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Voices of the Global Community

Jenine Mullin, Wilmington College

Background

Each day, 85% of college students nation-wide log on to a website called The Facebook(www.facebook.com) to catch up with friends, share photos, and learn about upcoming events on their campuses (Arrington, 2005). Online programs such as The Facebook offer users the opportunity to establish online social networks. Users register and log in using their college email address and are given the ability to search for others at the same institution. The program allows users to create an online personal profile; post photographs; and identify their majors, relationship status, interests, hobbies, favorite books, classes they are registered for, and even personal information such as address, phone number, and email address. Once logged on, users can browse the profiles of those who attend their institutions, identify those users as “friends,” set up groups for other users to join, and directly message other users.

The Facebook, started by a group of Harvard students in February of 2004, was registered to more than 300 institutions by the end of 2004 and is currently registered to nearly 900 institutions and 3.8 million users (Arrington, 2005). Judging by the popularity of the site, it seems to have positively influenced student networking. Students have begun to use the service in order to get to know their roommates before moving into the residence halls, promote upcoming events, and discuss town and gown issues. However, the ways in which students utilize their customized space may negatively impact them as well.

Considerations

The information that students provide on their profiles allows thousands of others to find out where they live, their phone numbers, email, screen names, course schedules and who their friends are. Students who choose to share such information understand that they may be putting themselves at risk for stalking and identity theft. While that certainly creates a dangerous situation, what is more frightening to students is that what they choose to post may also impact them judicially on campus. Some institutions have implemented policies that hold students responsible for the content they post. From responsible computing to alcohol offenses and cheating, students at campuses across the country can now be held responsible and judicially charged for their internet postings.

Although these policies may seem unjustifiable or difficult to enforce, institutions are holding fast to the concept of demanding civic responsibility from their students. In 2005, two athletes at Louisiana State University were dismissed from their teams after posting comments about their coaches on Facebook (Brady & Libit, 2006). Institutions across the country are advising students to be cautious with the content they post and not to post anything that would represent them in a bad light. One institution, Loyola University in Chicago, has gone so far as to forbid its athletes from creating and maintaining Facebook profiles altogether. Athletics departments have more freedom than do other institutional divisions because of the terms of scholarships and athletics codes of conduct.

So what does this mean for advisors? For those of us who advise education majors,Facebook profiles may have a direct impact on students’ disposition assessments. As Lee Kem reminded us in the February 2006 edition of Academic Advising Today, dispositions are the attitudes, values, and behaviors that influence those with whom teachers interact. Evaluations of students’ dispositions can affect their admission to teacher education programs, clinical placements, student teaching, and the hiring process. As Facebook’s popularity increases amongst students and attention to it increases amongst higher education professionals, the content posted on students’ profiles may begin to impact their teaching careers.

We may agree that a student would be justly penalized in his or her disposition assessment based upon issues such as poor attendance or cheating, but to what degree should students’ personal, political, or religious views and activities impact their education and careers? Would it be fair for an instructor to give poor disposition feedback based upon something he or she saw on student’s Facebook profile? What if, for instance, a student listed the Ku Klux Klan as an affiliation on his or her Facebook profile? If it seems like students would be fore-thinking enough to not include information such as that, consider other commonly posted content:

  • Political and religious affiliations
  • Opinions on controversial issues such as abortion
  • Photos of alcohol consumption and drug use
  • Disreputable photos from spring breaks and parties

How might these types of personal information affect those who evaluate the students? If a high school student views the profile of his or her student teacher, how might the content affect their interaction with that student teacher? What if a future employer viewed a student’s profile? A December 2005 article in the University of Georgia’s student newspaper indicates that a student’s Facebook profile can seriously impact the student’s future endeavors. The reporter discovered that not only are university faculty members viewing students’ profiles before writing recommendations, but that local employers are using employed alumni to review an applicant’s profile for inappropriate content.

Recommendations

When using Facebook, both higher education professionals and students should proceed with caution. When talking with students, we should warn them to be cautious regarding the content that they post on their profiles. Students believe that Facebook is a students-only site, and that what they post there will only be seen by other students. We should make them aware that professors, administrators, and employers are learning about the site and can sign up for their own accounts with an institutional email address. When considering how we as advisors might use the site, we must keep our ethical standards in mind. Our goal should be to serve the students to the best of our abilities and support their success. We will need to use our best judgment when deciding whether or not to use Facebook contents in disposition assessments and be honest with our students about the impression the profile presents. Before including content from a Facebook profile in any assessments or recommendations, we should have a conversation with the student about how that content could affect the student’s career. Doing so will give students insight into how their profiles represent them and provide them with the opportunity for growth and maturity. Our students should be able to express themselves in their own networks, but we should encourage them to do so with integrity.

To learn more about Facebook, find general information about the site athttp://www.facebook.com/help.php.

Facebook.com keeps a record of each registered institution. To find out if yours is registered, visit http://www.facebook.com/schools.php.

Jenine Mullin
Wilmington College
Jenine.e.mullin@wilmcoll.edu

References

Arrington, Michael (2005). Eighty-five percent of college students use Facebook. Retrieved from the World Wide Web at http://www.techcrunch.com/2005/09/07/85-of-college-students-use-facebook/

Brady, E. & Libit, D. (2006). Alarms sound over athletes’ Facebook time. USA Today. Retrieved from the World Wide Web at http://www.usatoday.com/tech/news/internetprivacy/ 2006-03-08-athletes-websites_x.htm

Morgan, Lauren (2005). Facebook can hurt employment chances: Be mindful of quotes, groups. RedAndBlack.com. Retrieved from the World Wide Web at http://www.redandblack.com/vnews/ display.v/ART/2005/12/06/439512618c11c

Cite this article using APA style as: Mullin, J. (2006, June). Facebook and disposition assessment. Academic Advising Today, 29(2). Retrieved from [insert url here]

Posted in: 2006 June 29:2

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