Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Freshers on Facebook

The Guardian has this timely article on how Facebook is used by students before they arrive at university. It's Freshers' Week now, here at the University of Reading and so all the students who have been meeting online in preparation for their arrival at university will now be meeting face to face. I wonder how many surprises they'll be, how different students come across from the identities they present in their profiles.

There are a number of interesting points in the article - which you can read for yourself - mainly from research done by the University of Leicester. Among them is the issue raised again and again here at Reading regarding the distinction between academic and social areas online.

I don't think students necessarily want lecturers to use Facebook (which they see as their space for socialising). At the most, I'd say they want their lecturers to use tools like it to make communicating and accessing course materials more efficient - and even that is debatable. The issue really boils down to whether these new technologies are good for teaching and learning - an obvious point but one that can be easily forgotten in the anxiety of keeping up with the times or in the hot pursuit of new toys.

When it comes to the social side - well, I've already blogged about the nature of friendship on Facebook and the different policies users might adopt when interacting on Facebook or social networking sites in general. I'm sure a lot stockpiling of friends goes on, partly so's there's a readymade support network in place by the time students arrive, partly so's the numbers for everyone are higher.

That may sound cynical but I'm increasingly beginning to think the nature of the site itself is cynical. Having friends counts and newsfeeds of what everyone is up to all the time can't be good for a healthy perception of life. Lecturers should be looking into tools like Facebook when they can, not so they can use them but so they can know what it is that shapes their students' worldview.

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