Fear of Facebook?!

I had an interesting discussion with Brian Kelly (from UKOLN) earlier and he alerted me to an article in The Independent from last week entitled “Networking sites: Professors – keep out“.

As I will be speaking at the forthcoming “Exploiting The Potential Of Blogs And Social Networks” event next month I was interested to see what all the fuss was about so I read with interest.

The article highlighted a number of perceived issues with University staff getting involved in social networks. However I tend to disagree with the majority of them!

Last year we launched the Hi – Applicant website. It’s not ‘a Facebook’ but it does have features which allow applicants to chat (unmoderated!) to each other, view others profiles and form communities. Our staff got involved in answering queries (both formerly and informerly) in topics ranging from ‘am I entitled to a bursary’ to ‘what’s your favourite soup’ and we didn’t witness a revolt as many would expect. Why?! Well I believe it’s because we were open about University life, we gave applicants the freedom to discuss what they liked, how they liked and when they liked. We encouraged them to ‘be a community’ and it worked well for us.

I view Facebook in the same way. I don’t think we should be telling people to use it but I don’t believe we should discourage it’s use either. Yes some students may be outraged that their lecturer ‘be-friended’ them but others may think it’s pretty cool to be able to see a ‘real life’ side of the person who’s teaching them. It’s all down to individuals preferences and Facebook really does mean you can pick and choose. You don’t have to accept a ‘friend’ invitation, nor do you have to join a group but the fact is you can if you want to.

I do wonder why there is such a perceived fear of Facebook. I even struggle with the issue some people have with using it to store information. I wouldn’t advocate using it store all your files and photos but if it’s a medium to share copies of these then great. If Facebook want to claim the IPR on the copy of the information you put on their site – no problem. I can do what I want with my ‘original’ copy so I don’t have an issue.

Facebook is great because it’s evolved. It’s not a prescriptive site. It has developed the way the users have wanted it to and so why worry so much about how our students are engaging with it?! If they are then cool. Let’s get in their and do some stuff too but if not then we’ve plenty of other channels to go on.

I’d never advocate a Facebook (or any other social networking site) route for all communications or learning but as a complement to everything else I am prepared to Feel the Fear but do it anyway…