Schools Should Embrace Facebook and Social Networking, Regardless of Impact on Instruction

Why should a school embrace Facebook and other social networks?  In addition to it being a completely futile battle against the tides, students get a lot out of it. That’s right administrators and professors – its not about you.

The seemingly meaningless interactions like pokes, wall posts and picture comments are not a waste of time, Sam Gosling, a psychologist from the University of Texas, pointed out at his talk at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco.  Gosling stated that such interactions help to solidify real, existing relationships.

Nicole Ellison, a professor of Telecommunication, Information Studies, and Media at Michigan State University, recently spoke at Facebook, invited by my friend and our advisor to Courses and Schools, Jeff Hammerbacher.  Her relevant work centers around social networking as a means of students developing social capital.  For those who ever went to a reputable school (especially, say, business school), a good portion of the utility of education is the social capital amassed during the program.

Ellison found in her research that there is a significant (and large) correlation with facebook use and bridging (community), bonding (close friends), and maintaining (previous communities) social capital.  Particularly notable for administrators and staff that work with students was that students with lower self esteem and lower satisfaction with life make more gains in bridging social capital, or making connections to their university community.

I can explain all this, theoretically, from my learning in BJ Fogg‘s Psychology of Facebook course at Stanford.  There is a concept in social psychology called “interpersonal attraction,” a descriptor of the magnetism between two people.  People with strong interpersonal attraction would want to talk with one another, sit with one another, and develop trust between each other.  Interpersonal attraction is strongly predicted by proximity, familiarity, and similarity.  Facebook overcomes proximity, promotes familiarity, and allows students to find similarities.  Therefore, people actively using Facebook have a large amount of interpersonal attraction with a larger number of people.

Schools should embrace Facebook because there students are building and maintaining relationships through the medium, and a large value add of the school setting are the relationships that are created and maintained.

Schools will probably eventually find that their alumni that use social networking tools feel more connected to the community are better contributors and participants, and prospects with more ties to current students and alumni through social networking tools will be more likely to matriculate.

Professors like George Bogaski, Mid America, and John Curry, Oklahoma, generally articlute that using Facebook to augment instruction results in more positive feelings toward the class, more bonds between classmates, easier contact with students, and even anecdotal higher performance.  This is without even using CMS applications like Courses.

As someone who is trying to merge social networking and instruction (I am currently out of the classroom working on Courses and Schools on Facebook), I believe that the merger of the two can and should happen.  But until the perfect tool comes along, administrators and staff should embrace Facebook and social networking for what it is – a medium where people are developing and maintaining relationships.  And remember: it’s not about what YOU get out of it, it’s about what they get out of it.

2 Responses to “Schools Should Embrace Facebook and Social Networking, Regardless of Impact on Instruction”

  1. Sam Purtill July 14, 2008 at 5:30 pm #

    Trying to block MySpace/Facebook at schools is a joke – everyone at my school would just find proxies and use them anyways. IT Administrators are stuck in the 90s with their useless internet policies. I feel a rant coming on but I will refrain. These policies are a byproduct of their bloated bureaucratic school boards that have even less wherewithal than the IT Administrators. Two ways to get the ball rolling on the change here:

    1) New IT Administrators that have progressive policies.
    2) Educate the teachers on the good FB/MySpace/[social network name] can do for their students, the medium is much more effective than their write on chalkboard -> send paper home method now.

    Go with the teachers I think, they will see the light and change will come from the bottom up.

  2. David Tames September 8, 2008 at 8:56 am #

    Schools are right to be skeptical of so much important interaction going on in private space (Facebook) rather than through public and personal space (students’ own blogs, the classroom, events, and social networking tools provided by schools). Oh, my, since schools are not providing good tools, Facebook steps in, privatizing an important public and open process. I wonder what it will lead to. Nothing wrong with Facebook per se, the benefits are positive and real, however, to suggest it’s the be all and end all of social networking is problematic.

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