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A major concern in higher education involves the liabilities of officials who come across conduct that violate policies and/or laws. This legitimate concern may deter faculty and staff from venturing online. As faculty and staff increase their personal use of online social utilities to engage their students it increases the possibility of violating policies and laws. What actions are you required to take? What repercussions are there if you do not take any action? The answer to these questions vary from institution by whatever policy they have in place to address them. However, a common response is if college officials come across information, or if information is brought to their attention, then they have a responsibility to examine it as potential evidence. This does not mean that college officials are or should be searching through online spaces such as Facebook for policy offenses. Colleges do not conduct random searches across campus for illegal activity, and therefore, they should not conduct random searches online. Colleges do not want to set an expectation for care that would require them to continually monitor online activity, particularly because there is just too much information. It would create an undue pressure for the institution, which would make it vulnerable for legal action for issues that they did not manage to catch. Variability exists between institutions, and between departments at the same institution, when it comes to how they handle situations involving online/ digital evidence in policy violations. The general consensus is that an institution should have a consistent policy, and part of that should be the general principle that officials do not actively search for violations, but respond consistently to them, as they are brought to their attention (Lipka, 2008; Van Der Werf, 2007).

Faculty Ethics/ Professionalism On Facebook

Another concern, primarily from faculty, is what to do if you join Facebook and students try to friend you. At the heart of this question is the idea of the student-faculty relationship and how people draw the line to separate their private lives from their professional lives. Layered on top of that is the idea previously discussed about how students view the space as their space, not a public space for just anyone. As students are starting to realize, Facebook is a public space because it is online, regardless of privacy settings. However, education about how to use privacy settings decreases the public aspect of a personal profile, but is it enough? For some professors, more pressure may be coming from their colleagues than from their students, especially if they are seeking tenure. Some professors choose to use the site for curricular purposes and others for social reasons. If you open yourself up to Facebook for educational intent, then students are less likely to be put-off by your presence. However, if you use the site to try to socialize with students, then their is greater risk for tension with some students. If your intent is to use the site to stay in contact with personal friends, former students and peers/colleagues, there will likely be less tension with current students over your presence in the space. One approach that seems to work is to not friend students except if they sent you a request, then you can add them. Additionally, it is possible to have one profile that is structured for multiple audiences. To achieve this, determine what areas/fields of the profile you want certain audiences to see. For example, if you want your students to have access to your Notes and Photos section because you post assignments in the Notes section with Photos related to the assignment, you would set the privacy settings for each student to only access those areas/fields. If you wanted to have your contact information and course listings available to your peers/colleagues, and you did not want them to see have access to post on your wall, you could set the privacy settings for these individuals in accordance to those needs as well. The over-arching theme here is exercise caution and to familiarize yourself with the various account settings before getting in over your head.

Who is going to teach you? Good question. For this, you can read Facebook for Dummies (2008). What about blogs? Brandon G. Withrow’s (2008) article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “Not Your Father’s Ph.D., ” brought up good points about the concerns of budding academics who have embraced online social utilities and spaces. The reality is that older generations are still the ones in power and the ones who are hiring the new faculty. Withrow’s narrative expresses his difficulty in landing his first full-time position because of what he fears is his online presence. Even though he follows his own advice of keeping his online blogging and activity clean, useful, and honest, he still feels like the he is fighting an uphill battle with older faculty. His advice for them is to be realistic, relevant, and reasonable. On the opposite end of the spectrum, established faculty, staff and senior level administrators can still run into controversy through blogging. One example is the resignation of Alfred State College president, Uma G. Gupta, after faculty members posted anonymous complaints about Gupta’s performance and behavior on her blog (Jamieson, 2006 ). The posts sparked controversy and an investigation by statewide officials. College president’s have the opportunity to use blogging as a way to connect with the campus and surrounding community, but it also provides an opportunity for conflict and public relations nightmares. Presidents who post opinions about current events in politics, religion, etc. can potentially alienate students, faculty, staff, and alumni/potential donors. Understanding the public nature of these technologies/utilities/spaces and our goals as educators will help guide our practices and hopefully minimize the magnitude of such controversies.

To aid faculty avoid conflict with students, other faculty, and administration when using Facebook, the following proposed guidelines come from Mark Clague 's Facebook Group, Faculty Ethics on Facebook .
  1. Keeping official course activities in official online tools and not on Facebook.
  2. Never requiring students to participate in Facebook or having Facebook participation influence a course grade. (An exception is for class projects that might use Facebook for research purposes [such as a statistical analysis of how Facebook groups grow and fade] and make their connection to a course explicit.)
  3. Not friending students unless they request the connection. Not poking students. Never pressuring students to friend the professor (such as repeated mention of a faculty profile in class).
  4. Accepting friend requests from all students (unless the instructor makes the decision not to friend students at all).
  5. Not looking at student profiles unless the faculty member has been friended by the student and even then using Facebook information judiciously and for educational purposes. In short, not spying on students, but getting to know them better when invited to do so.
  6. Faculty members should avoid association with Facebook groups with explicit sexual content or views that might offend or compromise the student / teacher relationship. This guideline must be applied sensitively within the context of a diverse educational environment in which both students and faculty practice tolerance and accept competing views.
  7. Taking extreme care with privacy settings and faculty profile content to limit profiles to information relevant to educational purposes. A broad variety of information may be appropriate, however, given the area of expertise / subject, the local customs of an instructor's school, and the personal dynamics of his or her classroom. Content should be placed thoughtfully and periodically reconsidered to maintain this educational standard.
  8. Exercising appropriate discretion when using Facebook for personal communications (with friends, colleagues, other students, etc.) with the knowledge that faculty behavior on Facebook may be used as a model by our students.
  9. Never misrepresenting oneself by using a false name or persona on Facebook, unless that characterization is connected explicitly with the real identity of the instructor.
  10. Considering that the uneven power dynamics of the academy in which professors have authority over students, continue to shape the online relationship, even when the network tool (such as Facebook) is apparently democratic.
  11. Keeping wall posts and other Facebook communication in concord with standard ethical practices of the educational relationship.
  12. Never posting official course communication (feedback on an assignment, for example) in a public area of Facebook. Feedback might be given through private Facebook messaging when the student has asked a question via Facebook or a previous friend connection exists.

These guidelines are intended to be points for consideration and not hard and fast rules or laws of faculty behavior. Individual faculty must make individual decisions about the best practices in specific classrooms and educational contexts, always following the principle of nurturing student learning.

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