Wednesday, January 30, 2008

To unblock Facebook or To not unblock Facebook?

I know the topic about whether "To unblock Facebook or To not unblock Facebook" is 'doing the rounds' - however, a recent email about whether Facebook should be unblocked for TAFE staff has created some healthy discussion about the 'Educational Benefits of using Social Networking Sites' for 'Vocational Education and Training' Staff and Students.

Michael Coghlan created a 'Podomatic' as his contribution to this discussion, called: Should TAFE be using Facebook.

Our Manager has contributed some very valid and interesting points to this discussion:
Interesting topic. One question is whether Facebook can offer any additional functionality to communicate with students off campus, above what we already have? Or is its purpose quite different from our current thinking about how ICT is used in an educational setting? In many cases the use of Facebook is for on campus students, so the initial question about its use may be shaky. Maybe we need to stop segregating students into on and off campus, it is not reflective of the more fluid approach to today's student body.

As with many social web 2 tools (in fact all ICT) just because it exits does not therefore follow that it is appropriate or necessary. Certainly one can always find an application for most of these products.
Another question is how many products are to be supported or endorsed in TAFE SA, often a particular product may be the personal like or dislike of individuals, this is not enough to endorse it, it must be based on its capacity to support learning or other student needs, and possibly to offer functions above what currently exists.
However there should be room to experiment and research which may then show how a product can be used before it is endorsed. It would appear that the use of Facebook may fill a need for the current generation in a setting like TAFE SA.

Facebook like many of these products primarily evolved with a social function and some evidence points to the fact that young learners do not want their education and social lives to be mixed, Allison Miller found this in her Inclusive E-Learning project, also this link below has some evidence of the same.

The misuse of such sites by some students as indicated in the extract .... (from initial email which started this debate) ... may lead to extra monitoring required in the use of such a product, whereas this may be less likely to happen in products that are hosted on our own systems. It appears that some young users of Web 2 tools have seen this as an area in which they are not accountable for their content, this is obviously not the case, but in "managed environments" this potential risk may be lessened. However this aside I come back to the point, what can Facebook or other WEB 2 products currently offer that most of our current ICT products can't? Maybe it is not directly linked to teaching but building a sense of community that our students are comfortable with, and is supportive in an educational setting.

There are considerations of the security and stability of content and systems over which we have no control. What happens if students post work and the host system (Facebook) fails?

What is it from a learning perspective are we trying to achieve should be asked first. There is some risk attached to experimenting broadly across an organisation without any empirical evidence as to the impact.

This has been shown previously where ICT was considered to be a solution from delivery perspective and the student body rejected the product and approach.

At this moment in time I think we are still really on the introduction of ICT and web technologies, which we must continue to watch and use, then test and evaluate.

Is there evidence that the students want particular tools used as part of their learning, or is it driven by teachers? It is very important that we as teachers continue to experiment with new technologies but with some ways to critique the effectiveness.

It may be worth checking but I think Facebook owns the data on its site, is this a problem?

Just some thoughts, really the question is not limited to Facebook but the application of emerging ICT in teaching and Learning and how do we keep pace and use with an informed approach.

More links, interestingly in the reading of these it seems the use of Facebook in educational settings is more for social communication, sharing, planning and discussion about learning more content, also they are often driven by the students once the space is created.

How data can be used from Facebook by marketers and entrepreneurs

Probably more questions than answers, but there is some excellent information on the use of Facebook in educational settings. I think Facebook needs to be seen in a different light to conventional ICT used to support the delivery of content.
He also responsed to my contribution to this discussion which I blogged about yesterday with:
I think this is also being discussed at a higher level, and this is where our ideas may be directed. Even some of our enlightened persons maybe hesitant about Facebook because in terms of data stored on it there are no safeguards.

Socially it has a place, educationally most of what is required and you describe can be done on our existing systems. The challenge is to work out what may benefit students, but maybe not necessarily encapsulate that in our systems where we have responsibilities.

What are our responsibilities to vocational / adults in this arena, we are not funded to provide education in the social responsibilities of using SNS's, perhaps this should be the domain of schools and parents.

Certainly our teachers may need a heads up on what is happening in SNS's however our primary function at the present moment and in the current political climate is to improve the effectiveness of VET delivery to areas of skills shortage etc

Sorry to be a cold hearted manager type :-)
So my reply to this was:

Thanks for your "cold hearted manager type" response - however - our staff and students are 'excited' about using this application - not sure I can say the same about some of the TAFE supported technologies - and this is where a lot of people are going to 'discover' what SN is all about. There's a lot to learn and gain from SNSs.

I think this 'email conversation' sounds a little like the one we had before edayz - ie about 'do we have an ethical responsibility' to wholistically educate our students - and not just what fits into the Training Package guidelines. And TAFE still has a 'social' side to its training responsibilities - not just to fill the skills gaps.

Love to debate with you further in the morning. Allison

Some questions to ponder from this discussion:

What are the POSITIVES of Social Networking? and what are the NEGATIVES of Social Networking?

Why do Educational Institutes 'shy away' from embracing 'Social Networking Sites' - and 'block' them?

How do we entice Educational Institutes to 'value' Social Networking?

Do Educational Institutes have an ethical responsibility to be 'guiding' their students through 'how to operate' in SNS?

How do we 'measure' and 'demonstrate' the educational value of SNSs?

How can we gather the data to show the 'ROI in terms of relationships' and 'ROI in terms of information and learning'?

thx @kerryank for responding to my 'tweets' on this topic - your responsiveness helped me formulate these questions?

I don't expect these questions will be answered in the short term, but will 'emerge' as more and more of our staff and students forge their own way into SNS, and demonstrate the benefits (and hazards) themselves.


Roger Stack said...

Thanks for the update on this conversation.

I'm not sure we could ban access to SN tools even if we wanted to... Our students (years 11/12) have mobile and wireless laptop access independent of our IT system - we would have to ban those devices as well. Not to mention all SNs - I know of one school that blocked MySpace only to find out later that the students moved to Bebo...

Rather than banning part of student (Y-Gen) culture we need to engage with it. Our students have had the internet and mobiles all their lives - they were born after 1990.

Perhaps we need to ask which current subjects/courses need to consider SNs in order to assist students to critically and responsibly and creatively participate as a digital/global citizens.

Cheryl Taylor-Cox said...

Allison do you think there is any advantage to using facebook rather than Moodle for social networking? I have had some great experiences using Moodle and found
I didn't really need much else (though chat is pretty ordinary).

I did set up a group in facebook and invited students to join and what absolutely amazed me was their reluctance to do so and in fact only one or two students did (these already had facebook accounts). They were all happy to use Moodle though. This made me wonder if they wanted to keep their social lives seperate from their study lives. An area I think is very grey in facebook - this whole notion of "friends".

What does facebook offer that Moodle doesn't that would be used by the students? All those applications in facebook just drive everyone crazy.

I would think twitter might be more useful than facebook - can we access that or is that blocked too? I wish we could have second life!!!

Michael said...

Good to see all this discussion in the one place. Thanks Allison.

What have we got to lose? If most students don't want it, it won't be much of a policing or bandwidth issues. Not that I think we are in the business of policing. If, as some argue, there is minimal demand for it, just make it available for those who would use it and be done with it. There's no money or HR costs involved. Why complicate such a simple matter?