The bank robber Willie Sutton once famously said:”Why do I rob banks? Because that is where the money is!”. Similarly, why should professors get on Facebook? because that is where the students are! This is where that water of attention that burst through the dam has now gone to. To such an extent that the emergence of Facebook is now the focus of a major motion picture, probably already playing in a theater near you.
Now, this doesn’t mean you should befriend all your students and get to view these often disgraceful party pictures. Even if the current Facebook security system still leaves room for improvement, there are ways to be safe on Facebook, by following some simple rules, by taking a few steps to be safe, and by using an independent tool that checks your privacy settings for you. And after all, you don’t have to look at these photos other wish to share. If you’re worried about people accessing secrets on your own personal profile, there’s a simple way to get around that: don’t post them on the first place. What’s private should remain as such. And if it’s not even about secrets but simply holiday photos and somehow the tricks linked above don’t work, all you might get is some amused and friendly looks, perhaps even appreciative remarks from your students (like “it’s great you went to the Canary islands, I would like to do the same…”).
That said, like there are some guidelines for properly mixing learning with playing, there are certain ways to mix educational purposes and the social media. At Purdue University, a team created an e-learning platform called Mixable that aims to encourage students to mix work and play within Facebook. Mixable proposes to organize a study space within Facebook, something that no other application is really doing yet, in spite of the popularity of such type of media.
Several educators are now realizing that social media like Facebook but also Twitter might actually be great opportunities to personalize learning. Perhaps a welcome solution actually to better manage the increasing number of students that enroll at universities. At a conference last week in Washington DC, experts discussed the “use of ed-techs tools for individual education”. During a panel discussion on the topic, the various invited speakers shared examples of how the social media could (and should–remember the name of this blog!) be used to facilitate education, based on their own experiences.
So, just get your user account and start tweeting, your students will praise you for it…