Friending Your Professor: Social Networking in the Classroom

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

With the rise of social networking, today’s generation of students have different ways of communicating with friends, peers—even family—than those of previous generations. While some professors limit the use of social networking by prohibiting use of sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube in classrooms, others use social networking as a means of enhancing classroom discussion.

Eric Song, assistant professor of English Literature, and David Griffith, an assistant professor of English at Sweet Briar College, are examples of teachers who allow students to use social media in educational rather than purely social means.

Song tried using various forms of social networking like Blackboard and external blogs before switching to Facebook this school year for his “Renaissance Lyrics“ and Milton classes. By having his students join a Facebook group for his classes, his hope was that, due to the predominant number of students on Facebook, “classes would be better integrated with their daily lives to facilitate discussion… Students post before and after class. They give each other thumbs up if they like another student’s response.”

Song found a rise in the level of interaction and discussion between students after switching over to Facebook in his classes. “I like Facebook most out of all the formats I’ve tried… It’s a small improvement on something I’ve wanted to do. The response has been more positive, that’s for sure.”

The trend exists outside Swarthmore as well. Dave Griffith uses a number of social networking interfaces as well as websites such as WordPress and Storify that serve as interfaces to link Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and Tumblr posts in his journalism and English classes. WordPress connects the class blog to various forms of social media the students use by linking Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr accounts while Storify allows students drag individual tweets, Youtube videos, and Facebook posts onto a common interface.

“Students tend to use social networks in purely social ways. I’m showing them ways in which social media can be used to educate ourselves about all different kinds of issues and create a meaningful sense of community,” said Griffith.

Some argue that the amount of detailed personal information exposed through social networking may result in a breach of privacy. To address this problem, both Song and Griffith encourage students to adjust privacy settings on Facebook and Twitter as well as having multiple Tumblr blogs linked to one account to prevent educational and personal overlap. If this isn’t enough to make students feel comfortable, Song and Griffith welcome the use of “dummy” accounts.

Ultimately, the issue of privacy is best approached when confronted with honesty. Griffith admits, “I don’t have the perfect system worked out yet, but my message is to have frank conversations with students about what they want or don’t want me to see.”

Both professors are also taking steps to separate their own private lives. Song confesses, “I have a dummy account. People are befriending it as a joke. I have a real account, but it’s hidden.”

Correction: This article previously stated that Griffith teaches a class on feminism. He teaches an English class with the theme “Myths About Women.”


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