Facebooking With Students?

I'll just say, right up front, I absolutely do. If students request me, I always say yes (well, almost always). And I have found it to be really useful in my job. I'm generally a pretty die-hard Facebook fan. As a writer, it's helped me in selling books and in making contacts with other writers. So I pretty much jumped right in when the first student friended me.

Since then, I've heard some really good reasons not to -- and surprisingly, most of those have come from my students. I let my advanced comp. students choose their own topics for an op-ed piece this fall, and they chose to argue about the value of Facebook. They had some pretty persuasive arguments against it. One of them told the story of having to change a relationship status just minutes after breaking up, and then getting deluged all day with "why??" questions from friends. That one made me pause and think.

And now a few weeks ago, I attended a webinar about professors who have been bullied (or worse) by students, and how to deal with aggression from students. The leader of the webinar strongly suggested we not interact with our students on Facebook, saying it just gives them more access to our lives and possible weapons if they decide to hurt us. That made me pause and think, too.

But I'm still on it. And I still love it. Why? Because it helps me fall in love with my students. I teach a lot of writing courses, mostly heavy composition courses, and I find I can't do it if I don't fall a little in love with my students. It becomes such a dreary task to fix someone's grammar, but if I know that student, if I know he was just dumped by his girlfriend yesterday and tonight he's getting a new tattoo, it's easier to write "comma splice" 30 times on a paper and not get mad. It's easier, in short, to be kind, and writing teachers need to be kind.

I teach a lot of online classes, too, and Facebook has done a lot to connect me to those students. There isn't any good mechanism in Blackboard and other online systems for helping you become friends with someone. But getting to know them on Facebook makes it easier for me to teach them. I understand better who they are, what their sense of humor is, and why today is not a good day to send back that D+ essay. And this isn't just frivolous play -- research has shown that we learn better from those we know, so this kind of socializing is a very real benefit for online students.

This morning I opened Facebook to find that one of my former poetry students had challenged another student to writing a double sestina. I've apparently been declared the "judge" and the "prize giver" (coconut fudge bars to the winner). And I've delighted all day in checking back to see if any double sestinas have been posted yet. Could I give this up? No way. Not today, anyway.