Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this blog are entirely our own and not necessarily those of our employer or any other occupational therapist.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Occupational Therapy, Social Networking and Facebook

Some time ago now I wrote a blog post detailing my initial forays into social networking sites in order to develop an online presence in preparation for teaching in the virtual world. At that time I was decidedly ambivalent about revealing myself as a person in a professional context and I continued the experiment only because almost every piece of literature I was reading about online teaching and learning was telling me that a personal presence was an essential factor in minimizing attrition and facilitating engagement in online learning.


A year on and I can’t imagine life without online networking. I use Facebook mainly, but have a presence on other sites as well and whilst I am aware of, and have experienced one or two of the challenges of mixing the personal and professional on Facebook I have developed strategies to manage these. I thought I might share a few with you here.


Privacy – Facebook has been criticized for revealing too much information about its users. No, the users reveal too much information about themselves by not understanding or implementing appropriate privacy settings. I make my profile available to friends only, categories my friends into groups and then further screen what I revel to whom. It seems to work out fine.


Refusing student friend requests – I was anxious about rejecting friend requests from undergraduate students but didn’t want to offend by rejecting them. Actually, very few of them want to be friends with me (should I be upset about that I wonder?), and if any do I just explain that once they graduate I’m more than happy but until then I prefer to take a more boundaried approach. I don’t think I’ve offended anyone yet, but I guess you never quite know.


Our online Masters students are different though. I created my account specifically for this group in order to demonstrate that although a lecturer I was also a human being (apparently it makes me more approachable). It would seem silly therefore to exclude them, even though it could be argued that some of the same boundary issues are relevant. I am now friends with several of my MSc students, and you know what? I feel I know them better as people too, and am more engaged with them so I guess it works both ways.


Being invited to be friends with a stranger – This is a difficult one. I started rejecting anyone I didn’t know (you can do this quietly, by ignoring them) but then I thought that I might be missing great opportunities. This is social networking after all. So, I’m more discerning now and I’ll add strangers from the OT worlds if we have things in common. This has resulted in some collaborative working and interesting discussions and debates, reinforcing the idea that a stranger is a friend you haven’t yet met… Maybe. Random strangers however, are still quietly ignored.


So, in summary, I have found a way of using Facebook professionally that works for me. I’ve also been fortunate enough to find old “real” friends too, but that is another story.


Sarah Stewart said...

I have a FB account but don't use it much. I haven't had one undergraduate student ask to be my friend but would accept if she did. But like you, I do feel differently about my undergrad students to my Masters students. I am more willing to share my personal side online with my Masters students. I don't know why that should be - probably because I feel we are colleagues rather than lecturer/student.

What I have noticed is I get requests for ex-students a few years down the line, I think because they see me more as a colleague than lecturer.

The other thing I have started to do is advertise the online activities I organise to midwifery groups on FB. But it hasn't been a successful way of networking.

On the whole, I would prefer to network via my blog than FB. The main person I communicate with on FB is my daughter, who ironically, lives only 8 minutes drive down the road!

Anonymous said...

Some interesting thoughts. I personally have a 'dividing line' that means my 'on-line' persona is there for people to discover, including patients, colleagues and people I don't know... but I don't actively solicit contact except in terms of my blog, which is much more professional.
I don't have Facebook or other social networking profile = it's primarily a matter of time! I do have contacts via Flickr and other online forums completely unrelated to pain and health - and if they somehow coincide, that's fine but I'm not being careful either to seek contact, or not to in those fora.
So, I suppose I use mainly my blog and Flickr to 'socialise', and they are almost two different worlds!

Sarah Bodell said...

Thanks for your thoughts. It's interesting to hear how others use Facebook or blogs for networking and I guess it all boils down to personal preference in the end. I like the informality and immediacy (sometimes) of facebook, whilst Angela preferrs blogging. Why is that Angela?

Angela said...

Hi all, it is interesting how we are all using the same platforms but very differently. As Sarah B states, I have both Facebook account and a professional and a personal blog so have dipped a toe into a number of arenas.As opposed to the immediacy of Facebook, I prefer the blogging because it is not immediate. It gives me time to read and reflect before offering comment. Facebook, to me, tends to be a superficial interface which I enjoy both as a participant and maybe often as a voyeur - sharing snippets of the day and photos with those I choose to be my friends. Blogging is open to the world and professionally appears to have a greater opportunity to reach out to others of both similar and opposing views which can then be shared - often in a well informed and thought provoking way. I haven't found Facebook thought provoking yet (not that I remember) whilst I have gained both confirmation and lightbulb moments from other's blogs.
My personal blog is a platform for me to share what I am doing where I know that I'll be listened to if someone stumbles across it, but in actual fact I don't mind if no-one ever reads it - I just like to keep a record of my year that I can look back on.
So am I socialising on any or all of these? I don't know is the honest answer - maybe I need to define what my understanding of socialising is - (a whole other post perhaps?)

Sarah Bodell said...

This link sumarises some of the things I mention, and adds sa few more.

Anita Hamilton said...

Hi Sarah, I basically had all the same "policies" as you and it is going well. I really hate being "tagged" though, do you think that is me being a control freak?
Cheers, Anita.

Sarah Bodell said...

I hate being tagged too, so maybe we are both control freaks? I manage my online visual image very carefully (which basically means no unflattering pictures allowed) and I find tagging interferes with this. Perhaps I am a very vain control freak..... Oh dear.

Anonymous said...

I don´t think taking good care of what information you reveal to whom is being a "control freak" - it simply shows that you don´t open your house to everyone and run around naked all the time. Don´t we do that IRL, too? Control what we tell to whom and why?
Thanks for your view!

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Jason said...

Hi Sarah,

Basically, I am a student of Occupational Therapy University in Canada. So, I don't know much more about all these things but after research on Google I found that all professionals have their own ways to share their thoughts and experience with others and it is very helpful for all.

Thanks to share your thoughts !