It happens every semester: there’s always one lone student who decides we’re tight enough for him/her to call me “Gabs”. I never know where it comes from since one of my largest social fears is contracting someone’s name too soon. This probably stems from the time, in std 6, when I called a popular girl by her nickname and the netball court came to a standstill as jaws dropped dumbfoundedly. This is not a mistake I am keen to remake, so I am always extra careful in this regard.
I try very hard to maintain a healthy balance between connecting personally with my students in a way that creates a safe space for learning and not over-sharing in a personal way. Sometimes I’ll mention anecdotes in class as a way to show connection between what they’re learning and how these skills are applied in real life. For example, when I’m teaching academic writing, I often draw on my own experiences as a PhD student.
However, I find it’s easy for boundaries to get blurred when it comes to social media. The religion of networking is one that we in contemporary professional communications preach, but I always feel conflicted when my students friend request me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter and ask to connect on LinkedIn. These extra-classroom sites are increasingly spaces of very real connection, but by engaging with them, am I busting the borders that keep a relationship professional?
I read THIS story about a substitute teacher who was forced to quit her job because she wouldn’t unfriend her students from Facebook. But on the very odd occasion that I do a student Facebook stalk, I feel kind of dirty; I can’t un-see the drunken Tiger Tiger pics and it feels like something pure has been sullied.
Perhaps there’s a market for an academic social media site? With a nod to scholarship, we can call it Bookbook, and it can connect students and lecturers on the basis of taking the same books out of the library and whether our marking is tackled as last minute as their essay writing. Instead of the Facebook thumbs up, we can institute a tick mark. We could even set up a lecturer/student selfie booth in front of Jammie Hall with a direct connection. What about it, Mark Zuckerberg?