News | Profs friend their way onto Facebook

Middle-aged users are now the social networking site’s largest demographic

With 36,908 Facebook users on the McGill network, it’s not surprising that an increasing number of professors are turning to this and other social networking devices, such as MySpace and Gmail, to communicate with students.

Dr. Paul Wiseman, an associate professor in the department of chemistry, was introduced to Facebook in 2004 by one of his students.

“An undergraduate research student and later a graduate student in my lab added me to Facebook, and told me that it was a Harvard study to examine degrees of separation,” Wiseman wrote in an email to The Daily. “I had no idea what it was morphing into, as far as a social network site.”

Wiseman, who commonly teaches over 1,000 undergraduates per year, and has a Facebook network of over 1,300 friends, says that he accepts almost anyone who adds him – assuming that they’re former students.

“What is interesting is that now almost all of my requests come from high school or university friends, which shows how ubiquitous Facebook has become, and how it has changed,” Wiseman added.

In five years, Facebook has undergone a rapid evolution, with the middle-aged its largest growing age demographic. From its initial start as a social network available only to Ivy League college students, it is now accessible to everyone with Internet access, and hosts over 175 million active users.

Wiseman said Facebook could be used for academic purposes as well as social ones, explaining that a Nigerian science writer who volunteers in a malaria clinic added him after Wiseman’s lab developed a new way to detect malaria infection in blood cells.

When asked about using the limited profile function when accepting students’ “friend” requests, Dr. Jim Kanaris, a professor from the Faculty of Religious Studies, was unconcerned about what his students learned through his profile.

“There really isn’t anything on Facebook that students wouldn’t discover by spending time with me during office hours,” explained Kanaris, a self-described social bug. “Students like to know their professors are more than they seem: automata.”

Kanaris added that he often “friends” students from his smaller classes, and communicates with them via Gchat over Gmail.

Students don’t seem to have a problem with their professor’s Facebooking.

U2 International Development Studies student Olivia Perdana said she didn’t mind political science professor Rex Brynen being privy to her personal information, having had him from a first-year class in Leacock 132.

“I don’t think I ever checked his profile and I doubt he’d be interested in checking mine…. Even if he did, it wouldn’t really matter since I doubt he’d know who I was anyway,” Perdana said.

U3 Physiology student Dan Beamer had no problem having Dr. Paul Wiseman as a friend on Facebook.

“He was [my] chemistry professor in first year. Good guy, one of the best teachers I’ve had here. I’ve run into him at hockey games [both] at the Bell Centre and McGill.”

While both Kanaris and Wiseman continue to use more standardized forums like WebCT to communicate information to their students, they expressed that Facebook is just another means of communication.

“I’m always on the look out for new technology,” Kanaris said. “Call me crazy, but I consider it a valuable medium of communication.”