Facebook came gently into my life back in 2006 when one of my very socially-inclined students sent me an invitation; I resisted this invite for months. It reminded in my mailbox though while I pondered for weeks whether or not I should give up my freedom to privacy. I knew what facebook was about; I had heard stories about this social space, the wild land of the 20 something generation. But, eventually, facebook and I, we ended up in a relationship, like many relationships - a stormy one.
The issue whether or not facebook could be more than just a social space has popped up again and again. Back in January and February, during the EVO2008 session we were running on the uses of social tools in teaching EFL/ESL, SMiELT, our discussion got somewhat sidetracked and a number of us ended up chatting about the possibilities of using facebook with our students to teach English. The second time facebook came back into our discussions, this time with a big bang, was the infamous Ryerson scandal when we all learned that students still cheat – how surprising – this time though they were using a new social medium to do that (the life of a cheat note had come to a timely end, it seems). One of the engineering students got charged for opening a study group which, in fact, was a place to exchange solutions for their chemistry class. This past June, facebook became a discussion topic once again in a course I was taking at YorkU. Last night, July 2, I went on facebook after a month-long, self-imposed isolation. The truth was that over the months I had become an addict of facebook and I needed to see
1. if my life can still exist with it
2. what happens to facebook when one stops facebooking
3. decide if I wanted to use facebook as a teaching tool
The answers are:
1. my life got much better without it
2. facebook dies a natural death when one stops facebooking (the same as it is with virtual gaming: “The world exists because of you.”)
3. no, I would not use it for educational purposes.
realization is quite contrary to my stance on the issue at the beginning of the
Why on earth would anybody even consider using facebook to teach anything? In one of the posts during the June discussions with my class, the justification for using facebook in education came from the observation that the site is used extensively by the Generation Y crowd.
"Michael Tracey, a journalism professor at the University of Colorado, recounts a class discussion during which he asked how many people had seen the previous night's NewsHour on PBS or read that day's New York Times. "A couple of hands went up out of about 140 students who were present," he recalls. "One student chirped: 'Ask them how many use Facebook.' I did. Every hand in the room went up. She then said: 'Ask them how many used it today.' I did. Every hand in the room went up. I was amazed."
Given then that the attention of the 20something crowd seems to be centred around facebook nowadays, the suggestion from one of the discussants was, “Perhaps it would be better if educators could see the value of using facebook as a tool to encourage subject discussions beyond the classroom.” Yeah, right!
EVO2008 sessions, Mary asked if I would be interested in
contributing to a discussion on using facebook in our teaching; I
enthusiastically said yes. It was kind of a Marxist crusade
– I had deeply-ingrained high ideals in regards to facebook; I believed that
the 20something crowd was ripe for an educational revolution, a revolution in
which facebook would be turned into a productive teaching tool. Marx’s
ideals came to an end in Eastern Europe in 1989 with the
Velvet Revolution after years of trials; my ideals came to an end
even before the revolution took place.
When I was considering the use of facebook for education in January, I was mostly driven by my personal conviction that education can and should take place anywhere. I had this highly ideal conviction that it is my responsibility to stir my students towards learning wherever they are. I think I was a bit naive then thinking that I can inspire the 20something to use his/her personal facebook space to less futile goals than an exchange of seemingly nonsense and hardly readable posts on their Walls or an exchange of hugs, which, in my opinion at that time, served little, if any, purpose. I did decide though to stand back and observe this social space to get the feel of the place; I looked at their Wall posts and Super Wall videos, read their daily updates, saw how their friendship grew from day to day, and how each facebook site is different as it reflects each person’s individuality. I did the same: wrote on my friends’ Walls, scribbled crazy updates at 2 am in the morning, and looked for friends to add to my site. I personalized my page – I made it my own to reflect who I am.
Then, it hit me. I woke up at 4:45 in the morning one day and came to a conclusion that facebook IS really a SOCIAL SPACE, and that my students really need to and want to use it to SOCIALIZE. Over these months of intense facebooking, I had realized that it would be unfair and futile to impose my high educational ideals on my students on facebook. I realized that trying to stir them towards learning inside this very social and very informal environment is wrong.
One of the arguments put forward in our discussions was that because technology is such a big part of their life, it could be utilized to stir them towards learning. But that’s so wrong. Facebook is a social place and they should use it for social purposes. It's THEIR place, THEIR space, THEIR party. Making them use this very social space to learn things is like crushing a party on a Friday night. One of the other teachers pointed out that it is incredible how often students use facebook. And, that’s true; yes, they do. But that’s because they need to. They need to exchange nonsense videos, the need to send each other hugs, and they need to have a place to vent their exasperation about education (how telling is that!) in desperate messages in which they complain how much studying sucks. Taking away this SOCIAL space from them and turning it into an EDUCATIONAL space would be a crime.