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December 01, 2008

Facebook in HE

A quickie... and one that I meant to write a while back actually, in response to a short debate I watched happening on one of the Higher Education Academy mailing lists about the use of Facebook in UK universities.  Unfortunately, as with many of my potential blog posts, it got forgotten at the time.  Then, more recently, I noticed that Brian Kelly had posted on the subject, What is the Evidence Suggesting About Facebook?, leading to several comments and a response by Paul Walk, Why I suppose I ought to become a Daily Mail reader.

The problem with Facebook in HE is that we tend (not always I'll admit, but often enough to be worth noting) to approach it with questions like, "how can we use Facebook in universities to allow us to engage with them?" - where 'us' is the lecturers and 'them' is the students. And this approach tends to degenerate into the kind of, "oh, but Facebook is their space not our space" or, "is it OK for me to have a student as a Facebook 'friend'?" debates that we see so regularly.

If, instead, we approached it with questions like, "how can we use Facebook in universities to facilitate students/prospective students/alumni talking to other students/prospective students/alumni?" - as, for example, Ruth Page does in Facebook Fresher's group: Success story - I think we'd be on firmer ground.

Basically, it's about using Facebook (or any other social network for that matter) to facilitate conversations in spaces that 'we' are not necessarily part of.


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Hi Andy - It's also worth noting that Facebook can be used by staff, researchers, etc. for communicating with each other - students do not necessarily need to be part of the equation.

@brian yes, absolutely - sorry, I should have made that clearer.

new facebook is better

But should we be trying to facilitate conversations between students in Facebook? Isn't this their space to self-organise in? In Cardiff medical students seem to be very capable of doing this themselves and I think for us to get involved would risk 'creepy treehouse'.

@Anne Marie - it doesn't feel like 'creepy treehouse' (to me) for a university to set up a Fb group for new students in each hall of residence before they arrive. Yes, the students could do this for themselves - but they might not do so for a variety of reasons.

Setting up the group doesn't necessarily mean taking part in the resulting conversation (though in that particular scenario it might make sense for someone to be on hand in the Fb group to answer direct questions - or to 'engineer' the presence of older students who have already spent a year in the particular hall)?

Self organising is fine where it happens naturally - but I don't see any major problem with a bit of university-led pump-priming?

We seem to be addressing this exact conversation with our Schools on Facebook product! Thanks for validating the concept! Good thoughts, Andy.

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