Pharmacy Faculty Members' Perspectives on the Student/faculty Relationship in Online Social Networks

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

To initiate a practice/teaching-based research network in Ohio among colleges of pharmacy, an initial project was proposed that stemmed from a junior faculty member asking a senior faculty member for advice about how to respond to an invitation from a student to be "friends" on the social networking site Facebook. An estimated 80% to 90% of US college students have a Facebook profile. (1) Facebook requires users first to join by registering and creating a profile. Once they have joined, users can invite others to be their "friends" and share pictures, messages, and other personal information. Facebook has more than 500 million active users, with more than half logging on daily. The average user has 130 friends.

Privacy, safety, and revealing personal information were discussed in a Journal article on online social networking issues for academia in general and pharmacy education in particular. (1) One of the important issues for pharmacy students to consider in these online social networks is e-professionalism. Cain and colleagues published a paper examining pharmacy students' Facebook activity, opinions regarding e-professionalism, and their accountability in online settings. (2) A survey of 3 colleges of pharmacy found high social media usage among first-year (P1) pharmacy students; 244 of the 299 (82%) students had Facebook profiles. The students demonstrated a lack of awareness about accountability, but displayed a positive change in behavior after attending an e-professionalism presentation. This issue of e-professionalism has been reported not only for pharmacy students, but also for medical students and medical residents. (3)

Use of online social networks is also popular among many younger and older individuals. For the typical pharmacy student, this "older" group includes potential employers, practitioners, and faculty members. Some colleges and schools of pharmacy maintain a Facebook profile for connecting with alumni, advertising events, and more. When students, employers, practitioners, and faculty members all participate in online social networks, the issue of relationship boundaries arises and the traditional student-faculty relationship can become blurred. There is little information in the literature on this changing environment of social media. Although some studies on student-faculty relationships have been published, more were from a student's perspective rather than from a faculty member's perspective.

As part of an ongoing study about student/faculty relationships on Facebook, undergraduate students at the Georgia Institute of Technology were surveyed about their perceptions of faculty members on Facebook. (4) Interestingly, a third of the students thought that faculty members should not be present on Facebook because it was intended to be a social network for college students. However, other students viewed the presence of faculty members on Facebook as an opportunity for enhanced access to and communication with their instructors.

In a study of how Facebook affects education, Sturgeon and Walker found that students at Lee University desired to have relationships with their professors and know them as real people. (5) Relationships formed on Facebook between faculty members and students opened communication and resulted in an enhanced learning environment and students being more engaged in the classroom. This notion of teacher self-disclosure and enhanced learning is not new. A paper by Mazer and colleagues found that high self-disclosure on a faculty member's Facebook profile may lead to higher anticipated motivation among students, affective learning, and a more comfortable classroom climate. (6)

From a faculty member's perspective, concerns exist about the balance between being a teacher and being a friend to students in online social networks. There is a Facebook group developed by Mark Clague at Michigan State University to help faculty members negotiate the ethical issues of online relationships. …