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Facebook can provide intellectual discourse between professors and students

As if popularity contests needed any more bolstering, Facebook came along. Despite a researcher at Oxford University who so poignantly states the obvious, that a person's number of Facebook friends does not reflect the number of friends they have in real life, Facebook users continue to collect friends like entomologists collect dead bugs, pinning them up on their pages for the world to see.

For students, this includes friending their professors. Once upon a time, social boundaries in the world of education were pretty clear cut. Students on one side of the fence, professors on the other. Too much interaction outside of the classroom was considered fraternization, and still is at some colleges.

With the proliferation of social networking, however, those lines are becoming blurrier with each friend request, status update and photo tag.

But is there really any harm in this? The opposition of the debate tends to argue that it opens the professors up to being accused of favoritism or being creepy.

The supporters of professor and student Facebook "friendships" agree that it opens up lines of communication outside of the classroom, allows instructors and their young grasshoppers to become comfortable enough with one another to engage in dynamic, intellectual discussions and allows students to network with professors who may have contacts in their field of study.

There has been much discussion in the history of philosophy about public versus private discourse. In reality, the internet is really one big public forum, regardless of privacy settings that aren't as private as students think they are.

The potential created by Facebook for more intellectual discussion between students and professors outweighs any perceived disadvantages. Professors who friend students on Facebook typically maintain professional profiles and it's a good way for students to learn to curb back on expletive-heavy statuses and keg party pictures for fear of their professors seeing them. In the real world people have employers to be wary of.

For professors who are still wary of friending students, there are other options. Include it on the syllabus the first day of classes that friend requests are not to be sent until final grades are submitted or invite all the students to friend you, so there is no perception of favoritism.

Or, create a profile, fan page or class group that is strictly for the students in your classes, so that too much personal information is not transmitted but a virtual forum is still in place. Students, don't send or accept requests from professors if you're not comfortable with it. It's that simple, honest.

So, reflecting back on the fact that facebook "friends" do not equate real life friends and the fact that free discussion of ideas on the internet is no different than free discussion in a physical public forum, there is no real conflict of interest on the part of neither professor nor student in befriending one another on social networking sites. After all, each is just another bug on the wall.
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