Not so long ago Facebook was seen as the enemy of teachers, the site of great distraction for students, the scourge of all that was intellectual. All social media that operated to connect people through sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Second Life was banned in schools and TAFE because it was seen as being detrimental to the educational experience. Facebook was a forbidden site and access was blocked. Across Sydney teachers were encouraged to employ technology in the classroom but not through Facebook. Overseas, universities were using Facebook to connect with their students and extolling the virtues of social media.
In NSW one of the big problems with lots of educational policy in TAFE is that TAFE falls under the DET umbrella covering schools as well. A small number of TAFE students are under 18 and now that some TAFE courses are delivered in schools policy has to be defined in terms of the impact on school students. This is primarily the reason that social media sites had been blocked.
About three months ago the ban in DET was lifted but oh so quietly at Sydney Institute. No-one knew initially. I only found out through conversation with another TAFE teacher at South Western Sydney Institute that had advertised the change in policy to all their employees. How times have changed. Sydney Institute started advertising the new policy for the use of social media in the classroom, teachers are being encouraged to attend professional development workshops about using Facebook, VET e-communities are now discussing the role of Facebook in education, Adobe Connect sessions are bringing the conversation about social media to all who are interested in listening.
I recently read a paper (Selwyn 2009) that examined the type of interactions students at a UK college had while using Facebook during their course. What was interesting to me about this paper was not necessarily that only 4% of the 68,000 interactions pertained to their university courses but it revealed the place Facebook played in these students lives. I think parents and teachers have to be realistic and accept that this is now the way young people communicate and you can’t hold back the tide of change. Each new generation adopts habits that their elders fear and think will cause them harm. In the 1950’s it was rock and roll, in the 1980’s it was punk, in the 2000’s it is tattoos and piercings. Educators need to tap into the Facebook energy and use it to their advantage.
I recently joined a closed TAFE Facebook group called Designing for Flexibility and have experienced first hand the ongoing conversation that such a group can generate. Short postings, links, interesting papers, blogs, YouTube videos and podcasts are posted and relayed for instant communication amongst the members. I know I won’t miss out on anything and that’s what I want for my students. I suppose that’s the point of all this connectedness after all.
Selwyn, N., (2009), ‘Faceworking: exploring students’ education-related use of Facebook’, Learning, Media and Technology, vol. 34, no. 2, pp. 157-174.
Useful links : 101 ways you should be using Facebook in the classroom