Just like a lot of other social networking spots before it (youtube, myspace, and even way back in the days where IRC was all the rage), facebook is beginning to get some negative press and there are calls to ban it in the workplace and to ban it in educational institutions.
Some of my undergrad English students have facebook (not all of them) and even smaller number of students friended me when I mentioned I’d use it as another space to deposit lecture notes for them. It’s not really a course management space though I will trial a few features and see whether there’s any interest from the students.
What is most interesting to me though in light of all the sudden bad press about facebook is to see what sort of interactions the students are having with each other. I am not spying on them by the way! And I do not have ethical approval to use anything. But as a friend I am getting notifications and see a little of what they are doing and saying, and which groups they are joining through my own feed. So its impossible not to see some stuff!
Here’s what I see:
A lot of discussion about assignments, clarification about criteria, support of each other prior to presentations, support and feedback to each other after presentations, and general discussion of their various units
Comments which are fair though perhaps bordering on harsh about their lecturers (x is such a hard marker, I had lecturer y and she is much easier). These comments are ones I often overhear as I walk into a class before it begins though so they do not surprise me
Some of the groups they join are kind of funny:
“If you can’t differentiate between your and you’re, you deserve to die” – oh yeah I approve of that one;
“Keep your f****** hand down in lecture and shut up. No one cares.” – well hmmm… it depends on the question. Once I had just finished explaining something in a lecture and then a student raised her hand and asked the very question I had answered, so I said “well this is a good test of who has been listening and paying attention, who can answer her?” and had another student answer her;
and “If a ginger kid bites me, what should I do” – I know this is a joke but hey, when you teach young kids and this really happens it is no laughing matter I can assure you!
I see some of the students talking and worrying about how much time they are spending on facebook, so they are conscious of balance and fitting things in.
I would never support banning of any form of social networking in an educational or work environment because so much of the talk and interactions are based on sharing, support and community building. The jokes and silliness and play that goes on are pretty crucial to the sense of community and to developing trust. As they trust each other more, they support one another more.
What I worry about more is the groups of students are not on facebook and who aren’t getting that same level of support and rapport developing with their peers. Facebook should become compulsory! Oh wait… then it wouldn’t be fun…