Facebook for Academic Purposes?

About Aaron McCollough

English Literature Librarian, University of Michigan

In some recent work reviewing an updated edition of a writing handbook, I questioned whether it might not be time to start thinking seriously about how we should be encouraging students to work with social networking sites as online research sources. Certainly, plenty of people have been thinking for some time about how to use Facebook for pedagogical interactions (leading, among other things, to the so-called “Creepy Tree House Effect”). Not much thought has been put into “citing the site,” however, or into how students might be exploiting/learning from/re-purposing material that circulates in the social network space. It’s easy to be skeptical about students using Facebook and other social media for research, but Creepy Tree Houses notwithstanding, developments like the one mentioned in today’s Chronicle of Higher Education suggest that this kind of skepticism might be as misplaced as was our general indifference to social media a few years back.

3 Responses to “Facebook for Academic Purposes?”

  1. aline soules says:

    I’ve been using Twitter in my all-online courses for a few quarters now. I use Twitter to issue “reminders” of work due, to emphasize key points from the most recent lesson, and, generally, to communicate when I can do so within 140 characters. It’s worked out well and continues to do so. My latest 5 tweets show up on my online class blog (http://library1551.wordpress.com being my latest class). That said, I always remember that I have students who do ‘not’ access Twitter or, at least, do not download to their mobile phones because of charges (many cannot afford unlimited access).

    Now, I’m beginning to explore the use of Facebook for discussion. I have found that asynchronous discussion doesn’t work well in our learning management system (BlackBoard), so I wonder if I can make it work in Facebook. To test this, I am setting up a pilot for my summer project. I will conduct two discussions this summer. In both cases, I will divide my class in half. The first time, the first half will ‘discuss’ in BlackBoard while the second half will ‘discuss’ in Facebook. The second time, I will reverse the groups with the next discussion topic.

    Ideally, I would conduct a synchronous discussion, possibly over Elluminate, but I have many students who cannot meet at the same time and synchronous discussion requires that all be online at the same time. My students work, they have families, they have complex and very busy lives, so that is not really an option.

    So the question is whether Facebook will be more ‘enabling’ than BlackBoard or whether the same issues will prevail in both systems.

    Regardless, after my Twitter experience, I am all for social networking IF it has a true purpose for my students and, as I emphasize to them, it isn’t just about telling people what they ate for breakfast.

  2. I’ve thought of Facebook mostly as a marketing tool for our Libraries. I haven’t begun to think about it as a learning tool so I appreciate this post and the link to the Chronicle article. It sounds to me like this Princeton professor is using FB the same way one would use a class blog: post some mini-essays and invite comments. Though a bit more convenient because students don’t have to go to a separate site, it’s perhaps innovative but not terribly creative. The problem with social media (as with any new technology) is figuring out how to use it in new ways, not just replicate the old ways of doing things.

    The article prompted me to do a little searching in MLA and LLBA to see what folks in our disciplines have been doing, and the answer is “not much.” A couple of dissertations and a handful of articles, but I did come across this:
    “Using Facebook to Teach Rhetorical Analysis,” by Jane Mathison Fife. Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition, and Culture. 2010 Fall; 10(3): 555-562.
    http://pedagogy.dukejournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/10/3/555

    This person is using the *content* of FB as the object of analysis, which I think will become more and more common. I imagine there’s a problem here with tenure expectations and perceptions of what constitutes scholarly work. A search for “Wikipedia” in MLA turns up 31 items (instead of 8 for “Facebook”) since the online creation of an encyclopedia seems to be a more scholarly question than an application for sharing your breakfast menu and pictures of your cat.

  3. Emily Hamstra says:

    There is an interesting article on social media in the classroom on Inside Higher Ed today: http://tinyurl.com/3cwpxse

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