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The Facebook dilemma: the word “friend” has never been so complicated

Facebook procrastination

Facebook is this generation's go-to procrastination, be it for killing time one afternoon, venting about an angry professor, or telling the world how AWESOME that ham sandwich was. ANDREW CROSSETT PHOTO

Being the teacher’s pet has never been a desired title for any student, but how about being a teacher’s “friend”?

With approximately half of Canada’s population on Facebook, it is no longer just college students joining in on the social media hoopla.

Despite the abundance of activity, SAIT currently stands without a policy defining student/instructor interaction within the site.

SAIT vice-president academic Gordon Nixon explained the way students and teachers interact with one another over social media remains an evolving conversation and not just on this particular campus.

“It’s a topic that is being discussed throughout academia in North America. We are not lagging, we are not leading and we are aware of it. We are addressing the issue,” he said.

Introducing new policies, such as one regarding social networking, set “significant direction,” but more importantly, take considerable time to put into writing, explained Nixon.

He said the idea for a document that outlined certain social media policies arose last year during the academic council meetings. The academic council, which discusses issues relating to SAIT, is comprised of one third students, a third faculty members and a third administration.

However, the discussion failed to lift-off and the council is back this year conversing over social media issues.

While SAIT administration struggles to keep up with the growing social media phenomenon, many students have already made up their mind.

“For me it is the same as with bosses. Facebook isn’t the medium for professional relationships, it’s mainly just for friends. There is stuff on Facebook that can be inappropriate for people in an authoritative position to see,” said information technology student Richard Coulson.

Electrical student Nick Nori mentioned that many of his instructors are experts in their fields, therefore Facebook could serve as tool for asking questions and seeking advice on work-related issues.

Legal assistant student Josie Beness said accepting a friend request from a teacher or vice versa was fine the minute one has graduated from their particular program.

This perspective was one that intrigued the head of the SAIT journalism department, Willem Sijpheer.

The academic chair agreed that becoming friends after graduation could be a mutually beneficial and acceptable situation, especially for beginning journalists, because both instructors and students have a wealth of information regarding local and global issues.

“There are three steps for journalists – get to the creation of news, report it, and to get the information out. Facebook is a great way to get information out. It’s almost instantaneous,” he said. “I love the technology, I love what is happening and I love the whole social structure.”

Yet, that was as far as Sijpheer would go when complementing the largest social network on the planet.

He was adamant that students and instructors must respect each others’ boundaries when operating on Facebook in the school setting.

“There should be a level of professionalism – we are here to teach and the students are here to learn,” he said.

He also suggested Facebook is less about one’s actual friends and more a way to gather information on others.

He said the use of “friend” over the site may be an inaccurate portrayal of friendship and students should tread more cautiously in the boundless web of social media.

“We need time to think about certain things before we share them. Once it is out, it is really out and we don’t realize what we’ve done. We need to relax and ensure that the right information goes out.”

So while the journalism department has a clear opportunity to benefit from the ubiquitous use of the book with a million faces, the SAIT business department is forced to look at the scenario from a business perspective.

Similar to Sijpheer, Business Administrative Information Management academic chair Loanne Benner said she didn’t think students and instructors becoming “friends” was appropriate, however the opportunities for the positive use of Facebook were immense at SAIT.

“It could be used to put on success stories from our past grads or share conferences and events that we have coming up. This is information that we could share with students,” said Benner. “If there are other things happening and students can use Facebook to pass it along then that’s great.”

Benner said she looked forward to seeing how the SAIT campus evolves with Facebook and social media in general over the next few years.

“It will continue to take off,” Benner said. “People need to embrace the fact that it is here and it is here to stay.”

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