A few people have blogged the Guardian report "Students tell universities: Get out of MySpace", based on the JISC project, in which the message from students seems to be that they want a separate space and don’t want universities and educators invading it.
This will be all that many doubters need as justification to say that we shouldn’t be bothering with all this social networking stuff. Here’s why I think we should ignore that advice, or rather we should ignore it in a particular way.
Firstly, the use of networks changes – after the initial flurry of hitting people with a wet fish or becoming a vampire, people’s use of a network settles down I think. So how students feel about FB a year from now will be different from how they feel now.
Secondly, we provide tools and services that help them learn, but don’t direct their learning. We are not ‘in’ Facebook in the same way we are ‘in’ a VLE, where we monitor progress and contribution. Rather, universities can provide tools (like the FB ones we are developing) which help students learn between themselves.
Thirdly, if this is where they are spending a lot of their time, it is convenient to have some of their formal learning data in here – even if it’s just notifications of updates from their VLE. It acts as a base camp then for other systems. This will be the key to why students will want some form of university input in their social network – convenience.
But I do agree that we shouldn’t go barging in there and imposing formal systems – they’ll only go someplace else. Going out to where students are rather than bringing them into our systems (or doing both more likely), has huge implications for what you design and do. As soon as you start developing tools for this space, a whole range of applications occur to you that don’t when you are inside the formal education space – they tend to be about facilitating connections, adding fun and being viral. Because your app has to survive in the social network ecosystem, this makes you develop ones that are perhaps better suited to the learner’s needs than when you control the ecosystem.