Thursday, January 26, 2006

Facebook is evil

I have generally quit reading The Chronicle, opting instead for the freely available Inside Higher Ed. However, I ended up there a few minutes ago and this article about Facebook caught my eye. I'm an educational technologist and general all around geek, so obviously I think technology in education is a cool idea. That said, I don't think higher education is doing a good job overall in implementing or even addressing changes in technology very well. This article is a good example of that. Very few professors know what Facebook is, much less that their students are obsessed with it. Those same professors also don't know about either, I'm guessing. Their reaction, as evidenced in this article to finding out about such things is shock and awe. Yes, for the students, this stuff is entertainment, but so is tv and there are whole courses on tv shows now. Hell, there are conferences on tv shows now.

About a year ago, I ran a workshop about what it meant to put yourself online. We talked about Facebook, Friendster, blogging, and portfolios and tried to get people to think about what it meant to have such a public persona. The three people in attendance (yippee), one of them a student, were quite amazed at what we could dig up via the Way Back Machine and Google. So, I agree with Bugeja that we need to teach students to think criticially about their online persona and their interactions in online communities. But, I would argue, it's hard to do that if you have no clue that such online communities even exist.

Higher education has been quick to buy into enterprise solutions for delivering online and hybrid courses, but very slow to seriously consider the implications of what else is going on online or to think about what online education or hybrid education should look like. I think this is especially true at schools focused primarily on providing face-to-face courses with "extra" stuff online, maybe ereserves if you're lucky. This morning, I was reading a blog post by David Wiley, who is preparing to testify to the Commission on the Future of Higher Education. In it, he discusses the ways in which higher ed is falling behind because it refuses to adapt to changes in technology. He, and some of the commenters, argue that higher ed is closed and unconnected and that students who are used to open access and highly connected environments will be frustrated by the stifling environment of many college classrooms.

I had to laugh at some of the complaints in the Chronicle article about students playing with Facebook during lectures. Okay, so ban computers from the classroom and let them doodle instead. How about thinking about something more interesting to do in class? Or ways of making the lecture more engaging? Or something? If my students aren't paying attention, I think either a) I need to change something about myself or b) too bad for them; they're missing out (assuming they're not disruptive).

I agree that technology brings with it some difficult challenges, everything from inappropriate content on Facebook to the increasing ease of cheating using the Internet. And I agree that higher ed administrations often spend technology budgets in inappropriate ways. (I say that with very little idea of how our budget is allocated; I'm never on budget committees.) I think it's important to educate faculty about what's going on in technology today, not to necessarily say, you have to use this, but here, this is what lots of people are doing now (plus, maybe they won't think I'm a freak anymore). And maybe show them some ways those things might be useful. I've turned several people on to blogging on campus. I was on the phone with someone today walking him through Drupal (yes, I got it installed) and it was so fun to hear him say, "Wow, this is really neat!" Not every technological tool or gadget is going to work for every situation. But it's important to understand the potential each one might have.

And, I think, administrators don't always have the resources in place. I made a long comment over at Dr. Crazy's about her frustrating experience just trying to use a DVD player. She got caught up in the bureaucracy. I see that happen often in my (probably) much smaller department. Mordac, the preventer of Information Technology is alive and well. I have no idea why the IT culture tends to attract these types, but it does. And while money may flow freely into software packages, it stops short of providing the staff to support the use of those packages. And forget having enough time for long-term planning, etc. Most of us manage, however, to accomplish quite a bit without a full deck of resources. Unfortunately, when we fall short, it has a pretty big effect.

My vision for technology and higher ed? I think we should have more people and I think we should seriously consider moving to open source solutions wherever possible. There's no reason why we couldn't use Open Office instead of Microsoft Office. We could move to Sakai instead of Blackboard (though that might be a few years off). I think faculty should be more involved in the decisions that are made about technology. Often that means being proactive and talking to provosts, CIO's and presidents because unfortunately faculty aren't always asked their opinion or worse, the wrong questions. Often the IT people are speaking a completely different language. They don't understand the need to be mobile, to have access to a computer in a library, for example. I often find myself being the translator, explaining the faculty culture to the IT people and the IT language to the faculty.

I think there are a lot of issues here and most of them are far too complex to address with a simple "facebook is evil."