I like Facebook. It has been a fun way to reconnect with high school (and elementary school) friends and my college reunion is being largely organized on a class page on the network. Last year I contacted a bunch of several alumni of my current university, ones who were majors or minors in my program, and asked them to update me on what they are doing. We posted the responses over the summer on the departmental blog.
I also use it to keep in contact with some friends from grad school and colleagues who used to teach here, and have retired or moved on to other universities. And I check out some of the student websites. There is one for memes that is updated occasionally and there is another for the equivalent of "shit my professor says" which is often a bit of fun. Follow below the twisted mobile of doom for some thoughts about who participates and what is said on such a site.
I was actually looking for something else on Facebook when I found the page last year, and thought I would take a look. I knew there was very little chance I would be on it, which was just fine with me. Although I do regularly (once or twice a class) get a decent laugh from the class, I know I am less than "cool" and that is just fine with me. I have never been cool, and it is fine for me to be that way. And I would so much rather be boring than offensive. I know I have a reputation of being a tough teacher, but largely not arbitrary, and helpful if students come to ask for help (I have to admit, I did look at Rate my Professor once and read through a few years of comments about my teaching). I figured the people who got written up on this "stuff my prof says" would be either really loved or really hated and the chance of me being in either category would be pretty slim. And to my relief I wasn't mentioned in the past year or so (as far back as I looked).
I was wondering if the comments would be positive or negative, but was very pleasantly surprised (and amused) by the things I saw there. The students who posted were thrilled with their profs and wanted to share their cool, funny comments with other students. The linguistics professor who has a very dry sense of humour, the polisci ones who are really cynical about the world, and the former NYC fire chief whose NY sense of humour both shocks and enchants his students -- these are the ones who show up with some regularity. The students who report the exchanges are obviously really enjoying the vast majority of things they talk about, and the profs who are cited are ones I would love to take a class from (although I must admit I did not realize the linguist was quite so funny!).
I was quite interested in the profs who are listed, too. The gender is notable. All are male. Although some of the students commenting are female, the majority of those are male as well. It may have something to do with the ways of interacting in the classroom. And the general tone of the page/group is a tough/funny/joshing relationship between young adults and older mentors. The students are admiring of the faculty they talk about, and the comments from their friends and other users of the page are along the lines of "I love Prof. So-and-So" and "You are so lucky to have that class with that teacher" and "He also said X and Y.
But there is one instance of a faculty member for whom the comments do not include those kinds of plaudits. Student responses to him are more like "Wow" or "Huh?" I think maybe in this case the prof's expectations of the boundaries between joking and saying something inappropriate are not really aligned with those of the students in his class. These boundaries are of course flexible, but they need to be negotiated and clarified. Some faculty are better about setting parameters, and others (like me) set out very clear rules the first day of class. I sometimes get accused of being too strict, but I know from the beginning pretty much what is appropriate to discuss with students and what is not. And teasing a student is a very questionable thing, and something that would have to be done with someone with whom you have a long track record. Very little teasing goes on among my set of friends. We are all potentially hypersensitive, and I would not tease someone I did not know very very well. This is my explanation for what is going on in these interactions.
Of course, Facebook is hardly going to get unbiased and accurate reporting of comments. But perhaps it is worth taking a deep breath and looking at student comments here and on evaluations to see what might not be successful in classes and interactions with students. I find looking at evaluations of my classes painful and panic-inducing. But even if I am successful in my classes there are easy ways to improve my interactions with students and sometimes the evaluations reflect concerns that I really do need to work on. I am going to change my textbooks and the structure of one of my classes in the fall because of student comments on the last time around with this class. I do not ask students about "Do you like this professor" and that sort of thing, but I do ask about assignments, textbooks, evaluation methods, etc., and have been making changes in those modes.
I don't really want to be interesting enough to show up on public (open) Facebook groups. But I want to get feedback and will adjust my tone and interactions based on comments in more formal settings.
Just some thoughts on a Saturday afternoon.
Do you befriend your students while they are still students? Or do you friend them after they graduate? Or are you on Facebook at all, or do you consider it the (other) Satan, the one you don't hang around at?