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"A professor is not a friend"

"A professor is not a friend"

Photographer:Fotograaf: simonegolob.nl

Facebook etiquette

120. This is the average number of friends of a typical Facebook user on this social network site. Colleagues, fellow students, family, sports mates, and increasingly also your lecturers or students. The question is whether the latter is a good idea. UM lecturer: “I would not want to know with whom and how my students spend their weekends.”

“Facebook is still a confusing world, in which different people – and that has a lot to do with age groups – seem to have different etiquettes,” says Alissa Brook. She is a PhD student (and former teacher) at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and now working as a lecturer at the Alice Salomon Hochschule in Berlin. She has 278 Facebook friends, a number that is way above average. “Therefore, what I as a teacher might interpret as ‘sucking-up’ for a grade, a student might perceive as legitimate ‘friend-collecting’. The few times that students offered me friendship during the course, I refused, but I accepted most of them after the course. In the beginning, I was much more picky about whose friendship to approve, and only approved that of the students that I really had more contact with. At some point, I surrendered and accepted also a few with whom I didn’t have any more contact than the usual student-teacher relation.”

Status symbol

The discussion about whom you should and should not accept as a friend, is familiar to Dirk Tempelaar, senior lecturer at the department of Quantitative Economics. Just like Brook, he does not accept invitations from students he is teaching at that moment. “I would not want to know with whom and how they spend their weekends.” He has noticed that more and more people are trying to collect as many so-called friends as possible. “I regularly receive requests from people I do not know. I don’t do anything with them.”

The number of friends on Facebook can indeed be seen as a status symbol, says Hans van Driel, senior lecturer at Tilburg University and specialising in digital media and culture. “It is a way of scoring as much as possible. As a lecturer, I wouldn’t accept such invitations.” Van Driel is not so keen on friendship invitations from students anyway. “You have to look carefully at the role of social media. LinkedIn for example, is a professional medium. A student who links his or her professor, can benefit from his network – providing he accepts you, of course. I do not see the use of friendships between students and lecturers on Hyves or Facebook. Those social media are for one's private circle – people you would show your holiday pictures.”

Teun Dekker, teacher at University College Maastricht, thinks otherwise. “I see Facebook more as a professional than a social network. I always accept friendship invitations from students. My real friends send me e-mails, phone or come around for a cup of tea. I am very selective about what I put on it, however. What I do if I see that students have been partying the whole weekend and therefore have not finished their work? Nothing, we do not run a kindergarten. I certainly wouldn't actively go looking for that. Sometimes, it may explain a lot; oh, so that is why they were so slow this morning.”

Social media and education

Does Van Driel see possibilities for using social media to communicate with students? “Definitely, but I prefer Twitter. I find that very functional. I twitter about the lessons I give and the projects that I am involved in. I am aware that students are reading the tweets too, so what I write has to be about something. I do not post what I have just eaten. I also use Twitter to answer questions from students. I have it open almost all the time and I reply quickly.”

Teun Dekker also sees a role for social media in education. “With a small group of approximately five students, I am part of an undergraduate research project. We have a joint Facebook page – PEERS UCM Undergraduate Research – where we can help each other and share ideas and information. You see that systems such as Eleum and Facebook are getting more and more intertwined. It is not unlikely that Eleum will be replaced in a few years time.”

His colleague Dirk Tempelaar from the School of Business and Economics, on the other hand, is not very active on Facebook. His circle of friends does not exceed forty. “Having a Facebook page was more or less forced upon me because of working arrangements at the University College. Quite a lot of lecturers from various faculties work there and Facebook was a way of creating a link. The idea was that all academic advisors – lecturers who coach students – would use the social network to make appointments. Anyway, that was the plan once upon a time; the activity is not too great. Most communication is done by e-mail.”

Pictures only for friends

Janneke Zeelenberg, junior researcher at the Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences, is an advocate of separate worlds. “I use Facebook mainly to have contact with my friends. I do not accept invitations from students. I also put private things on Facebook, like photographs, et cetera, and that is none of their business. Recently, a student approached me in a tutorial group. ‘Madam, I Googled you and is it true that you are that cyclist’s girlfriend?’ It happens, really. “And it is not that I don’t like my students, but I do not need to know what they are up to either.”

Many students agree with her. “I only want my friends to see my pictures,” says a European Studies student from Germany. “I don’t think it would give a good impression if a professor sees me drinking or partying. I think it could influence your grades.” Her two friends, also from Germany: “A professor is not a friend.” Can someone stay objective when he grows that close to students, they wonder.  

An exchange student from Baylor University, Texas: “I don’t have anything to hide, but Facebook is a part of my life that I want to keep separate from school life. I like the big distance we keep in the United States. It’s less informal. We for example never call them by their first names, we always say professor or doctor.” PhD student Alissa Brook has also noticed that things are more formal in her job in Berlin, compared to the Netherlands. “I haven’t had any friendship requests from my students in Germany yet, because here there is more of a hierarchical distance.”

Judith Knoops, a Dutch second-year student at University College has added one professor and that’s her father. Knoops, though, could imagine adding other staff. “At UCM, there’s a chance to meet lecturers in more than one course a year, you sometimes go on an excursion together, get together after courses, et cetera. My criterion for adding a person to Facebook is: do I know the person well enough, or not.”

 

 

 

Wendy Degens, Cleo Freriks

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