Believe it or not, college and university faculty have embraced online social media. Over ninety percent of faculty use social media in their work; thirty percent use Facebook for academic purposes. Many faculty require students to view social media (40%), many require students to read posts as class assignments (30%), and some require students to post comments (20%). Faculty use social media because it provides another means of instant communication with students, enriches lessons, and some professors believe that it improves class discussions. Faculties in the social sciences and humanities have taken to Facebook more readily and in larger numbers than their colleagues in other disciplines. And though we would unthinkingly speculate that faculty Facebook users tend toward the younger and junior generations of faculty, in actuality, there is only little difference in use by age. Faculty, it seems, have entered and settled into students’ walled garden of online social networking; we have extended our teaching beyond the classroom walls and maybe even our Selves.
What do we make of faculty’s intrusion into what was originally and only recently just student space? A more interesting question: what role(s) do professors play in the development of campus communities through Facebook, Twitter, or other online social media?
Most of our students are digital natives—Net Generations—for whom information consumption and production has occurred online as well as offline. The presence of faculty on social media for the purposes of course instruction or other academic uses (e.g. student service learning projects, learning communities, etc.) doesn’t really seem all that unusual or unreasonable. Generations of college students now presume that the extensive array of computer-mediated communication can and should permeate all aspects of their lives. Posting on a Latin American History course Facebook Page just doesn’t seem that off-putting.
Yet, these are social media, after all, and my guess is that students don’t really want us in their social space. Students I’ve interviewed over the years have admitted to feeling ambivalent about “Facebooking” with faculty, a gerund that is more about using Facebook for social networking, i.e. for developmentally distinctive self-impression and representation, than for college course learning. Some students still perceive sites like Facebook as a distinctively student space in which the sociology of student life plays out. Students resist connecting with faculty or other academic resource professionals on Facebook. Even when cognizant of privacy settings, some students hesitate to enter into a friendship-based online social networking relationship with faculty. Some students perceive Facebook as a space unsuitable for such authority figures—a wariness of the panopticon, I’m guessing.
These students, I believe, are missing something very important about the power of online social networking spaces to bring a new energy to their educative and pedagogical relationships with faculty. Facebook has changed the way we can interact with students, and the ways in which we can nurture richer, more effective student-faculty relationships. Social media can help faculty better communicate with students in order to enlarge their educational experiences, and in doing so, create new forms of campus communities. Faculties are points of contact in the geography of the campus and their interests should be shared and communicated to students. Faculty present students with in John Dewey’s words, “…more numerous and more varied points of contact” and “a greater diversity of stimuli” to which they can respond, and which can enlarge their experiences. Faculty can widen the scope of shared concerns so that loosely associated campus communities can find interest in collaboration and in cooperative experiences.
Teaching with and through online social media is but one way in which college and university teacher-student interactions and relationships—not “friendships”—can stretch forms of disciplinary inquiry, and forms of communication. The more knowledge that is shared between faculty and students—the more that faculty know about the student as learner, for example—the more likely their interactions will contribute to the growth and development of individual students and as a consequence, the campus communities in which they live and associate with others. Being bound by shared knowledge and experiences, students and faculty can create great communities within the classroom, and that can extend beyond it as well. Professors don’t really want to use Facebook for any other reason than it’s got the potential to be one really effective means to 21st century pedagogy. Facebook extends beyond the spatial and psychic boundaries of your Wednesday 2:30 class.