More FaceBook … My New Stump?

I feel like my attention my be swaying a bit towards social networking and the FaceBook in general … In my morning readings I stumbled across a wonderful post, “How University Administrators Should Approach the Facebook: Ten Rules.” Fred Stutzman, a graduate student at UNC Chapel Hill provides some great insight into the FB surge and why students do what they do there. This is less of a FB survival guide to higher education administration, but more of an eye opener. If you haven’t had the chance to stand in front of a class of students who are working at fever pitch on their FB profiles you have no idea what is happening.

One particular quote resonates so true to me as an administrator in a University-wide information technology organization and as an instructor:

7. Your campus IT department doesn’t offer anything like the Facebook. What’s more, the Facebook may be doing all sorts of stuff on your campus better than you do. The students message, create study groups, post to bulletin boards, and generally keep in touch inside this Facebook. The students don’t use the webspace you provide them (who wants to design a webpage in the era of push-button blogging), and it annoys them that they have to check school email to hear from their professors (when they have Gmail and Facebook messages). Numerous people have told me that Facebook announcements bring better results than flyering ever has. There are all sorts of examples like these.

We ask students about this stuff and they are using the FB for all these reasons — and several of them are why we spend lots of time, money, and energy on course management systems. There are other reasons for our CMS investments, but the FB just sort of captures their attention and gets the job done well.

5 Replies to “More FaceBook … My New Stump?”

  1. I think FB offers a feature list to strive towards that most CMS venders have yet to grasp but eventually will. The key will be to develop systems that can interact with places like FB through an API.

    One of the problems might be that academics are driving the feature requirements and telling students that they should need. At 4K a term, students should have more ownership of the resources they are paying for 😉

  2. I think it is all about having a porous learning environment. FB, like the internet writ large, is designed to be about people self-affiliating in a non-exclusive ways. In coursetools environments it is all about exclusivity. You can’t get into the system at all unless you are affiliated with the university, then every course is its own little fiefdom, where only students in a course (or group) are allowed and you can’t link between them. Coursetools have been developed for individuals to see all the groups they are affiliated with in a view, but there is no way to move through from the individual view into the view of other individuals you are affiliated with, to see their groups and classes. This is what an open system like FB offers – I can look at a friend’s page and click through to one of their friends (and so on and so on). This makes FB one huge interconnected web with socially constructed links, not a system that keeps you confined to groups you are already a part of.

    This is a reflection of our larger issue in formal educational environments – we want exclusivity in an culture that is increasingly not so (thus more porous). Students connect to wireless networks and fellow students in class and out of class. They work on their FB profiles during lectures and then through IM exchange and discuss lecture notes after class. Especially in higher education the boundaries between where students are learning and where they are being “taught” are decreasing everyday. As educators we need to be thinking about how to make our learning environments more porous to the lives of students so they participate in class the way they participate in the rest of their lives.

  3. Well said Scott. Hopefully OpenCourseWare will catch on and the fiefdom’s will start to go away:

    http://ocw.mit.edu/index.html

    I think the key to the OpenCourseWare is that it recognizes course notes are not what education is about. Its the access to faculty and your peers. I am taking my Msc from U of Liverpool via Distance Education and I enjoy it far more then I ever enjoyed my undergrad. There is nothing special about the course notes or the books but the weekly discussions are just amazing (but tedious given the amount of typing).

  4. Scott, the whole idea of an open CMS is one that is very appealing to me. How can we change the orientation from a faculty/admin view to one that is student centric. When I use ANGEL, I own the course space — I don’t really like that … I’d really like my students to own the space and design it how it makes sense to them. Let them tell me where to post assignments, grades, discussions, etc. That just cannot be done inside of the common CMS toolset. How we get there is a big question, but part of those answers are flying around inside FB, MySpace, multiuser blogging tools, and other social-first toolsets.

    I used to block kids from using IM until I realized that a couple of them were using it for good, not evil. I used to ask them to close their laptops or log off the classroom computers — not anymore. The next step for me is to expose how to get them to help lead the class through their understanding of online spaces and tools. Not an easy task, but every semester the students seem more and more wiling to step forward.

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