Letting Facebook Be Facebook

My colleague Linda Feng pointed me to an interesting article about a study by the University of Liecester about how students are using Facebook and how it impacts their lives at the university. Two critical points come out of this for me. On the one hand, social networking in and of itself does seem to help students. In particular, the researchers found that it is “part of the social glue that helps students settle into university life.” Nearly three quarters of the students said “Facebook had played an important part in helping them to settle in at university.” The article doesn’t specifically mention first-year retention measurements, but my guess is that successful use of social networks can improve retention of students through their first year and into their second year. More than a third of the students also “used Facebook to discuss academic work with other students on a weekly basis.”

On the other hand, “41 per cent of students were against being contacted directly by tutors via Facebook,” and less than a third were interested in being contacted by the university via Facebook for administrative matters. Facebook isn’t a portal and isn’t an LMS either. It can play a vital role in student success, but only insofar as universities relinquish the idea that it is somehow beneficial for them to control that space. Think of it as being like off-campus housing. It plays a vital role in university life, but it does not belong to the university.

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About Michael Feldstein

Michael Feldstein is co-Publisher of e-Literate, co-Producer of e-Literate TV, and Partner in MindWires Consulting. For more information, see his profile page.
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5 Responses to Letting Facebook Be Facebook

  1. Clay Fenlason says:

    Let facebook be facebook, yes, but we should be cautious of abstracting from facebook lessons of social networking in general, not to mention the fundamental insight at work: the web is not just information, it is also relationships. Close consideration of what social networking might be like if adapted to an academic society is in order.

  2. andy says:

    But what type of social networks is interesting in a school setting?

    Isn’t part of the social network preserved when you allow members of the same course/class to discuss in a forum or is it necessary to have the explicit links between people that facebook provides?

    There’s also the issue of one application to rule them all? Is it necessary so that one would prefer to do all your work in one application?
    I personally would prefer to conduct my business (or studies) in a different place from where old friends from way back when tries to send me zombies, flowers, challenge me to games etc.

    Something about productivity…

  3. Social phenomena, including social networks, are highly influenced by context, arguably by definition. The same group of people will interact very differently depending on whether they are in a classroom, around the water cooler at work, at a friend’s house, at a stranger’s house, at a dinner party, at a keg party, etc. Each of these social contexts has distinct value, and each one will produce different results. Likewise, people who transgress the boundaries of each social context, e.g., displaying keg party behavior at a dinner party or classroom behavior at a keg party, are likely to get bad results.

    Facebook provides a social context that is strongly established and difficult to change. That context probably can have significant value for boosting academic success, but only if we understand the context and work within its structure rather than ignoring it. Likewise, it is definitely possible and probably useful to provide social networking tools within a more explicitly academic context. Imagine, for example, something hosted by the school that provides more social tools for students in the same class to share homework, plan study sessions, work with tutors, etc. It would provide additional communication channels for the kinds of interactions that you already expect to have given the academic context. You will get distinctly different results and different value from it than you will from Facebook. Not necessarily better or worse, but almost certainly different. Quite possibly complementary.

    I guess what I’m saying is that I agree with both of you.

  4. I have had students connect to me on Facebook, which is fine most of the time but sometimes I learn more about them than I want to know. Extending Michael’s analogy, it’s like being invited to dinner at a student’s off-campus housing – and you never quite know what to expect.

    I’m not saying that this is bad, but it certainly makes me wonder about what happens when they go job hunting!

  5. Christine Burroughs says:

    Students need to think beyond their years on campus when it comes to what they are posting on Facebook, and seriously consider how it will affect their future. College admissions officers are now looking for information about applicants on Google, Facebook, My Space, etc…..and taking what they find into consideration when they make their decisions (i.e. drug use, binge drinking, and even making negative comments online about the school they applied to!) Also, students often need to use teachers and professors as references for grad work, or seeking employment, and one can only imagine how much this look into a student’s personal life could affect that reference. As a parent of a teenager, I discussed these thing with my son before he even registered with Facebook, so he would understand that he needs to guard his reputation and character in this setting………he has taken this advice to heart and is guarding his profile very carefully. I would advise students to search out other ways to contact their professors and teachers about academic work, and keep it out of the context of social networks like Facebook.