The Weal – SAIT student newspaper
By Séamus Smyth

Being the teacher’s pet has never exactly been a desired title for any student, but how about being a teacher’s “friend”?

With approximately half of Canada’s population having a Facebook account, it is clear that it is no longer just college students joining in on the social media hoopla. Yet, SAIT currently stands today without a policy defining ideal student/instructor interaction within the profile hoarder.

SAIT Vice President of Academic, Dr. Gordon Nixon explained that the way students and teachers interact with one another over social media remains an evolving conversation and not just on this particular campus.

“It’s a topic that is being discussed throughout academia in North America: we are not lagging, we are not leading and we are aware of it. We are addressing the issue,” he said.

Introducing new policies, such as one regarding social networking, set “significant direction,” but more importantly, take considerable time to put into writing, explained Nixon.

He said the idea for a document that outlined certain social media policies arose last year during the academia council meetings.  Academia council is a group formed of one third students, a third faculty members and a third of administration.

Yet, the discussion failed to take lift off and the academia team is back again this year conversing over issues surrounding social media.

While SAIT administration struggle to keep pace with the growing social media phenomenon, many students have already made up their mind on the issue.

“For me it is the same as with bosses.  Facebook isn’t the medium for professional relationships, it’s mainly just for friends.  There is stuff on Facebook that can be inappropriate for people in an authoritative position to see,” said Richard Coulson from the IT tech program.

Electrical student Nick Nori brought an interesting attitude to the query, mentioning that many of his instructors are experts in their fields; therefore Facebook could serve as tool for asking questions and seeking advice on work-related issues.
Legal assistant student, Josie Beness believed that accepting a friend request from a teacher or vice versa was fine the minute one has graduated from their particular program.

This perspective was one that intrigued the head of the SAIT journalism department, Willem Sijpheer. The Academic chair agreed that becoming friends after graduation could be a mutually beneficial and acceptable situation, especially for beginning journalists, because both instructors and students have a wealth of information regarding local and global issues.

“There are three steps for journalists – get to the creation of news, report it, and to get the information out.  Facebook is a great way to get information out; it’s almost instantaneous. I love the technology, I love what is happening and I love the whole social structure,” he said.

Yet, that was as far as Sijpheer chose to go when complementing the largest social network on the planet. He was particularly adamant on the point that students and instructors must respect each other’s boundaries when operating on Facebook in the school setting.

“There should be a level of professionalism– we are here to teach and the students are here to learn,” he said.

He also took a few swipes at the naming convention, suggesting that it is less about one’s actual friends and more about a way to gather information about others.

He theorized that the use of “friend” over the site may be an inaccurate portrayal of friendship and that students should tread more cautiously in the boundless web of social media.

“We need time to think about certain things before we share them.  Once it is out, it is really out and we don’t realize what we’ve done.  We need to relax and ensure that the right information goes out.”

So while the journalism department has a clear opportunity to benefit from the ubiquitous use of the book with a million faces, the SAIT business department is obviously forced to look at the scenario from a business perspective.

Similar to Sijpheer, Business Administrative Information Management (AIM) Academic Chair, Loanne Benner said she didn’t think students and instructors becoming “friends” was appropriate, however the opportunities for the positive use of Facebook were endless at SAIT.

“It could be used to put on success stories from our past grads or share conferences and events that we have coming up.  This is information that we could share with students.  If there are other things happening and students can use Facebook to pass it along then that’s great.”

Benner said she looked forward to seeing how the SAIT campus evolves with Facebook and social media in general over the next few years.

“It will continue to take off. People need to embrace the fact that it is here and it is here to stay.”