Monday, 10 November 2008

Facebook: Taking Over the World One "Friend" at a Time!

I first joined Facebook when I was on maternity leave with my first daughter. I was mainly interested in finding a way to share pictures of her new granddaughter with my mom who lives in Ottawa. But then I found that it was interesting to find and reconnect with people I’d lost touch with, like friends from junior high. I was a little bored and really had nothing other than breast-feeding and diapers to fill my days (for the first few months anyways), so it was an amusing way to pass the time. I invited my mother (my sister and brother were already on Facebook) and I began posting “albums” of my family for my other family members to see. Then I found and reconnected with those “old” friends and it was neat to see what they were doing with their lives and what their children looked like. Then I realized I could find my other family members who were spread out all over Canada and the US and keep in touch with them and see their lives unfold and have them see what I was up to also. Then I found my current friends on Facebook and it became a way to send messages to each other.

So, for a while I thought Facebook was great. I was keeping in touch with cousins and aunts and my mom and old friends and current friends and everything seemed awesome. Then I began getting invites to silly things like “Who’s your Celebrity Match” or “Zombie Wars” and people began sending me all sorts of “drinks” and “poking” me and I was inundated with Facebook email updates and requests and invites and AHHHHHH! Then my “old” friends starting posting old pictures from junior high for all the world to see and they kept tagging me in these horrible awful pictures where I looked like a cross between Molly Ringwald and a poodle that had a horrible accident with a back-combing maniac. And then the last straw: a horrible ex-boyfriend whom I hoped I would NEVER run into EVER again, sent me a friend request. Turns out he had been looking at my Profile Page through a common friend and wanted me to add him to my friends list. I have to admit I FREAKED OUT! It turns out that I had not set the privacy settings to a level that was comfortable for me. And then I started learning more about Facebook’s security and privacy and became very nervous that all those stupid viral videos which were amusing for us adults, would somehow come back to bite me if a student ever found my Profile. I had this realization that this could potentially be quite an inappropriate thing for me to be participating in. Ever since then I have increased my security and been hyper vigilant to remove and delete any offending items or photos or tags that may be inappropriate. I also made lists of people who are allowed access to my photos so that crazy exes can’t just stumble onto my profile and see my whole life on display. The whole experience made me realize that I am a lot more private than I thought I was (hence all the weird ramblings in previous posts about keeping pictures of my kids off the net).

So when the idea of using Facebook with students in an educational setting came up for this class, I was extremely skeptical. I NEVER would have thought for one minute about using Facebook with students for anything. But then Jes invited me to join Classroom 2.0 (Thanks Jes!) and I finally saw what a social networking site could be. Not some inane site where people spy on those they haven’t seen in years and then Spam them with absurd applications, but a place where like-minded people can gather, share ideas and experiences and learn from others.

I was amazed! I immediately began searching this network for other educators who may be using Facebook and I found this document: Drive Belonging and Engagement in the Classroom: Using Facebook, which basically outlines how one could go about using Facebook with students. Then I found a link to the Study Groups application on Facebook. Steve Hargadon, the same guy who set up Classroom 2.0, designed this application and it is mainly geared towards student use. It’s a pretty great thing that allows students in the same class to discuss topics, use a white board, upload and store documents, schedule events (like meeting times or study dates) and keep track of tasks in the class.

In response to a comment about this application being similar to Blackboard he says: “While our application is somewhat similar to Blackboard, we're not trying to be a heavy-weight content- or learning-management system. Instead, we're trying to bring simple, easy-to-use e-learning activities onto a website/platform that students are already using - Facebook. We've found that many students have found it useful to start up a Study Group quickly and easily and have been able to actually get their peers to log in and use the application.”

This alone could make me rethink the idea of using Facebook with students. Imagine telling students their homework is to go home after the first day of school and add this application to their current Facebook account and then join or create a study group for each of their classes. I’m still not sure how the teacher would play a role or how privacy and security would be monitored, but it’s worth further investigation.

Most of the testimonials that I read in the above document by Michael Staton (Drive Belonging . . .) are from post-secondary instructors, and for that age and maturity level I can definitely concede that Facebook could be a wonderful tool, but I needed to find examples of it being used by Middle years students and teachers and maybe even (gasp!) Elementary, to convince myself that it was feasible in my own classroom or school. Of course the first article I stumbled across was this seethingly negative article about the evils of Facebook, called “With Friends Like These . . .” by Tom Hodgkinson, and so I was a tad bit dejected. But it was an interesting read, even though it was a bit over the top pessimistic. Here are some of the things that Hodgkinson hates about Facebook (and boy does he hate it!) :

Facebook “encourages a disturbing competitivness around friendship: it seems that with friends today, quality counts for nothing and quantity is king. The more friends you have, the better you are. You are "popular", in the sense much loved in American high schools.” (This I agree with, I hate the “I have 10 million friends on Facebook” mentality as well)
“Clearly, Facebook is another uber-capitalist experiment: can you make money out of friendship? . . . Facebook is profoundly uncreative. It makes nothing at all. It simply mediates in relationships that were happening anyway.”
The author also states that Peter Thiel, one of the founders of facebook, believes that “people are essentially sheep-like and will copy one another without much reflection,” and that “Facebook is a deliberate experiment in global manipulation.”

“Futhermore, (says Hodgkinson) have you Facebook users ever actually read the privacy policy? It tells you that you don't have much privacy. Facebook pretends to be about freedom, but isn't it really more like an ideologically motivated virtual totalitarian regime”

Yikes! Like I said, this guys HATES Facebook. He does make some points that I had never even cosidered though. I used to only find facebook annoying, now I’m worried about it taking over the world! I better look at something a little more positive before I barracde myself outside for fear of a rising tide of Facebookers coming to my online profile to advertise me to death!

Interestingly, I found this blog post by Jose Picardo who writes on Box of Tricks, which was written in response to Hodgkinson’s article. Picardo states that just because the founders and creators of Facebook may be evil, doesn’t mean Facebook itself is evil. He says:

“Just imagine what would happen if everyone suddenly stopped using products on the grounds that the personalities of the people who made them are questionable . . . We could go to our libraries and burn all the books ever published by those who were vile, wicked and loathsome in character. But we are not going to, because we can see how their work has a good use or can be put to a good use”. (Ok, this is a good point, I’m no longer worried about a Facebook invasion)

Picardo also points out that “there are a growing number of people . . . that can see how social networking sites, such as Facebook and other social media available online, can be used to improve communication and collaboration within an educational setting in a number of different ways.” But he doesn’t list or name any of these people or ways!! Hmmmm, discouraged, let’s try looking at the old standard: Will Richardson, he always has good ideas.

Oh lucky day, I found this article by Richardson: Footprints in the Digital Age from the November 2008 edition of Educational Leadership. In it he describes Networking as the “new literacy” that teachers and parents should be teaching their kids to use appropriately. He says:

“Whether we like it or not, social Web technologies are having a huge influence on students who are lucky enough to be connected . . . A recent National School Boards Association survey (2007) announced that upward of 80 percent of young people who are online are networking and that 70 percent of them are regularly discussing education-related topics. “ (Really, my students are discussing education-related topics, now I’m impressed!)

Richardson goes on to say that “one of the biggest challenges educators face right now is figuring out how to help students create, navigate, and grow the powerful, individualized networks of learning that bloom on the Web and helping them do this effectively, ethically, and safely. The new literacy means being able to function in and leverage the potential of easy-to-create, collaborative, transparent online groups and networks, which represent a "tectonic shift" in the way we need to think about the world and our place in it (Shirky, 2008). This shift requires us to create engaged learners, not simply knowers, and to reconsider the roles of schools and educators.”

This is something I can buy into. Although I may not like Facebook, or find it all that educationally engaging, as an educator I have an obligation to realize that my students are using it. If I want them to be safe, and use this network in an effective and ethical way, then I need to teach them how to do that. To do THAT I probably need to use the actual tool myself. This argument makes sense to me. Richardson also states that:

“Our students must be nomadic, flexible, mobile learners who depend not so much on what they can recall as on their ability to connect with people and resources and edit content on their desktops . . . Our teachers have to be colearners in this process, modeling their own use of connections and networks and understanding the practical pedagogical implications of these technologies and online social learning spaces. . . . These new realities demand that we prepare students to be educated, sophisticated owners of online spaces . . . More than ever before, students have the potential to own their own learning—and we have to help them seize that potential. We must help them learn how to identify their passions; build connections to others who share those passions; and communicate, collaborate, and work collectively with these networks. And we must do this not simply as a unit built around "Information and Web Literacy." Instead, we must make these new ways of collaborating and connecting a transparent part of the way we deliver curriculum from kindergarten to graduation.”

Amazing! Richardson can always be counted on to put things into educational perspective for me. Now I feel I have an responsibility to find a way to show my students that Facebook (or any other social networking site) can be a tool for education and not just a way to share photos and lame applications with their friends. Social networking can be like Classroom 2.0: like-minded people gathering to share ideas and experiences and learning from each other.

I wasn’t able to find any examples of Facebook being used by educators (I’m sure they’re out there, I just couldn’t find them!), but that’s not going to discourage me from trying to incorporate social networking when I return to work. I may start simple though, and maybe create a Ning for “All Those Who Are Sure Mrs. Robinson is the Greatest Teacher Ever!” I’m certain to have a large membership!

In the end I think it’s all about giving our kids ALL the tools they’ll need to succeed in the future. Who knows, maybe Facebook will grow into something completely different; maybe its users will forsake the advertisements and help it evolve. Or maybe, one of my students will create a new form of social networking that has a much nobler goal than advertising to the masses. Maybe, because I tried incorporating a social network into my teaching, one of my students will see a hidden potential and change the world. (I know I have high hopes for my students, but in this day and age, anything’s possible!)

In the end, I’m a little less skeptical about using Facebook with students and isn’t that what this class is really about? Opening our minds and eyes to the potential that exists with online tools? Mine have been opened, if only slightly!

Happy networking :)


José Picardo said...

Hello Christine,

Very nice, thoughtful post. Thank you very much for referring to that post I wrote what seems like an age ago. You are right - I did not elaborate which social media I was referring to, so let me put that right:

Lately I have been using Ning and Edmodo to connect with my students, with the latter proving particularly popular and successful.

Although I approve of the use of Facebook as an educational tool, I don't favour it, as I believe the two services outlined above offer a better alternative to educators.

Best regards


Christine :) said...

Jose, thank YOU for reading my blog, I'm flattered! I appreciate your comments and will definitely check out your suggestions. I am still skeptical about Facebook to be honest, but I do like the idea of using a Ning to show students what a social network can really do for them.

Thanks again for elaborating on your thoughts.
Christine :)

Steve Hargadon said...

Hi, Christine. Fun article. You attributed "Study Groups" to me, but I don't have any involvement with it. I think you meant to link to Dave Whittemore:

I've been giving a lot of conference sessions on social networking and education, and like to tell people that it's important not to confuse the tool with the end product. Social networking is the aggregation of a number of Web 2.0 functionality in one place that makes it really easy to become a part of the read/write Web--way easier than anything that came before (blogs, wikis, etc.) That helps to account for the huge popularity of MySpace and Facebook.

But just because MySpace and Facebook were the first super-popular services built on social networking shouldn't steer us away from the tool-set, just as we wouldn't stop ourselves from building a school using the building material just because someone had built a casino from the same stuff. If you look at the elements of social networks--profile page, photo and video uploading, discussion forums--it's not hard to see pretty strong pedagogical value in them.

Take care!

Selena Jensen said...

Hi Christine,

I absolutely loved your post! In fact, I laughed out loud about Facebook taking over the world! Thank you for 'opening my eyes' a little wider to the educational possibilities of Facebook and other social networking sites. I must admit, I ranted a fair bit in my blog this week. Yours was certainly more balanced than mine. I will definitely check out the Classroom 2.0 suggested by Jes.

Christine :) said...

Steve thank you so much for correcting my error. I like to make sure the right people get credit for their thoughts, so I appreciate it.

I also love your analogy of building a school with the same materials that are used to build a casino. It makes so much sense that way, building a Web 2.0 tool with the same components of Facebook or MySpace, yet making its purpose an educational one! Thanks for your insight and your comments. I'm always flattered when someone actually reads my blog, and so I relish the comments I receive.
Christine :)

Christine :) said...

Hi Selena! Glad to provide a laugh (its always a part of my intetion to bring a little humour to my posts!)

I actually liked your post this week, I had many of the same feelings and thoughts before I really got into this post. Like I said, I was very skeptical. I really liked your point about how teachers should maintain a professional relationship with their students both offline and on, and I was actully going to go back and make a comment on your blog. Maybe I will right now . . .
Christine :)

Rhonda said...

Congratulations on another thought-provoking post Christine. For me I think it's important to experience first-hand the nature of the social networking tools our students are using if only to more fully understand their strengths, weaknesses, risks, dangers and opportunities.
I don't think they're going to go away, so as educators and socializers we have an obligation to our younger generations to help use them wisely and well. These are very interesting and exciting times to teach!

Will said...

Hey Christine,
Thanks so much for linking to the article. Glad you enjoyed it! And thanks for adding it as context to many of the other ideas you bring up here. My head is spinning!


Christine :) said...

Will, Thank YOU for reading my post. I'm still amazed when someone other than my classmates reads my blog. This feeling of being listened to in a global comunity is a very powerful argument for using blogs with students! Thanks again for your comment.

Christine :)

Joanne de Groot said...

Hi Christine,

I had a great response all typed in but it seems that it disappeared! ARgh! Oh well, basically I said that I agreed with your post and have enjoyed reading all the subsequent comments/posts. I think that Nings offer a great way to model responsible online behaviour for students in a safe and educational way. That said, I also agree that teachers should be exploring tools like facebook, if not for educational reasons, then so that they can share with students how to be safe and responsible in their online activities. As you discovered, there are different privacy settings in facebook, for example...that is something worth pointing out to students because I suspect very few of them have changed their settings from the defaults. How else are teachers going to know about this if they don't play with it themselves?