Note: I’m coming at this from the perspective of a College teacher, where my students are adults. I know there is fierce debate over teachers connecting on Facebook with high school or younger students. I’m not an expert on K-12 education, and can only speak from my own experience in adult education.

This semester, I have about 75 students (about 36 in each of two classes). I get them for 11 weeks.

The first day I go into a new class, I’ve got a whole group of new people I need get to know very quickly. In order to be effective as their teacher, I need to know some things about each of them – how they learn best, how they are motivated, and any issues or difficulties they might have. They have the expectation of me that I’m going to be able to understand what they need. That’s a big challenge, with so many new people to get to know in a very short amount of time.

Unfortunately, what happens in many situations like mine, is that the more outgoing students tend to get more face time in class, and the quieter ones sometimes have difficulty getting involved. It’s an ongoing battle to ensure that everyone is given the time and attention they need to be set up for success.

Social media changes this. You see, the very nature of connecting online allows you to expedite the process of getting to know someone. By extending your connections with students into the online social world, you can find out all sorts of things that can give you insight into what makes your students tick.

In my 1st year video production class tonight, I encouraged my students to connect with me on Skype, and through Twitter and Facebook. I totally gave them the choice to connect with me – I didn’t force it (I think I used the phrase “connect with me on Facebook and Twitter, at your own peril” ;) ). A few have connected with me so far. I’ve gone in, viewed their profiles, and found out information that may seem inane to some, but is actually extremely valuable, and interesting. I found out if they have kids, or dogs, or budgies. I found out what kinds of movies they like, if they are musicians, or artists, or carpenters. I learned a bit about the things they care about, and saw little snippets of how they interact with others. I associated faces (avatar photos) with names. I’ve given them the opportunity to do the same with me.

Those students I’ve connected with so far, I’m going to remember. I’m going to be able to talk with them between classes, and keep a closer eye on their progress, and on the things that may either be helping or hindering it.

Sometimes, teachers are concerned that opening oneself up via social networks breaks some sort of barrier between themselves and their students; that somehow their authority as a teacher is compromised because students know their dog’s name or where they went for dinner last night. Don’t you think we owe it to our students to be connecting with them on a more human, personal level?

Certainly, every teacher has the option to share only as much or as little personal information as they are comfortable with students, classmates, colleagues and even friends. But we have to remember that, we are all just people, with experiences, and lives, and situations, who, for just a few short weeks, will be sharing some space, and time, and knowledge with one another.

By even opening the door a just a crack wider, have an opportunity to get to know our students for who they really are, gain new insights into helping them be more  successful, and ultimately, positively impact our classroom environment.

What say you?

[photo credit: Spencer E Holtaway on Flickr]