Should we try to use social networking services such as Facebook and Myspace as serious educational tools, or should they remain the domain of informal chat and backstage antics? This is one of the questions addressed in the latest issue of Learning, Media and Technology. Neil Selwyn and Lyndsay Grant are to be applauded for bringing together an excellent, very readable special issue of the journal which focuses on Learning and Social Software. In his podcast on the journal website, Neil talks about exposing the 'gritty reality' of social software, and how he wanted the special issue to 'priviledge robust empirical study' into the likes of wikis and social networking tools in formal learning contexts. He calls for a serious debate on these issues, as a means to move away from the 'hype' and presumptions of Web 2.0 toward a more critical perspective. There are 6 main articles in the issue, but two stand out for me, both of which deal with how Facebook is being used in education.
The first article examines Facebook as a tool for socialising. Written by Clare Madge and her colleagues, the article reveals that socialising is the prime functionality of the service, and that attempts to use it in a formal educational context are problematic. 'We therefore feel that it is important that the British Higher Education sector is aware of Facebook and recognises its potential and importance to students but we would recommend caution about moving into a social networking space that students clearly feel is 'theirs' for social rather than academic purposes'.
Madge C, Meek J, Wellens J and Hooley T (2009) Facebook, social integration and informal learning at university: It is more for socialising and talking to friends about work than for actually doing work'. Learning, Media and Technology, 34 (2), 141-155.
The second stand out paper is by Neil Selwyn, who explores students' actual education related use of Facebook. He uses Goffman's notion of presentation of self through 'facework' to analyse the comments from a number of university students, and counsels: '...Facebook appears to provide a ready space where the 'role conflict' that students often experience in their relationships with university work, teaching staff, academic conventions and expectations can be worked through in a relatively closed 'backstage' area'.
Selwyn N (2009) Faceworking: exploring students' education-related use of Facebook, Learning, Media and Technology, 34 (2), 157-174.
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