Students and professors should be cautious of interactions on social media

Social media helps people connect with anyone, anytime, anywhere. But feelings about whom college students connect with on social media are mixed.

Social media can become dangerous if used without caution, said associate sociology professor Amber Paulk. It is important for students to consider the possible dangers of social media, especially when connecting with professors outside the classroom.

“Through social media, you could develop a friendship with a teacher and start flirting,” Paulk said. “It slowly starts moving in a direction that is completely inappropriate.”

If students need to communicate with a professor outside class, Paulk said she thinks they should do it through email only.

Students and professors have the right to accept or decline any communication on social media, she said.

“In the college environment, everybody is an adult,” she said. “Hopefully they can feel comfortable saying, ‘no, I don’t accept your friend request’ or ‘I have a boundary.’”

Professors and students must choose their personal boundaries with outside-of-class communication, she said.

“I know professors who have very strict boundaries,” she said. “They don’t friend students, and they won’t accept students’ friend requests until after they graduate. I also have friends that the first thing they do in their classes is say, ‘friend me on Facebook,’ or even create a community on Facebook for that specific class.”

Paulk also said students should understand that connecting with a professor through social media does not give them any special benefits in the class.

“Just because I added a student on Facebook, that doesn’t mean that they’re going to get a better grade in my class,” she said. “(Being) Facebook friends doesn’t mean we (disregard) the professional boundaries that we’ve got to respect.”

Associate professor of communications Beth Garfrerick said many of her Facebook friends are students.

“I think it’s OK for professors to connect with students as long as they’re appropriate with it,” she said. “A student sent me a friend request on Facebook then started bugging me about grading an assignment, so I unfriended her.”’

Garfrerick said she receives many requests for reference letters from students and other inquiries on Facebook.

“It’s an amazing tool to stay in touch with people,” she said.

Senior Sally Stone said she thinks students could benefit from professors posting announcements on Facebook.

“Having a specific page for the class on Facebook is a good way to stay up-to-date on assignments,” she said.

Some professors choose not to connect with students on Facebook because they want to only share their lives outside of class with close friends, Paulk said.

“There’s lots of people who may want to save (social media) for a close knit circle of friends,” she said. “That way, they can post when and what they want without students seeing it and thinking it’s unprofessional.”

Stone said she has a neutral opinion about connecting with professors on social media.

“I think it could be a good thing but I don’t think it should be a requirement because it could get personal,” she said.

Some students, like sophomore Taylor Matthews, think connecting with professors on social media could benefit the educational experience.

“I think professors connecting with students on social media would be a good thing if it helped the learning environment,” Matthews said.

Junior Cassie Elliot said she think connecting with professors on social media can help professors better relate to students.

Others think students should restrict communication with professors to the classroom and email.

“I think it would be better for students to actually talk to professors instead of on social media,” said sophomore Meitha Toungara.