Stephen Downes (2007) reviews the virtual social network, Facebook. I like how he reflects on the application of this prolific site in education, not because I use Facebook but because he questions the educational usefulness of technology at the edges. With digital kids moving towards higher education, how and why they use technology must be a key question behind instructional design and development.
Downes outlines that Facebook is an education site and was built by and for university students. I didn’t know this. The most poignant feature of Facebook is its social networking abilities to connect with new or old acquaintances. As well, Facebook offers a variety of tools (some third party) to share content, multimedia, and ideas. Music, photos, and videos are some of the formats one can share. It becomes a rich environment to present different levels of a person, such as where they have been in the world and their musical taste. As well, Facebook provides different levels of privacy.
But how could this work within higher education? One advantage is its capability to connect dispersed groups and networks of people, thus providing a means to find, share, and converse with peers and experts in the field – the wider professional community (if they are registered in Facebook). It provides a safe place for students to experiment with multimedia, inquiry, and expressing their ideas without consequences. Downes adds, in contrast to other learning platforms, Facebook “puts the social community first, with content – including, but not limited to, educational content – being the medium of exchange between them.”
However, Downes states there are some downsides such as the credibility and reputation of Facebook, the questionable privacy, and the tendency for Facebook to be used by white, educated people. Yet, I think it offers a tool that can be used outside the classroom for purposes determined by the student. Its use should not be overly prescribed, like other learning activities, but students should be encouraged to build and use it within their own context and for their own needs.