Thanks to social networking sites, the student-teacher bonding has attained a new status, Like it!

Lillian Jasper logged into Facebook when a photo update caught her attention. Her comment was immediately followed up by a response by the person who put up that picture. To which she replied: “Shouldn’t you be studying!” Lilian is just one of the many in the country who is unconsciously ushering in the trend of professors interacting with students on social networking sites.

Though still at a nascent stage, the way these relationships are being built in the virtual world seems to point in the right direction. Lillian, a professor of the Department of English at Women’s Christian College, Chennai, prefers to add mostly only students who have passed out of the college. But the 20-odd current students in her friend’s list are those she got to know better on a personal level after a college trip. “When we get to handle a class for only two to four hours a week, we hardly get to know our students enough to be informal,” she says.

But some like Vasuki Belavadi, Assistant Professor, Department of Communication, University of Hyderabad, try to maintain a certain level of formality in their online interaction with students. “As a teacher I am very accessible to my students in college. When that is taken care of, there is hardly anything else to discuss online. So our interaction is limited to common issues of interest like links to podcasts, blog articles or information on film festivals and new software updates.” But he does sometimes comment on photographs that students share on Facebook. “I am very conscious that it is nothing trivial.”

Urvashi Sharma, a student at Manipal University, has added two of her professors on Facebook because she’s closer to them than the rest. But she would prefer not adding her other professors. “Our interaction with our professors on campus is informal and it also helps that most of them are pretty young,” she says adding that she used the online platform to also have some discussion pertaining to academics. Asking one professor on Facebook to convince the other to postpone submission dates still qualifies as “academic interaction,” right?

Perceptions

Facebook not only opens the doors to communication but also gives a peek into one’s personality. Though you might not be discussing Jennifer Lopez’s love life in your international relations class, there are chances that your passionate discussion about it on Facebook might be noticed by your professor on your friends list. What then? Option A: Create a custom group for your professors where they can view only the “good” aspects of your Facebook double life or, Option B: trust them to be non-judgemental.

Ishaan Hariharan, a II-year-student at Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology, Bangalore, goes for Option B. “Teachers know us students better and I trust them to be non-judgemental,” he confesses. “There is no awkwardness that way.”

“While browsing, I notice that some students are kicked up about the goings on in Chhattisgarh, while others about some celebrity’s life. The former I comment, the latter I simply choose to ignore,” reveals Vasuki. Knowing their likes, dislikes and trending topics, he says, helps him prepare his lectures by making them relevant to this generation.

Lillian meanwhile confesses that she does get a bit bothered looking at pictures of her students involved in unwarranted stuff. She feels it at least gives her an insight into why a particular student is distracted or is the way she is.

The other side

While it only seems like the formality that the traditional student-teacher relationship commands is being mellowed by such social media interactions, Professor A. F. Matthew of IIM-Kozhikode, begs to differ. “When I was a student, I was as close to my teachers as I am to my students now; in fact, even closer. We would know what’s happening in the lives of our teachers and everything. But that “respect” still remained. But with Facebook, you are already updated with what’s happening in your student/ teacher’s life. There’s nothing to talk or enquire about. There’s a sense of detachment,” he opines.

With western countries increasingly concerned about student-teacher interaction outside the classroom to the extent of introducing regulations, should we also consider similar moves? “The question is ‘In whose hands are these technology?’

“Any technology can be used to unite or disintegrate communities,” observes Matthew. “There should be no regulations. Or at least think about what kind of regulation is needed rather than just clamp down the social media interaction in its entirety.”

Point of view

“In general, in the U.S. colleges, such interactions are pretty casual. Most students that I spoke to said they have actually ended up enjoying the class more simply because of the fact that the professor is more approachable. Being able to interact with their professors they are less anxious and not under much pressure about the classes they are taking.”

Kamala Gopalakrishnan, West Virginia University, U.S.