Home Facebook Messaging, Teens and School Work: Can Facebook Be a Social Learning Network?

Facebook Messaging, Teens and School Work: Can Facebook Be a Social Learning Network?

When Mark Zuckerberg announced Facebook’s new messaging system yesterday, he started the press event with an anecdote about his girlfriend’s little sister and her friends – how high school students use (or rather, don’t use) email. That’s not a surprising revelation to those of us who work or live with teenagers.

A Pew Internet study found that only 11% of teens say they use email to communicate with friends, and even that figure seems a little high. Teens see little need for a method of communication that is, in some ways, associated with professional and not personal worlds. In the words of Iowa State University education professor Scott McLeod, “Adolescents don’t use e-mail – except when they’re forced to in order to interact with us older folks.”

In yesterday’s announcement, the “older folks” who were stressed were moms and grandmas. But the “older folks” that high school students interact with daily include their teachers. Will Facebook’s new “not email” messaging system, particularly with its integration with Microsoft Office Web Apps, become the new site for classroom collaboration and communication?

Facebook’s New Messaging System: A “Blackboard Killer?”

Arguably, Facebook is already one of the places student turn for real-time homework help. Both high school and college students utilize Facebook (Chat, along with other real-time communication tools) to work together on homework assignments.

But “working together” isn’t something that’s relegated just to homework help and after-school projects. Collaboration is one of the cornerstones of the “21st Century skills” that many schools are teaching, and more and more in-class assignments involve students working together with technology in the classroom.

The ability to offer online collaboration tools has been something that both Google, with its Apps for Education and Microsoft, with its Live@edu, have stressed as they’ve convinced schools, districts, and states to adopt one or other company’s cloud-based email and productivity tools. With the clear partnership between Microsoft and Facebook, then, will Facebook become the new space for not just students but for students and teachers to work on class projects?

The short-term answer is certainly “no.”

Facebook Access Denied

Facebook is blocked at most schools (just as it’s blocked at many businesses). As McLeod notes, “The tone of the rhetoric has subsided somewhat – it’s not viewed as ‘evil’ as it once now that social networking has gone mainstream and older adults are using it. But schools still see it as a distraction and a platform for stupid public disclosures by students and cyberbullying.”

And even if schools don’t block Facebook, it’s debatable whether or not students will want to “friend” their teachers in order to work on projects with them via Facebook. And of course, teachers probably don’t want to “friend” their students either.

With or without teachers’ involvement or schools’ sanctioning, Facebook’s new messaging platform will probably be well used by students. As educator and author Will Richardson argues, kids will “flock to it simply because it will be easy for them to integrate into their Facebook flow.” They’ll do this regardless of privacy issues, says Richardson, noting “We don’t do a very good job of teaching them about that stuff.”

Whether or not students understand some of the privacy concerns around Facebook, a lot of administrators, teachers, and parents seem to. And as more schools recognize the importance of “social learning” and social networks, it seems unlikely that they’ll want to invest in Facebook as an educational platform.

But as Facebook becomes more interwoven with how we communicate and collaborate, that may change, and it may well be the social learning platform of the future.

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