship by sharing that decision with them.

    I guess I feel that it is a boundary violation to force students to guess about the status of the relationship. I have generally felt ‘OK’ about wearing the many hats I do, but I have learned from others that it is not always easy to navigate the waters for them.

  2. We had a short workshop on this topic just before the fall quarter started. I participated as a discussant. I think it is possible (likely, even) that we’ll over think this question, when really common sense provides pretty good guidelines. Maybe Monday morning is making me cynical, but too much educational theory on this issue either constrains the faculty member from some simple decisions, or replaces the reflection activity on their part.

    I use Facebook a lot, Twitter only a little, and I provide a blog for my Principles of Economics students. My Facebook presence provides mostly personal or family fodder, but I wouldn’t post anything there I wouldn’t divulge in a casual social setting or in a faculty meeting.

    The one, hard and fast, rule that I use and I encourage others to use is that I don’t initiate friend requests with students, even those whom I know well, advise, etc. If they initiate the friend request, I accept. I just don’t want the power imbalance thing to be an issue were I to take the initiative.

    I’ve read about faculty who require Facebook membership for class activities, and that strikes me as problematic. Even if the faculty member adopts a “teacher identity” just for those purposes, most students would not, and the requirement infringes on their private lives. It is much better to use a dedicated social media tool for required class activities.

  3. Doug:

    I really can appreciate your comment about common sense. I believe that I would only post things that I would discuss in a causal setting or a facutly meeting. Plus I will not initiate or accept friend requests from students. I am a high school ES Itinerant Support Teacher and my students clearly do not understand boundaries and therefore I would not chat on any type of social networking site.

    I am also completing my master’s online with Grand Canyon University and we have a discussion forum so we maintain online conversations that are beneficial and helpful for us to grow as educators.

    The Internet is a wonderful source we just need to use our common sense and our gut feeling. I was told by a previous mentor that if it gives you an uneasy feeling in your gut don’t say or write until you speak to a colleague or supervisor.

  4. I currently attend two separate universities. One school handles mostly traditional students and the other is mainly geared towards the non traditional student. Being in both atmospheres, I see how each has adopted or not, social media and other technology.

    At the traditional school I often sit in a lecture hall with over 100 students. Most if not all of the students have a smart phone and actively interface with these devices at some point in time during the lecture. I admit, that I too pull out my phone and pull up facebook or twitter during “dry” spells of the lecture. However, most of the time I am engaging with the lecture via an online learning system such as Black Board that has lecture notes and other new media tools available to engage while the lecture is being conducted. I can also look up content associated with the lecture if I am unsure of the concepts the professor is explaining.

    At the non traditional school, technology is very weak in the classroom and many professors are completely inept with the basic electronic equipment in the classroom, let alone have a facebook account. Mostly, the students are older than the technology generation and find computers a hindrance rather than a tool. I find instructors who do not use technology to interface with the students are teachers who are missing a huge chunk of the communication potential and students that do not adopt new technologies are doing themselves a disservice.

    I would like to see instructors use social media as a tool of communicating with students. It has to be done carefully. As an instructor, you should have personal accounts with social media sites to keep in contact with family and close friends. Then, have a second account as an instructor that you reserve just for academic based content and allow students to be friends or followers.

    I get so much more out of the experience when instructors are engaged with me in a mutual environment, and frankly, that IS using social media. I say adapt or perish.

  5. I’m a Director of an academic advising unit at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), a large public university. I’ve been an advisor here since 2004 and an staunch advocate of the use of social media in academia since 2005. I actively friend my student population with the following message attached to each request:

    “Just your academic advisor, making myself accessible. Read the blurb under my profile pic so you can rest assured I’m not here to spy on you. Accept the friendship or not…totally your choice.”

    When they access my profile and read the about me blurb, this is what they see:

    “I am not here to spy on you or list “bad” behavior, I’m here as your advisor/friend. I know Facebook doesn’t say “school” to you, but I’m hoping to help you engage in your education while we’re both here. I won’t police, I’ll just advise.”

    Any student who feels pressured into accepting my friendship must not speak English. And, my requests are rarely ignored.

    While I agree with Doug’s assertion that this topic of boundaries can be over thought (and clearly disagree with his stance on initiating online friendships), I think this conversation is valuable to get to the core of why it is over thought. In my seemingly activist-level advocacy of the use of social media at all levels of academia, I *need* to understand why this form of communication is so desperately misunderstood by educators who create artificial boundaries.

    I was interviewed on the topic of social media meeting the academy a few months back by a colleague working on his PhD. In his paper he quoted me saying that social media is simply another communication tool, like a telephone. Granted, it’s the most interesting and engaging telephone we’ve ever had the opportunity to employ as a communication tool, but it’s a telephone nonetheless. This sentiment was echoed by a colleague in a presentation we delivered a week or so ago at a conference and it dawned on me just how self-evident the use of social media is in our work.

    And as for boundaries and what skills to employ when deciding upon them, it’s really rather simple. You’re the professional in the conversation, so you’re in control of what you share and how you share it. Further, why would boundaries be different in an on-line space from what they’d be in a personal space? Again folks, it’s simply a communication tool.

    This wasn’t nearly as eloquent as I wanted it to be, and there’s so much more I could say. But before this turns into a post the length of a bible, I’ll try to exit somewhat gracefully.

  6. Well I’m admittedly a *very* junior faculty person, but I’ll take a stab. Besides, I’m both from the wired, social-media generation, and I teach social media (gee how did that happen?) so I think I’m unusually positioned to answer this.

    Broadly, being that I teach social media, I really can’t avoid developing a contact list of students on, say, Facebook.

    That said, that just means I am on the bleeding edge here: the future is a place where social media is a dull, boring, everyday part of life, just like telephones or e-mail. For a faculty member to refuse to “friend,” “contact,” or “add” a student is equivalent to refusing to talk to a student if you run into them in line at the grocery store, or entering a bar, seeing a student, and leaving. We all exist in the same reality, so ignoring or avoiding students in the virtual medium makes no more sense than ignoring or avoiding them anywhere else outside of the (real or virtual) classroom space.

    Second, this is a complete non-issue. Connections to students via social media is only — *only* — a problem if you view what you post on social media as private. It’s not. That’s a misnomer bred in an era when we thought of the Internet as a place for anonymity.

    In fact, the Internet is a public place, like the sidewalk or a park or a market square. If what you are posting would be inappropriate in those places… then why are you posting it in a medium that is specifically designed to efficiently distribute and share your messages to anyone on the globe?

    Nobody needs that sort of privacy* on social media because all that sort of privacy really is is an excuse to behave badly to a small audience.

    * Note: I’m not talking about the security of your personal information or your credit card numbers, etc….

  7. Hmm – a conversation, just like Melanie requested…

    I’m a fairly early adopter, as far as technology goes. I believe in Howard Reingold’s original and current views on community and group wisdom. I hosted and moderated some early and large discussion lists that developed into real communities. And I spend a lot of time on Facebook.

    Yet, one of Mel’s topics was boundaries, and I think this issue is important. In the faculty workshop a young faculty member said she didn’t connect with her students on Facebook because she was concerned that being young and young-looking it was important to her to establish a line or a particular identity early on. I wasn’t as concerned about this, being of an older generation, but I understood her wariness over social media.

    Facebook friendships are a window into each others’ lives. As professionals we can establish a tone and discretion on our identity, but if we insist or even encourage our students be friends, we’re not only inviting ourselves into their public lives, we’re inviting ourselves into their living room. If I run into a student in the grocery store we can laugh and enjoy the out-of-context meeting, but I shouldn’t have permission to follow that student home.

    If we send the friend request, it is a clear (to me at least) violation of the same power imbalance issue that comes up with workplace relationships and sexual harassment training. The student may feel pressure to accept – given my role. Similarly, requiring student friendships on public social media sites extends the classroom too far.

    Solutions? Dedicated, non public social media communities perhaps. I haven’t tried them yet, but am curious. And, though a bit lower tech, creative use of older tools like asynchronous discussion boards, including subscription options might be good. It’s not the technology we should hamper, just our enthusiasm to project ourselves into our students’ lives.

    The one part of the scholarly discussion that I’d like to explore further are the elements of social media that make learning better. We know Facebook will be around but perhaps eclipsed by other phenomena in the next 5 years. What parts of technology and group-based interactions should we embrace?

    • I am with you, Doug, about wanting to know more about elements of social media that can make learning better. I think several LMS’s are integrating Web 2.0 technology with this end in mind, but it has the potential to go much further than within an LMS. Talk about the possibility for global learning!

  8. Interesting conversation. I write my responses as a facuty member who mentors and teaches adult learners who take accelerated courses in a cohort model.

    While in theory I agree with Doug’s comment about common sense, I have discovered that not everyone has the same definition of what is and what is not appropriate. I am aware of a faculty member who consistently friended students on Facebook. She recently parted ways with her University and has used Facebook as a forum to openly share her frustrations with her previous institution. Her constant barrage of postings caused me to block her. We all know people who share more than they should, and for those individuals social media makes this so convenient for them.

    I am fascinated by the comment Alex made stating, “For a faculty member to refuse to “friend,” “contact,” or “add” a student is equivalent to refusing to talk to a student if you run into them in line at the grocery store, or entering a bar, seeing a student, and leaving.” While I understand where he is coming from, I do not agree. Doug’s comment about not following the student home from the grocery store resonated with me. When I first got on Facebook a student sent me a friend request. I accepted. What I discovered, however, was that she was friends with classmates and I could see comments they wrote to her. When one classmate was conversing with our mutual friend on Facebook and discussing all the work I assigned them, I doubt she realized I could see her comments. Since that time I have made it a practice not to friend students until they have graduated. As their faculty mentor, I prefer to remain available to my students in less public forums.

    • Carrie, thanks for chiming in! Your example is an interesting one of what WE may not want to see or hear! This also made me think of — eeesh!

  9. I am a licensed mental health counselor working for MSSU as a counselor, advisor and instructor. I have not yet figured out whose lines are shared but it gives me concern. I am a friend of my step granddaughter. She has a wide selection of friends. One day one of my clinical student clients popped up on my facebook account. I then had information that I wasn’t sure he would want me to have. An AA issue that he had not shared. When he came to his session, I told him that some information about him had appeared on my facebook. I would not share the link of the information claiming it was confidential as his information would remain confidential to me unless he wanted to share and process.

    I only post general information that I feel anyone could hear and understand and remain neurtral. Yes, I am older but had a facebook account before one of my daughters.

    The University departments promoted the use of social media in the beginning. Now a lot of people in our building are blocked from Facebook. Might consider the addiction angle of Facebook also.

    • Mary – thanks for participating!
      F/U Question: do you mean individuals in your building are blocked from Facebook, by administration or? Why – because they mis-used it, or??? I am just wondering if it’s an institutional policy at play or something else.
      Thanks again!

  10. There’s already been a lot said, so I will try to keep this short. I’m a fairly new faculty member at University Illinois Springfield. I teach experiential learning courses (internship and prior learning) to both adult learners and “traditional” students both online and on ground.

    I think the main issue I would consider is the expectation of privacy. I note that more than on post compared social networks to telephones, but in my view they’re closer to megaphones–you may wish to only share your message with one or few people, but it gets heard by all. In my view if you are allowed to create a network, then access to what you say/do should only be limited to your selected members. I hope everyone has learned by now that this is not the case, although in my experience many students have not. I don’t believe the presumption of privacy is a simple “misnomer,” as Alexander says, but rather the result of a sort of bait and switch implicit in the sense of control over your audience these sites appear to (but do not in actuality) provide.

    To address Melanie’s original question, I like John’s strategy of creating two accounts, but personally I think it would be difficult to maintain. Instead I’ve practiced separating by networks. I will accept any request from students (and have requested to connect with certain students after semesters’ end) on LinkedIn. Since I view this as a “professional” network, I never say anything that makes me worry about posting, nor do I expect to read/see anything too personal from my connections.

    The only requests I have accepted (and I think received) for Facebook connections come from students in the group I advise since this connection is more social in nature. Still, I try to generally ignore their posts unless they are relevant to their school life.

    • Ross – Thanks for this comment! Your last paragraph makes me think there might be something about roles we have and hats we wear. Maybe there’s more “comfort” in being more personal when we are in the role of adviser versus instructor. You mentioned that role being more “social in nature.” Interesting observation. Art, you’re an adviser too — any thoughts???
      Thanks again for participating!

  11. Great conversation! Thanks for starting this dialogue Melanie!

    Lots of great thoughts above and mine will reiterate many of them, but I will throw in my five cents anyway!

    This reminds me of a conversation I had with my father several years back. He was reflecting back on his college years back in the sixties in California. Interestingly enough my father studied under the very theorists I use in my work today; Glasser, Berne, Harris.

    He spoke of how, back in his day, the students would hang out with the professors and have rap sessions-deep intellectual discussions and explorations of life and learning.

    From this, students connected with professors on both a personal and academic level; and learned the academic and realistic application of the theories being learned.

    He was lamenting how this was missing in my little sister’s college education, as she seemed to be quite separated from her professors and there clearly seemed to be an “us and them” mentality. The student was experiencing more of a deliverer of grades than a mentor and educator.

    In fact, Karper’s development of the drama triangle came out of his direct access and interaction with Eric Berne (Transactional Analysis), yes?

    On the topic of boundaries, I am not sure this is a social media topic as much as a professional one. Should we not practice boundaries whether it is in the traditional arena or in the virtual world?

    Accountability to appropriate conduct can be expected whether I attend the same church as my students or I connect with them through social media.

    Choosing whether or not to connect with students through FB or twitter may come down to simply choosing how I want to utilize these tools. If I use social media purely for personal reasons, I may not want to connect with my professional world.

    I utilize my FB and Twitter to connect with my consulting network. I post learning videos and articles, updates of new learnings and models, etc. Now and then I throw in something personal to build the relationship. Although my friends and family are present, I have controls in place to monitor what is shared. For me personally, I find it appropriate to accept students into this world.

    I have found some students have an interest in continuing a connection and wish to follow up on the learning. Social media is a great vehicle for this. It allows for the mentoring role of the educator to grow.

    As I primarily teach at a distance, I find students really do want to connect. Social media allows this. They are able to read my blogs, read posts from other “friends,” participate in conversations, posts on my wall when they have thoughts, and continue to receive learning resources.

    More importantly, they gain a sense of who I really am beyond the material within the virtual classroom.

    I suppose this begs the questions. “are we comfortable putting ourselves out there and being transparent to our students?” “Do we trust in our character, values and the appropriateness of our boundaries?”

    Cora Lonning
    Marylhurst University
    Adjunct Professor

    • Cora –
      I am reflecting on this comment quite a bit: “Choosing whether or not to connect with students through FB or twitter may come down to simply choosing how I want to utilize these tools.” That makes a lot of sense to me. For me, Facebook is more personal in nature (though I often merge personal and professional, intentionally) and I don’t friend students but I accept their requests if they friend me; LinkedIn is more professional and I will accept invites (though I don’t think I initiate them there, but I feel less concerned about doing so); and Twitter so far is professional, mostly, but I do follow several students (because I think some of them have interesting tweets; not because I am spying on them).

      I think a key word you used might be “choosing.” Thanks for sharing your perspective!

  12. I appreciate this discussion so far; thank you all so much for contributing to my thinking on this topic! Let’s delve deeper!

    Some threads or themes I see starting to emerge from this discussion and that seem to need further exploration include:

    1) Concerns about authenticity and transparency, privacy and confidentiality

    2) Roles and positionality and the nature(s) of student-teacher / adviser / mentor relationships

    3) The tools themselves: limitations of / challenges with social media sites; sites with specific purposes (professional / personal)

    4) Social media to make learning better (!!!)

    What did I miss? Other thoughts on the topic?

    Thanks again to those of you who have already contributed; in one way, this project here speaks to #4 for me — it’s making my learning on the topic better! I look forward to more discussion if you, or others joining us, are up for it.

  13. I know that what Melanie wants is not an argument, so I won’t add any rebuttals or arguments, but I *will* add a fact that affects osome of the other suggestions here: having two social media accounts is against the terms of service on some popular platforms, such as Facebook. So having a personal account and a professional account, at least for now, is not always a technically possible solution.

    • Yes, Alex — and being “asked” to be “friends” within that reality is not a comfortable moment for the one with less power. If the instructor is asked by the student, that’s different – but if I’ve been found out here, in my personal life, by my boss, my instructor, or my school counselor, I don’t really want more than a passing “hello.”

  14. I, too, am sensitive to Melanie’s desire to keep this a dialog rather than a forum arguing one’s position over those of another. I’m going to respond to her request that I comment further on a specific issue, but my statements will also address a trend I’m seeing in a majority of the posts urging caution and separation. Mel said:

    “Maybe there’s more “comfort” in being more personal when we are in the role of adviser versus instructor. You mentioned that role being more “social in nature.” Interesting observation. Art, you’re an adviser too — any thoughts???”

    I spent nearly a decade as an adjunct lecturer at the community college and university level, and I think all education is social in nature–even when we’re an instructor rather than an advisor. And don’t even get me started on the instructional nature of academic advising–then you’ll really get a bible-length post. Here are a couple of excerpts from Daloz’ “Mentor”:

    “[education is] a human endeavor – an encounter between and among people who have something important to learn from one another” (xxvi)

    “Education is something we neither ‘give’ nor ‘do’ to our students. Rather, it is a way we stand in relation to them” (Daloz, xvii)

    Education is social at every point in the dialog.

    As such, I further feel it absolutely vital that we break down the “us v. them” mentality rampant in traditional approaches to professorial demeanor and boundaries. We ought feel freer to have an Aristotelian “civic friendship” with our students and advisees–a friendship based on a mutually shared goal of the student’s learning. I think we build walls if we’re too strict in creating boundaries. And when we build walls, it’s harder for students to learn and succeed.

    What saddens me the most is that so many educators fail to see through their own concerns about privacy and artificial boundaries and miss out on the opportunity we have to fully appreciate each students “opening point in the dialog” (Daloz) that social networking connections can provide. And the only way to reap such benefits is not by forcing students to connect with us in the LMS or in platforms that make *us* comfortable, but rather in meeting them on their own terms. There are great teachable moments that present themselves in these spaces. When students misunderstand assignments you’ve given and complain on someone’s Facebook wall; when someone shares a bit too much; these are opportunities to engage and educate. As teachers, why would we shy away from that?

  15. Just to clarify the advising I mentioned was overseeing a student group. My role is mostly to guide them in creating on campus events that are educational, but certainly not a formal class.

    I think in many ways I’m acting the luddite of this group, but I grow concerned by the attitude (which I’ve seen championed elsewhere though I’m mostly inferring it here) that criticizes faculty who don’t use social media. I agree it’s a powerful tool and can enhance education, but obviously it’s not for everybody. As we often tell our students, there’s more than one way to learn, and I believe good teachers teach regardless of what format they select.

    I think because of that, I’m considering Melanie’s question #3 about the tools themselves. One part is that there is a certain unreliability in turning your teaching over to a third party system. Last year I was about to execute a project to link multiple sessions of a class together on Ning that was scuttled because I was told they were planning to charge memberships (the pricing is less than we expected, so maybe I should try to revive this idea). I know other faculty who started working in Second Life and Google Wave that face issues of transferring to new sites. If someone’s an early adopter then it’s natural to jump from platform to platform, but for others it’s a struggle.

    My other concern is also about the variety of tools available. As I said, I haven’t personally adapted the sites I use for teaching, but I see many ways that I think other sites would be very useful for my class. I worry, though, that there may be a limit to the number of networks people are willing to join, and that asking my students to join another would lead to a burnout of sorts.

    Obviously there are many other issues to consider, but these are two large ones I’ve been thinking about lately.

  16. The problem for me is the same problem I always have with anything “social.” I don’t carry on personal (or lengthy) phone conversations in front of other people, for instance, and I don’t want anyone else doing that in my hearing either.

    Online, it’s slightly different since everyone “listening” has the power to avert his eyes. No one is being forced by proximity to listen to anyone else online. But by being “offered” a “friendship,” the emotional and felt obligation to participate is huge. Who says no to Mr. Rogers? “Won’t you be my neighbor?” What if I don’t want to? What if I don’t like to call by the word “friend” people I don’t actually know – for real – face to face and in public? Am I then anti-social? Hostile? Small-minded?

    An instructor or other member of the staff at work or at school might easily use a public forum on “social” media, and have that space dedicated to the task at hand. The rules for everyone meeting at the coffee shop are already clear to us as a culture. Both school rules (pay attention when someone else is talking) and coffee shop rules (don’t belch really loudly or take a phone call without stepping outside) apply here. It’s the same online. Be polite, but nothing private is expected from you.

    I am “friends” with some of my instructors on Facebook. But not all of them. I’m friends with the instructors I’d be talking to at the coffee shop. We’re still in public.

  17. Identifying boundaries of identity and roles, from a cultural-anthropology perspective, help to establish harmonic communications –or at least dialog that is not fraught with interference from misunderstandings, such as apparent disrespect (crossing “sacred” boundaries without permission) for example.

  18. Pingback: Social Media and Student-Instructor Relationships |

    • “[…] post tees off of one begun by Melanie Booth over on Prattlenog, where she asked her fellow members of the academic community for their perspective on the […]”

      In which forum is it appropriate to reply?

      I agree with your assertion in part that the Internet is a “town square” and privacy doesn’t really exist. I don’t understand, however, how you can call it “unethical” for teachers to seek distance with their students.

      I think we could easily have the same discussion in how faculty approach their on campus activities. Some teachers hang out in the student center, others prefer office meetings and more formal contacts. Both have the potential for success depending on the teaching styles and personalities (is there a difference?) of the teachers. Neither one, however, is more “authentic” or “ethical” than the other.

      Social networking may allow for broader and more constant contact, but just because it can be an effective teaching tool doesn’t mean that it works equally for (or need by practiced by) everyone.

      • If an instructor doesn’t want to be on social media at all, I have no problem with that. I think it’s just as silly as not going outside on the street, but that’s a purely personal choice in my view.

        I see no significant problem with waiting for a student to initiate a contact.


        I see a huge ethical problem with having two accounts, one for students and one for non-students.

        I also see a huge ethical problem in being in a public place (social media) and excluding interaction with students in that place.

        That was what I was trying to get at.

  19. I am really enjoying this dialogue and again would like to thank Melanie for posing the fabulous questions!

    As I read through the posts and all the differing perspectives, I cannot help but be reminded of the value social media holds educationally!

    This speaks as much to what I can learn from colleagues as I can from students. Hearing what is being said provides insight…participating in that discussion creates a learning environment!

    For me, and this is just me and what my role is, I enjoy observing the student-student interaction as much as I enjoy interacting with students. I also am aware the students watch, and can only assume appreciate, the camaraderie between university colleagues, as we as educators interact publicly.

    As has been stated so many times, the key is in understanding social media is a public format. And how we behave there is how we would behave publicly.

    Cora Lonning

  20. Thanks to Doug and Melanie. I am a counselor in higher ed and the facilitator of the social media ethics roundtable this fall that Doug first mentions.

    Excellent perspectives and civil dialogue thus far. I think my professional role and code of ethics make this issue more clear for me than faculty and other staff. For multiple reasons, we’re not “friends” with clients, online or off. There are of course some interesting possible exceptions and unforeseen situations but in general, this kind of ethical boundary that is paramount to the work we do, makes this all clearer for me. It also helps immensely with the personal/professional boundaries and maintaining self-care, keeping my work and personal/social lives as separate as possible. This cuts down on computer time that I could justify as either social or work-related (whichever justification is more handy at the moment…)

    I’ve enjoyed reading (almost) all the comments thus far.. thanks.

    • Hi Victor-
      Thanks for contributing to our discussion with your perspective. Counselors do have much clearer boundaries it seems. I was speaking to a colleague (a therapist) who I invited to participate about his own hesitation to do so here in this forum even though he’s a social media user. This public space is in itself an uncomfortable place for him to try to address these very issues he’s concerned about. (I offered him the choice to post anonymously; I think his voice, too, would be good to add to the mix). Thanks again for posting your thoughts! -Melanie

  21. Melanie, et al.
    Much of what I have composed in terms of a response to the questions has already been stated by my colleagues in the counseling field. Victor’s comments are consistent with how I view this issue in that we have very clear codes of ethics around dual relationships and the “one up, one down” power dynamic that is inherent (and unavoidable) in the therapist-client and teacher-student relationship. Of course it matters what one does, shows, and says online, but the more salient problem in regards to this discussion is that entering into the social contract implied by “friending” on Facebook violates the boundaries that I believe should be in place between professor and student.
    Counselors have to think very clearly about their online presence because it is impossible to keep a client from seeing at least some information. What do you do if a client “friends” you? What if a client sees your artwork online (I’m an Art Therapist) and wants to see you as a therapist because he/she likes your art? What if you “friend” someone socially, and they are “friends” with a client? What if a client sees that you are on Facebook and asks you why they can’t “friend” you? How will you answer that question? Do you want to expose yourself in that way to people that you are trying to help?
    The linguistics of Facebook (e.g. Friends, friending, friended, accept, ignore, like, etc) have significant implications and even though some of these words have taken on subtly different or more complex meanings because of their use on Facebook, the messages inherent in them are problematic when it comes to having a proper teacher-student relationship (i.e. avoiding a dual relationship). Students are entitled to a productive relationship with professors. This requires the professor to be clear, consistent, direct, and objective. My belief is that, even on the basic level of the language that is involved in Facebook, clarity of relationship and objectivity go away and the relationship is inexorably altered.
    I think there needs to be a clear distinction between purely “social” media, and online environments that are used for educational purposes. I think it is too confusing to use Facebook for example both socially and educationally because, try as we may, I don’t think it is possible to maintain the distinction. Facebook’s inception was for purely social purposes and it carries this history, just as other objects and symbols in our society carry their own history and the implicit or explicit messages that those histories communicate to users and viewers. Facebook continues to write its own history and it’s not pretty much of the time. There is a news story today about some teachers in New York who were fired for “flirting” with students on Facebook. Sure, these people made poor choices, but because this story is out there it is now in the fabric of the Facebook history. Like it or not, people will question why teachers would contact students on Facebook because of these well publicized incidents. I’m not saying that all teachers have nefarious motives, but I am saying that these incidents and this accumulated history is reason to reconsider whether internet-based tools invented for socializing should be used as educational tools as part of the college or university classroom.
    Finally, I think it is a problem when online environments are seen as analogues to actual face-to-face interaction, because they are not the same.

  22. Greetings, all.

    I’m really not trying to be argumentative by chiming in one more time. And I want to start by saying you’ve made some pretty valid points. I simply want to highlight a point a few of you have made about choice.

    Choice is intensely significant in this era of the “social web.” every click is an expression of choice. Wise or not, the acceptance or rejection of “friendship” requests, choosing to trust a search engine result, or whether to read or delete a message from an educator, choices are being made. So too, are choices being made, by educators and scholars across the globe, to engage our students in environments in which they are comfortable, i.e. social media. I encourage you to read the linked post (and any others you find on his page) of a scholar named Rey Junco:

    I say this not to encourage you to join us in social media spaces, but merely to point out that doing so is a valid choice supported by theory, research, and practice by both advisors and instructional faculty (your implied distinction, not mine).

  23. Very interesting discussion!

    I’m not a faculty member but I am back in school after a while and amused at how dynamics have changed over the past 20yrs.

    Two different issues:

    a) safest rule of thumb is to only say on social media whatever you would say in public; although things can always be misconstrued, if there is a consistency to how you behave/talk, I find people just accept your virtual presence as you being you.

    b) I think it makes a difference whether connections are made before & during class versus after class is over. After I know I’ve got all my grades from a faculty member (not just for a particular course but for the duration of my stay at the school), I could care less what they read/think about me. Before that, I’m not sure I would want close proximity any more than I would want close proximity in person.

  24. I am a student and would consider myself the traditional college student. My stance on this is that students and faculty should have no relations what so ever on social networks. I understand a place like facebook is a public forum and many people can view it. About a year ago I decided to delete my facebook and myspace because I was quite creeped out at how much people knew about me that I did not realize I was sharing. Then I eventually brought back up my facebook page to keep in contact with relatives and friends with more of an awareness of what is being shared about my personal self. I would be quite creeped out if one of my professors asked to be my “friend” and definitely would not accept that invitation. I feel a more appropriate place for student; instructor conversation is on educational learning sites such as blackboard, myaccountinglab, moodle, a place designed strictly for class interactions. If more talking needs to be held, visit during office hours or simply use e-mail. I do like how Professor Gentry stated “common sense” this seems very reasonable to me because it is common sense that I would not speak with my professor unless I encountered them in a public place, or needed to communicate for class purposes. Social media, big negative.

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