30 Important Rules for Professors on Facebook

Facebook is becoming a popular tool for professors to use as a supplement to their in-class or online lectures. From sharing course materials to starting project-specific pages to building a more comfortable relationship with students, Facebook is an alluring platform for a more holistic college experience — for both professor and student. But Facebook use can make you vulnerable to traps and slip-ups that can cost you your job, or at least cause some major embarrassment. Here are 30 rules for professors to follow on Facebook.

  1. Don’t vent about students: You may forget that the student you’re ranting about is friends with one of your friends, and might still be able to see your status updates.
  2. Understand your motives for friending students: Many professors become friends with students on Facebook so that they seem more accessible and to encourage intelligent discussion. If you want your students to continue to view you as a more conservative professor, don’t bring any relationships online.
  3. Don’t blast updates to the whole university network: If your school is on its own Facebook network, make sure your privacy settings are set so that your updates aren’t sent to everyone on campus — this oversight can happen even if you’re not friends with them.
  4. Find out if your school has a social media policy: Some universities now have policies for faculty use of social media: you may not be allowed to friend students or discuss work at all, even on your private account, so make sure before you update your profile.
  5. Consider waiting until students have graduated: Becoming friends with students after they’ve graduated could be a smart policy if you’re nervous about saying the wrong thing or offending someone.
  6. Use Facebook to help online students: If you’re an online instructor, use Facebook regularly to interact with your students. Since they’re not able to meet with you in person, it’s especially important that you’re readily available across different platforms online.
  7. Use Facebook as a back-up tool: If class is cancelled because of bad weather, direct students to Facebook, and send out course materials, readings and discussion questions so that your class doesn’t fall behind.
  8. Take advantage of Groups: Create Groups for different classes, study groups, projects, or special discussions. It will help you stay organized and bolster the community spirit, hopefully encouraging more active participation.
  9. Set up a separate account: Set up a private account under a nickname, and use another Facebook account to connect with students, share class materials, and fuel discussion.
  10. "Mind your brand": Everyone on Facebook should realize that they can’t keep their private and workplace identities completely separate on social media. Realize that everything you put up on your profile, including your updates, contributes to your personal brand.
  11. Don’t login when you’re upset: A few teachers at lower level schools have been fired because of nasty comments they’ve made about their schools or students. Mouth off to your friends in person, and wait until you feel calmer to get online.
  12. Decide if you really want to spy on your students: Do you really want to know that your student missed class because he or she was hungover, even though they emailed you with a nobler excuse? Sometimes, ignorance is bliss, particularly if you want to remain an unbiased grader.
  13. Don’t get violent: Threats about campus violence are taken especially seriously these days after shootings have occurred at colleges across the country, and even comments made as jokes about killing students or colleagues can get you fired.
  14. Get student feedback: Facebook is an easy way to get feedback from students regarding what they learned in class, how they can apply it to their daily lives, and what they wish you’d discussed.
  15. Connect students to each other via your own profile: Encourage students to ask each other questions and critique each other’s work by giving them a forum to do so on your profile or in a message feed.
  16. Use Pages: Set up a Facebook Page for a particular class, like this Spanish professor did to encourage students to speak to each other in the foreign language without being graded.
  17. Enrich the in-class atmosphere: Connecting with students online can "bring more closeness into the classroom," a graduate student and Kansas State teacher told UWire.com. If students feel more comfortable with you because they know more about your personal interests and experiences, they’ll be more likely to open up in class too.
  18. Expand your professional network: Friend colleagues you meet at conferences, lectures and other events to network professionally.
  19. Host discussions on Facebook: Add tabs for polls, surveys and discussions, and require students to jump in for "class" participation points.
  20. Take advantage of Facebook’s convenience: Send out bulk messages that everyone can see instead of setting yourself up to reply to lots of separate emails.
  21. Avoid the time suck: You can’t blame your students for playing on Facebook instead of studying if you’re doing the same thing: set aside certain Facebook time for fun, and the rest of the time, use it for something productive, like posting course materials or responding to questions.
  22. Use it to store and save information: Ask students to dump research and brainstorming ideas — and help them add resources –  into a Page for easy collaboration.
  23. Find out where you’ve been tagged: You can find out if you’ve been tagged or added to photos and videos, even if you missed the e-mail update. Untag yourself from anything offensive or unprofessional.
  24. Stay active: If your students want to become friends with you on Facebook and you’re open to the online connection, make an effort to engage with them. Keep your profile updated, and respond to questions and comments; otherwise, you’ll seem cold and snobbish.
  25. Publicize your Facebook profile: Make it easy for students to find you on Facebook, if you want them to. Add a link to your email signature or website if it’s convenient.
  26. Invite everyone: Don’t arbitrarily friend students as they find you if you plan to use Facebook as an extension of your class projects and discussions. You’ll seem like you’re favoring the students who find you by accident and are leaving everyone else out.
  27. Don’t trash the school: Professors often like to get involved in campus campaigns and student events, but don’t randomly trash the school or your university president with remarks that undermine their integrity or hint you’d rather be working somewhere else.
  28. Remember who’s watching: Your department head or university president might be silently reading your updates, so keep everything clean.
  29. Let students know if you won’t friend them back: Students might be offended if you don’t accept their friend requests and don’t explain why. If you start getting requests, announce your policies for using (or not using) Facebook with them.
  30. Only post or send messages you’d be proud to say in person: Don’t get flirty, overly risque or sarcastic on students’ walls or in messages. Remember that just because it’s online doesn’t mean it isn’t real.

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