The other night I spent some time setting up a Facebook page. I’ve been thinking about doing it for some time, however, a couple of blog posts over at Easily Distracted and Crooked Timber pushed me over the edge. To be completely honest, even after reading the thoughts of two highly intelligent individuals who shared why they decided to set up a profile, I am still not entirely sure why I did so. Not to worry as I never really started blogging with a clear vision of its purpose.
Part of my decision to go ahead with this is no doubt the result of the incessant nagging of some of my students who believe that it would serve as just another extension of my blogging. Some of them just want to be in touch with me and this is simply the way it is done these days. Until I browsed through a few of their personal pages I could only see the potential of being hounded by students through emails and other communications with no way to control it from my end. I like the fact that you can control your social network and it will be interesting to see how quickly I can build up a list of friends. Now I don’t believe this is what Aristotle had in mind when he analyzed the concept of friendship in his Nicomachean Ethics, but there is something positive about the way the network allows people to stay in touch and that is what all of this pretty much comes down to. I want to stay in touch with some of my students. So much of what I do as a teacher is open-ended. I spend time with an energized and future-oriented group and a few I find to be truly interesting people. It comes down to wanting to know how the story continues to unfold. Facebook seems to provide a very easy way to stay in touch with few strings attached.
For lack of a better way of putting it Facebook also seems hip. I like the fact that it is dominated by a younger generation, though not exclusively. In fact, I am surprised to find certain professions of people, including some fellow bloggers/historians, who have set up profiles. As a teacher I see first hand how we get old. I see it in myself as I listen to students talk about music and have no clue as to who they are talking about or the language they employ. The extension of this experience is the feeling of walking into the music store and going through the artists I listened to back in the 1980s and mid-90s without any sense of what is new and fresh. In short, operating on Facebook works as a bridge with my students. Perhaps I understand them just a little better and hopefully they don’t see me as so distant and out-of-touch.
We’ve had a number of faculty meetings about student use of Facebook on campus and at one point we decided that it was not to be used during the day. If I remember correctly it was deemed to be a waste of time and an improper use of school computers. While I don’t want to dismiss arguments along these lines I tend to think that much of the concern is based on very little if no familiarity with how these social networking sites function in the lives of so many – especially for teenagers. I found out last semester that one of my students had set up a page on her Facebook site to discuss my history final exam. Instead of dismissing this technology we should be spending time thinking seriously about how sites like Facebook can be used in ways that are meaningful and/or educational.