Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Facebook in the Context of Higher Education

Facebook is one of the prevalent social networking sites, where users can interact with each other through an evolving set of networks based upon common interests among members. Initially, Facebook was confined to use in a higher educational setting, but now it is open to anyone who wishes to join. Typically, a member will join networks, which might be something such as former high school friends, current college friends, political interests, and so on. Facebook is customizable, so each member can develop their home site as they wish, add functionality (such as photographs or video clips), and in this manner interact with other “friends.” “Friend” is the term Facebook users for each member of a network.

I am new to Facebook, having resisted it for some time. My main reason for finally joining and creating a Facebook home page was after discussions I held with one of my sons, who is a high school teacher in Hinsdale, Illinois. He maintains a Facebook page for his classes, so that he can have a single site for remaining in contact with this students, and also allow for his students’ parents to see what is occurring in his classroom. At the same time I had this conversation, a close friend of mine was imploring me to get a home page because she was in regular contact with former friends from high school and she felt that I should join in the fun. My worry was that it would become a time waster; like most of you, I spend entirely too much time on the computer, either reading or responding to email, surfing the web, or continuing my education. But I note that given its control system, you can easily ensure that you limit what you do, control who you “friend,” and regulate your site’s activities.

The following information can be found in much more detail at http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ELI7025.pdf.

Facebook is used by somewhere in the vicinity of 80-90% of college students, meaning that nearly all of our students are conversant with it and likely maintain a home site. This means that we can harness it for use in educational settings and activities. In fact, it is likely that the older among us (and I must respectfully now count myself one), are far less savvy about this than any of our students.

A user has access to a number of tools. You can upload pictures and create an album, or send friends an image via the systems own email network. You can control who has access to your site and to the information it contains. For example, you can post your phone number, and then only allow certain friends to be able to see it. You can set the system up so that when you post new information it automatically informs the friends in your network. One point made in the link above is that “the means of communication- email, cell phones, instant messenging- have proliferated to the point of saturation. Facebook lets people assert control over this flood of communication.”

There are downsides to this technology as well. Notable among them is the fact that younger users often do not consider who may view the information they post, which is in fact, in this tech savvy world, not always as private as we may think. We have all read of people who were passed over for a job after a company perused that person’s Facebook page. Faculty would do well to remember this as well.

But there is opportunity here, to develop learning networks online, to enhance collaborative activity, and to continue changing the face of education. I encourage you to consider how you might use Facebook as a teaching tool. As I become more experienced, I will certainly look into this.


Anonymous said...

It is my opinion that Facebook is well on its way to becoming another "MySpace". LinkedIn is a more professionally driven networking forum which may also suffer the same fate, however, at least has the right intentions. Facebook is a social forum in which PROFESSIONALISM is the exception, not the rule!

Anonymous said...

CNN Headline: Facebook hit by phishing attacks for a second day.

Social forums are a greater propensity for being targeted for phishing.