Course Requirement: Friend Your Professor on Facebook

Some professors don’t let students see their Facebook pages. Some accept students’ invitations but don’t initiate them.

Peter Juvinall insists students friend him.

The Illinois State University instructor decided the best way to connect with a bunch of freshman business students in a short 8 a.m. class was to conduct much of the course where they are anyway—on Facebook.

So, as he explained during last week’s Educause conference and in a subsequent interview, he uses Facebook as a course-management system by instructing students to “friend” his personal page on the first day of class.

On the scale of pushing the privacy boundary, it doesn’t come close to the stuff some other professors have done—stuff like, oh, posing as a student to snoop on your online classes. But still: Is this going too far?

Mr. Juvinall, who teaches a required technology course, says the reaction is “99.9999 percent positive.” One or two students have had a problem with it, he says. He worked with them to explain how to adjust Facebook’s privacy settings, something many of his students have done to limit what he can see.

“I don’t browse their profiles anyway,” Mr. Juvinall says.

Beyond grading—that’s private—he does use the site for all outside-the-classroom functions. Students post questions on the “wall” of his profile. They submit assignments on their profiles. If they need help and they’re online at the same time he is, he lets them chat with him live. One took him up on the offer at midnight on a Saturday.

Teaching on Facebook works with one of Mr. Juvinall’s main messages: that students should think of their online presence as a digital resume. Employers have been known to ask alumni to check out the Facebook pages of job candidates, he points out, since some Facebook users allow anyone within their university’s network to view their profiles.

“I tell them, you need to assume anybody can read whatever you put out there at any time—forever,” Mr. Juvinall says.

There is an expiration date on what Mr. Juvinall can read, however. At the end of the semester, he “defriends” all his students.

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