U. Iowa teaching assistants cautioned about using Facebook with students


While Facebook is a networking tool for many college students and their friends, it has also started to blur the line among students and teachers.

Diana Bryant, an admissions counselor in the UI Graduate College, said officials do not have any specific guidelines for how teaching assistants interact with their students via social-networking sites.

The UI also doesn't monitor the personal Facebook pages of UI faculty members.

While guidelines across the board do not exist, some UI departments are independently addressing the issue.

Megan Knight, a lecturer in the UI rhetoric department who advises rhetoric teaching assistants, said a discussion was held recently among a new group of teaching assistants about the ethics of using Facebook to communicate with their students. The group decided it would not use Facebook and instead use other media to communicate with students, such as the UI's Iowa Courses Online site, ICON.

"ICON is ideal for holding discussions with students," Knight said.

However, she said, the rhetoric department still allows its teaching assistants to have personal Facebook pages.

Eric Conrad, who will be a rhetoric TA this fall, said he has experience with the fuzzy territory of online relationships.

Conrad, a former high-school teacher, had a MySpace account when he taught high school, but he was not friends with any of his students. In fact, the school he taught at asked all teachers to remove their MySpace accounts because of potential conflicts with students.

The UI teaching assistant set up his Facebook account in 2005 after he was accepted to the UI Graduate College. He mainly uses his account to keep in touch with old friends and network.

Conrad said that he is reluctant to accept friend requests or communicate with his students through Facebook, especially when there are so many other options.

"The bottom line is it is just not necessary to use Facebook when you have all these other venues," he said.

Both ICON and the university e-mail accounts are effective ways of talking with students outside of class, he noted.

It would be inappropriate to send a friend request to one of his students, he said, or to accept a friend request from a student. He would be willing to become Facebook friends after the class was over, he said.

Allison Knutson, a recent UI graduate, agrees with Conrad.

She would not have wanted to be friends with any of her teaching assistants, she said - she doesn't want to have an out-of-class relationship with her teaching assistants.

"On a professional level, I don't want to know about their personal lives," Knutson said.

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