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Random Thoughts on Instructional Design

To FB or not to FB in HE?

The debate rages on. Is Facebook an appropriate instructional tool in Higher Education? As with any good debate, there does not seem to be any one right or wrong answer and the responses vary considerably.

A recent flurry of emails on the New Media Consortium (NMC) listserv on this topic can be organized by the following response types: For, Against, Neutral, Caution, Purpose/Functionality, and FERPA.

  • The For responses reflect the importance of meeting students where they are and using the technologies they use every day.
  • The Against responses support the student’s desire to keep their school life and personal/private life separated and that the use of FB by instructors encroaches on their space. The Against argument also poses questions about inclusion and being cognizant of those students who do not use or are not willing to use FB.
  • The Neutral responses indicate that FB may be appropriate in some situations and not in others and that it really depends upon the intended use.
    • In many cases, these responses are calling for the current Learning Management Systems to become more FB like.
    • There is also a call for asking the students what tools they would like to use.
  • The words of Caution are focused around Instructional Design and ensuring that there is a focus on the instructional goals and student learning objectives not simply on using a trendy tool.
  • In terms of Purpose/Functionality, the response overwhelmingly is that FB is great as a campus networking tool for students and alumni or a communication tool to push information to the students, but not necessarily for instructional content.
  • Those responses focused on FERPA are concerned with data mining and the privacy policies of FB. They are asking what if any implications the use of FB particularly for communications and assessment purposes may have on a student’s right to privacy.** FERPA, its intentions, and its role in a digital age is not being discussed in this posting.

Interestingly enough, the Push Technology of the late 1990s used more by government agencies and corporations than education received similar scrutiny. In 1997 (BFB =before Facebook), push technology was emerging as a new way to deliver information directly to people’s computers. Referencing a 1997 article from Wired magazine, Franklin and Zdonik(1998) stated that “push technology would change the Web from a passive library of information into a networked, immersive medium for information and entertainment delivery.” While this technology was being touted as being an immediate way to disseminate information to individuals, it also raised concerns about bandwidth use, selecting appropriate applications, setting standards for the use of the technology, and the prominence of possibly unwanted advertising. (Umbach, 1997)

While push technology, now Web 2.0 technologies, has persevered and in many cases exceeded the expectations of 1997-98, so too have the questions and concerns raised about its implementation and impact. Recent questions posed on the topic of the use of Web 2.0 technologies in Higher Education include:

  • Can Web 2.0 applications be designed to facilitate informal learning? (Selwyn 2007)
  • What potential benefits and risks do Web 2.0 applications pose for formal learning in educational institutions? (Selwyn 2009)
  • To what extent do the new media challenge our conventional understanding of the ways in which knowledge is generated and disseminated within the academy? (Hemmi et al 2009)
  • Do students possess the forms of ‘technoliteracy’ required to manage and produce academic knowledge within such spaces? (Hemmi et al 2009)
  • To what extent do learners expect or desire to use their social networking spaces in formal educational settings? (Selwyn 2009)
  • What unintended consequences and/or risks do learners see as arising from importing Web 2.0 technologies into the classroom setting? (Selwyn 2007)
  • What kinds of ‘digital pedagogies’ work in these spaces and how are they perceived and experienced by students? (Hemmi et al 2009)
  • How can assignments created through the use of Web 2.0 technologies to be designed and assessed to meet the expected rigor of assessment in higher education? (Gray et al 2010)

Neil Selwyn of the University of London’s Institute of Education in the United Kingdom is a leading researcher focusing on the sociology of technology use in educational settings. In a 2007 article, Web 2.0 applications as alternative environments for informal learning – a critical review, Selwyn states that social network communities function as personal and personalisable spaces for online conversations and sharing of content. Based on Stutzman’s 2005 article Our Lives, Our Facebooks, Selwyn extrapolates that students “use Facebook in the micro-management of their social lives, as an arena for social exploration and to develop social networking skills between their peers at university and from previous institutions they have attended.” In addition to the social aspects of FB, Selwyn calls out articles from Mason (2006), Bugeja (2006), and Ziegler (2007) which indicate that FB has the potential to engage and motivate students when used as an instructional tool for reflection and critical thinking.

When considering the implementation of an instructional technology into teaching and learning, it is imperative that the instructional goals, student learning objectives, and assessment strategies remain the primary focus not the technology. A 2010 article, Students as Web 2.0 authors: Implications for assessment design and conduct, focuses on the assessment challenges of assignments requiring student authoring using Web 2.0 technologies. Gray et al (2010) site various sources which suggest that Web 2.0 technologies have the potential to “engage and empower students, to increase peer learning and creative expression, to develop literacy and communication skills, and to inculcate lifelong learning.”

Emerging literature and Selwyn’s own research, however, question the benefits of FB for formal learning. One challenge to the perceived benefits of Web 2.0 technologies is that of designing medium to high stakes assessment activities that meet the rigors of assessment in higher education. Gray et al point out that the creation of low stakes activities focused on superficial tasks appear frequently in the literature; however, such tasks risk student perception of the assignment as busy work or ancillary to the overall course objectives thus decreasing student motivation to participate.

Selwyn’s 2007 study of 907 students use of Facebook over a six-month period suggests “that the educational nature of students’ Facebook use is profoundly informal and often at a tangent with the official learning aims of educators.” Selwyn’s article reporting on the results of the 2007 study is both entertaining and informative. The findings include the following:

  • Of the public wall posts made during the analysis period, only 4 percent were related to student’s studies and/or academic aspects of the university experience.
  • Academic related postings revolved around assessment requirements and logistics rather than the formation of a continuous learning community.
  • Students use Facebook to develop their identities as university students and to navigate the system/experience.
  • Students used Facebook to maintain already strong relationships and less so to create new ones.

This is not to say that innovative activities integrating Web 2.0 technologies should not be considered. Instead, Grey et al caution that Web 2.0 activities should be designed with “relevant conventions and guidelines for designing and conducting such assessments” in mind to ensure that the students learning is benefitting from the full educational potential of the technologies. Unfortunately, for many Web 2.0 tools such conventions and guidelines are as yet not in existence either in the literature or as part of official university assessment policies.

Selwyn (2009), Hemmi et al (2009), and Gray et al (2010) all conclude that there is a need for additional research focused on the pedagogical practices of the use of Web 2.0 technologies in teaching and learning to identify the theoretical foundations of assessment for the use of these technologies in formal education. The role of student voice, not only through the use of Web 2.0 technologies but also in the planning and implementation of such technologies in learning, is also a prominent theme. It is clear in the literature reviewed for this posting that the assumption that students are comfortable with and able to use these technologies whether for personal or educational use is mistaken. As such consideration of the audience aptitudes during the design and implementation of such activities will be key to the student success and the successful implementation of activities using Web 2.0 technologies.

Give these conclusions; it is likely that there will be continued discussion within academia about whether or not it is appropriate to use Facebook and similar Web 2.0 technologies for formal learning in higher education.

What are your thoughts on the issue? For, Against, Neutral, Caution, Purpose/Functionality, FERPA?

References

Franklin, M., Zdonik, S. (1998). “Data In Your Face”: Push Technology in Perspective. SIGMOD Rec., 27(2), 516 – 519.

Gray, K., Thompson, C., Sheard, J., Clerehan, R., Hamilton, M. (2010). Students as Web 2.0 authors: Implications for assessment design and conduct. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology. 26(1), 105 – 122.

Hemmi, A., Bayne, S., Land, R. (2008). The appropriation and repurposing of social technologies in higher education. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning. 25(), 19 -30.

Selwyn, N. (2007). Web 2.0 applications as alternative environments for informal learning – a critical review. Paper presented at the OECD-KERIS Expert Meeting – Session 6 – Alternative learning environments in practice: Using ICT to change impact and outcomes. [viewed 1 Sept 2010]. http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/32/3/39458556.pdf

Selwyn, N. (2009) ‘Faceworking: exploring students’ education-related use of Facebook’ Learning. Media and Technology. 34(2), 157-174.

Umbach, K. (1997). What is “Push Technology”? California Research Bureau. 4(6).

2 comments on “To FB or not to FB in HE?

  1. Pingback: To FB or not to FB in HE? | Rose Colored Glasses « Social Computing Technology

  2. Pingback: Tweets that mention To FB or not to FB in HE? | Rose Colored Glasses -- Topsy.com

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This entry was posted on September 4, 2010 by in General.

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