Sunday, November 21, 2010

Is Facebook evil?

I have been a bit busy lately and finding it hard to keep on top of reading. I have set myself a goal to read and reflect on one academic paper a day to get back into the swing of things.

I started off today by reading the 2010 Horizon report. This report highlights trends that are ‘identified as key drivers of technology adoptions for the period 2010 through 2015’ as well as other issues and challenges. As I cast my mind over the issues arising in this report around innovative use of technologies for teaching and learning I found intersections with my thinking about the use of Facebook (FB) in education. My thoughts are predicated on the fact FB is for 13 year olds and up.

The Horizon Report stated that ‘The abundance of resources and relationships made easily accessible via the Internet is increasingly challenging us to revisit our roles as educators in sense-making, coaching, and credentialing.’ Also that ‘People expect to be able to work, learn, and study whenever and wherever they want to.’ These two statements fit with the notion of using a platform such as FB for educational purposes.

I have been thinking about FB and how it has become a word synonymous with fear and ridicule in some circles. FB is that place where people are posting drunken, embarrassing photos of themselves and sinking their careers. Teachers are losing their jobs, politicians are revealing their misdeeds and even the wife of the MI6 has exposed the holiday location of a man supposedly at the top level of security and secrecy. Students are making themselves unemployable because what they put on line in FB will haunt them in years to come. This social software platform is truly a thing to be feared.

Or is it?

What makes FB any different from blogging, or any other online experience? FB has just received all the negative press. In my opinion, as educators, this is a perfect opportunity to put some things into play.

It is our role to help students learn how to stay safe in this new environment

Students, and many adults too, are navigating a new ‘world’ with new ways of interacting with each other and the environment. A new set of rules is needed and a new etiquette learnt. Rather than throwing up our hands and leaving FB to the kids to navigate without support, there is a great opportunity here for teachers to explore how this social software platform can be used for educational purposes. And at the same time help the students to understand how to exist in the environment safely and with respect for themselves and others.

It makes sense to use a platform where the students already carry out most of their online activities

Students use FB for more than just connecting with their friends. A lot of personal learning occurs within FB. It may not be the academic learning that we would hope for, however students are forming groups around interests such as music and hobbies and taking part in collaborative discussions and resource sharing activities. FB has so many built in features that would make it ideal for a class to work collaboratively. Using a group, students can ‘join’ and therefore have all the information pulled from that group onto their walls. This could be used to make sure they receive the latest important information, sharing of resources and links that can help them with their studies, or engaging them in discussion around various topics.

But what about the distinction between private and public life?

Many teachers are hesitant to use FB with their classes because they see it as their private space where they interact with family and friends. And that is a very valid point. However FB as a platform is much more than just that space. It is a community of spaces that can be kept separate. A group can be set up for a course or a class, which does not pull in any of the user's private information. The sole purpose of the group is to interact in that one space. The people who join do not get access to your private FB profile.

I think the point I am trying to make, is not that we should all rush out and use FB, but that we should take a step back and see that it is just another social networking platform which is neither better or worse than others. I think that we should stop listening to those trying to scare us away from our responsibilities of helping students navigate the sometimes complex waters of online life. What issues such as the furor around FB offer us are a new way of looking at how people learn and live.

Just as the introduction of Wikipedia highlighted the increasing need for students to become sophisticated researchers to ensure the credibility of online information, Facebook is highlighting the need for students to understand how to present themselves, and behave in an online environment and to consider consequences of their actions.

That is what I have been thinking, anyway.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Kidz @ Conference

I have spent the last two days at Kidz@Conference at the Dunedin College of Education. We have put this event on now for the last five years and it is always so exciting. The students come for two days of workshops using all different technologies with the idea that they can then help implement these back at school. Each school also sends a teacher along with their students so it is good PD for the teachers too. My job is to get all the students' work up onto the wiki before the end of the second day. On the wiki I have tried to include links to information about the software as well so there are examples of work and information for how to get started in your classroom.