A recent blog post (or as Sabrina Dent would say, a blog) by Kristen Osenga (guest blogger at the legal group blog Concurring Opinions) contains quite a few ideas worth thinking about, and the comments are good too. Asking Are Law Professors Allowed to Have On-Line Friends?, she puts forward an edited version of a problem where a legal academic has got(ten) herself into trouble with her Dean over things posted on a (public) forum for knitters:

One day, on the board, Jill posts in a daily chitchat thread that she is having a miserable day because one of her students (unnamed) turned in an assignment of questionable quality.

Kristen (or Osenga, or Prof. Osenga – see, online communication messes with forms of address already!) puts forward a few different options that the diligent prof could avail of. I think the best answer, though, comes from one of the commenters (‘ER’), who says:

Jill could post more innocuous information, or statements she would be comfortable being overheard (by several million of her closest friends) saying aloud, while saving “friend” discussions of more sensitive sorts for the personal, one-to-one messaging (available in most any on-line forum) between her and individual members of her knitting board.

My online presence is a mix of different things. I have this blog, which is by now a fairly academic sort of place, so it would be unlikely that I’d raise an eyebrow about a student, other than at a very general level. My second blog is consciously ‘personal’ in tone and again reflects things that I do outside of my job (like Jill and her knitting), but other than perhaps casting doubt on my credibility and taste when it comes to music and the like, there’s unlikely to be anything there that would cause a student to feel uncomfortable enough to make a complaint! My Facebook account is private (i.e. you need to be a friend to see it, and the privacy settings are relatively high in terms of things like tagging and notification), but as my friends there are a mix of personal and professional contacts (including some former students from my tutorial teaching in Dublin, though no current students – that’s another debate that I’ll explore when I need to, but it hasn’t arisen yet), I tend to keep things relatively brief, and make use of messaging and Scrabble and the occasional wall post, and don’t really use status updates.

Of course, there are plenty of other things out there on the Internet, perhaps indicating political views and so on, but I see that as fairly unavoidable especially having been regularly online for over 10 years now. I think ER is right – if you choose your models with care then there aren’t really that many changes in behaviour necessary. I’m not saying that Jill’s comment was particularly deserving of censure – it seems fairly mild alright – but it’s an issue that can be avoided without too much difficulty. In any event, I’m very glad that Kristen wrote this post.

Your thoughts?