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Facebook for Incoming Classes: While Admissions’ Back was Turned.

Brad J. Ward recently discovered that marketers from a company interested in reaching incoming freshman was out disingenuously making hundreds of X University Class of 2013 groups on Facebook. The perspectives from both Ward and his commenters are worthy of some deep consideration.

While backs were turned snubbing social media and Facebook, people with interests were proactive and hosted conversations they wanted to be visible in and a part of.  This should not be surprising; it is natural.  There are instances all across the web where marketers who have the interest and the budget “host” conversations, groups, and networks.  Some seem authentic, some seem like posers.

Here’s my thing: would Nike get accosted for creating “Atlanta Runners and Athletes” with a map of Atlanta?  I know I know, you’re going to say its not the same thing.  And, it’s not.  The city of Atlanta isn’t actively trying to manage its brand and doesn’t have a trademark on its aerial image.  However, it is the same in the sense that this is a reasonable thing for Nike to do because Nike wants to be there when people in Atlanta coordinate athletic activities.

CollegeProwler shouldn’t have to apologize for creating groups. (Universities could send them a cease and desist for hijacking the branding, which was in poor taste.)   Now that admissions offices want into those groups, I bet if they asked CollegeProwler to kindly turn over administrative rights in exchange for a link to the CollegeProwler site in the group posts, CollegeProwler would be more than happy to hand them over.

Facebook is a free for all, and no group is the “official” group of anything just as @student points out. You could, right now, go and create a group called “The OFFICIAL Brittany Spears Fan Club.”  Then, you could dramatically portray Ms. Spears all wrong.  Her fans would in no way be duped by this; they just go wherever there’s claim to support her and they will ultimately gravitate to the best community and the most authentic communication channel.

So, admissions offices could be like the record industry – they could make a lot of enemies by waging war on all of the people taking advantage of their own slowness.  Or they could do what would work: go host the best community and create the most authentic communication channel about their college or university.  The could try it through an off-facebook community that will just add another barrier to particpation.   Or, they could figure out how to tame the beast.  Talk about your strategies here in this Facebook group.

I, of course, hope they do it by watching our intros on Facebook for Universities and Colleges and ultimately choosing to use Schools on Facebook.  After all, though I think I am authentic. a secondary motive for this discussion is that Inigral, Inc is present in these types of conversations.

Video Platforms in Education, Facebook Video in Education, Facebook Video Now Embedable.

Well, I’m going to take a cheap shot at getting street cred here: I was hanging out the other Saturday with Chris Putnam, a 22 year old GSU drop-out that is responsible for Facebook’s video offering. (Many of Facebook’s early hires were either graduating Harvard and Stanford CS students or young, hungry, overly talented hackers getting stir-crazy at big state schools.)

Putnam told me about the softlaunch of a Facebook feature I’ve been dying for: “Facebook Video is now embeddable,” he said.  I had been waiting for this moment.

Facebook video, just like Facebook, is a technological wonder. It keeps better resolution, presents a bigger window, and has fewer glitches than most video offerings. As with most technological problems on the internet, it’s not the actual product (in this case, the video) that’s hard to make, it’s hard to make that same product highly functional and fast when there are millions of concurrent users.  This is where only Facebook and Google can play, and its amazing that Facebook can even play on this field because until this past year it was literally a bunch of ivy grads and dropout savants staying up late drinking red bull.  I think YouTube, now powered by Google, recently came out with a size and res that trumps Facebook, but I haven’t figured out where to load one and Facebook Pages are way more conducive to marketing purposes than are YouTube channels.

Here’s our video conversations on Facebook for Colleges and Universities. It talks about how Facebook can be used for recruiting, enrollment management, retention and persistence, educational enrichment, and alumni engagement.

At Inigral, we’ve been using Vimeo for our promotional videos up until now. Viddler, I think, has the best UI on their video player, but both Vimeo and Viddler get choppy when during playback.  I think YouTube is so cluttered with nonsense that I don’t want any Inigral promotional content to get much audience there.

I’m sure as Educators we sense the power of reduced barriers to video distribution. Unfortunately, most video content on the internet is senseless; but on the back of senselessness educators everywhere will have their own video content publishing and distribution platforms for free. John Couch, VP of Education at Apple, told me in his office once “the brilliance of iTunesU is that it’s becoming the most powerful distribution platform for educational content and it’s all subsidized by the music and movie industries.” How’s that for innovation.

Now if we could just get the oil industry to subsidize school improvement…..

Facebook for Educators: A Guide for Instructors

here’s a video we made, a follow up to my most popular post.

Facebook for Educators from Inigral Inc. on Vimeo.
An Instructional Guide to Facebook for Teachers from Inigral Inc. on Vimeo.

FAQs for Schools on Facebook: a dialog with Jeff Bohrer

Jeff Bohrer had a sit down conversation at Wisconsin-Madison about our Schools on Facebook product.  He brought up some great questions we hear quite often, so I figured I’d repost here:


* For how long is our institutional data kept at third-party host?
Seeing as how the value increases over time because students and alumni are able to connect on all the data they share, we aim to have that data within the application permanently. Under contract of course!  We could host on your systems, if it makes you feel more comfortable.  However, over the past ten years there have been dramatic advances in server/hosting technology.  We recommend using a top of the line host, and we can provide that for you.

* What are the intellectual property (of students) considerations?
At this moment, we have no e-portfolio capabilities.  It is worth noting that students are sharing all sorts of data and work on the internet freely.


* How often would our enrollment data be updated at third-party host?
As often as you can support.  We take batch exports from older systems, and we’re the market leader in real-time integrations according to the LIS specification by IMS Global.

* Will advertising be served? How?
Seeing as how we are attempting to “license” the application and support, advertising at the moment would be inappropriate.  An ad network would have to be student organization driven, and there would have to be a revenue share with both the campus and with publishing student organizations.  This is a year or more off, however.  Right now, no advertising.  We have to be careful, if this is even something we want to pursue.
Currently, a company called Chegg (Netflix for textbooks) is willing to fully sponsor any campus that wants to use our application but doesn’t have the budget.  This would mean that each course would have its book list link directly to Chegg.  However, this is only at the campus’ request.  We’ve also got interest for affiliate programs with CourseSmart and ScanR.

* Is there a difference between a person’s regular Facebook profile and their Schools profile?
The facebook profile is only shared with “friends” on facebook and contains dynamic content of a personal nature.  Students don’t necessarily want to “friend” all their classmates and reveal all of that personal information, but through activating their Schools profile they can share campus relevant data such as course memberships and affiliations with organizations, greek life, dorms, and departments.  This kind of profile will help to accelerate community between classmates that aren’t yet comfortable with the “facebook friend” designation.

* Can any members of a class get to other classmates regular profiles without being a friend?
Any classmate or person who shares an affiliation can get to the Schools profile with campus relevant information, but not to the Facebook profile.

* How would FERPA exceptions be handled in the application?
This is a great question, and we’ve given this more than considerable thought.  We’ve designed our application for various level’s of “opt-in” permissions, so there is no indication that we are not 100% FERPA compliant.  So, as far as we know, there are no exceptions.

Instructional and Business Process

* What is our process for choosing which “cool new” tool/service to try or adopt?
We’re interested in this as well.  Incidentally, I’ve been writing an article for On the Horizon about disrupting the higher ed products and services market.  I’ve been interviewing VCs, and they all think Higher Ed would be a much more desirable market if there a way to speedily get decisions made about purchases.  I’d be happy to discuss ideas around this.  One thing is for sure, the more the process is streamlined and fast-tracked across campuses the more the market will see innovation.

* What are the implications if instructors participate? What if they do not?
Instructors will see a lot of value in “Facebook as Symbolic Interaction” (title of a presentation Susan Lewis and I are doing at the next New Media Consortium conference in Second Life).  However, its certainly not mandatory.  If it was, some professors would be less than happy.  It’s a tool that has significant value, but we don’t want any top-down mandates for instructor participation.

* Could our institutional participation in Schools somehow help teach students how to best manage their “public face” (online profiles and info)?
I think so.  It would automatically mean more prudent choices in profile pic, and would certainly generate discussion on how older generations are using the social web to get an impression on job applications, etc, in addition to the long term ramifications of creating a reputation that gets carried with you even after school.  One would hope that the moral of these conversations would be that students should always be putting their best foot forward.

* Should we consider this a student-only tool? Just at first or for how long? Do we let instructors or TA’s in?
If that’s what your campus is comfortable with.  It would be of value either way.

Debunking the Creepy Treehouse: the Functional Mall.

I need to debunk the Creepy Treehouse, as it seems to have become some sort of rallying cry and is pulling people in the wrong direction.  I’m going to debunk it with contrarian metaphor: the Functioning Mall.  (If you come up with something more catchy, let me know.)

First off, let me tell you that the metaphor of the Creepy Treehouse is powerful.   There are many different ways you can build a Creepy Treehouse.  Instructors crossing lines by getting into personal or social settings where they are not particularly invited is totally creepy treehouse.

However, this in no way suggests that instructors should not be using innovative, even social technologies to engage students.  Adults and Teachers and Parents are allowed to and should get on the Social Web, but they must do it carefully and obey the general laws of coexisting with teenagers.  There are, in natural settings, places where the two have been known to coexist.  This has been happening since at least, as far as I can calculate, 1992 😉  We can look there for another metaphor: the Functional Mall.

Now, youngsters hang out at the mall.  They consider it a highly social space, and their scene is operated more or less on their terms.  Grown ups, while not prone to hang out at the mall, go to the mall.  There are stores targeted for teenagers that no adult should go to (e.g. Urban Outfitters), stores targeted to adults that no kids would be caught dead in (e.g. the Back Store), and places where both species coexist in their native habitat (say, a movie theater or the Cookie Company).   Adults and young adults know how to behave around each other, seemingly, in this same ecosystem.  There’s a rule, and let me make it transparent: transactional interactions are accepted, social interactions are not.  If a teacher sees their student at the mall, wave hi (or better yet nod slightly).  A security officer opens doors, stops fights, tells directions.  A store owner or employee helps them find things, accepts money, packages items, and send them on their merry way.  Yes, there is a clear line, and that line is socializing rather than transacting.

Would youngsters want adults to leave the mall, never to return? Well, not really.  They understand that the mall can be there for their dates and shopping sprees largely because adults also shop there.  And the mall doesn’t want to limit its customer base to teenagers.  I mean, there’s a business in teenagers: you could have rollerskating rink, or a go-kart shop, maybe put them in the same spot with mini-golf.  But the real business is open access and open wallets.

Facebook, most decidedly, does not want to be just for teenagers.  Most of the country doesn’t realize this but, out in the Silicon Valley, Facebook is hot business.  Microsoft invested in Facebook at a 15 billion dollar valuation; that’s more valuable than Ford Motors.  Their revenues are probably around 200 million a year and climbing dramatically; they have around 550 employees up from some 50 three years ago.  Their engineering and operations team is the magnet for the best talent anywhere.  Zuckerberg just recruited Google’s COO and Head Chef to boot!  This isn’t happening because people think Facebook is going to be a site for college students and teenagers.  Facebook, hands down, is going to get everyone on it and won’t stop until they do.  In the past year in a half its grown from around 35 to 90 million users.  60% of the population of Norway is on the site.

College students aren’t going to just up pick and move to another site.  Facebook is the only web application that’s figured out how to scale and still keep some sort of cohesion as a product and a community.  It’s got privacy settings, and gives users granular control over who can see what.  Grown ups can join without any creepy treehouseness.

What Facebook is lacking is a way for those with careful relationships to have transactional interactions.  But, that’s a good part of the reason that they’ve opened up to applications.  Soon, you’re going to see transactional applications for just about any interaction for any set of careful relationships you can think of.  Yep, you heard me, you’re going to be able to interact with your boss without being friends.

We don’t need to give educators an excuse to not be using these technologies, we need to be getting them to understand how best to use these technologies.  We need to keep in mind the “creepy treehouse” to guide us, but let us not point to everything on Facebook and Myspace, Twitter and Flickr and start accusing.  As long as everyone is using their privacy settings and limits contact with those that might be of a “transcendant” age group or have a “careful” boundary (e.g. teacher/student, parent/child) to transactional interactions.

FERPA, Facebook and The Social Web

As some of you know, I’ve been posting at Michael Feldstein’s blog about our limited beta release this Fall.  The overwhelming sentiment is “This is exciting, but what about FERPA!”

The immediate reaction to the thought of activating a campus-wide Facebook application can make any decision-maker nervous.  Information is shared all over Facebook, and a campus’ interest to keep student data private and secure is not only an obligation but is also upheld by the law.

First, a basic understanding of Facebook Platform is necessary.  Facebook presents applications through a frame and never has the opportunity to cache nor store any data presented within an application.  As of the new redesign pushed by Facebook in July 2008, users have direct control over the “stories” that are generated by applications.  Users also have control of what Facebook users can see what kinds of data, and can even directly block individual users that may find a nuisance.

We store our data with an infrastructure company on the cutting edge of data storage and security.  We can, if requested, create a local installation on a local server behind campus security systems.  However, we’d like our customers to note that innovative hosting companies have extensive expertise regarding large scale, secure hosting with nearly 100% up-time.  Having that kind of performance locally is nearly impossible.

At Inigral, we’ve worked with our pilot school and our lawyers to assure that all features of our application are FERPA compliant and uphold the strongest standards of security and privacy.  I don’t want to go into the exact feature set that makes it such a comfortable thing for institutional adoption, but it is proof that venturing into the wide world of the Social Web is highly possible with a little care.

However, the institution is not completely hands-off in this regard.  At most campuses, the administration will have already asked the student to sign an agreement to share data with third parties acting in concert with the mission of the institution.  With near certainty, we will be covered under such agreement.  If the institution does not have such broad language in place but has policies that treat enrollment data as “directory information,” we will be covered so long as students are notified and allowed to “opt-out.”  If enrollment data is not treated as “directory information,” the students should be asked for their consent by an “opt-in” email.

FERPA is in place to make sure that institutions are careful with and respectful of a students right to privacy, but it was not intended to hold back education in the 1990s before there were things like APIs and the Social Web.  No school has ever lost Federal funds because of FERPA, which is the only punishment that can occur for being in violation (besides being tied up in a lawsuit).  Privacy, Security, and personal Control over information is more than a valid concern, but lets not let it be a brick wall of anxiety in the face of the march towards user-friendly, interoperable, and multitudious educational solutions!

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.

Schools Need to Take Control of their Online Identity

Jeff Utecht made a great post here discussing the implications of students out there on the social web creating an online identity for their school.  They create Facebook groups, leave comments everywhere on MySpace, edit wiki pages, and even put up their own websites that represent their school in certain lights.  These disaggregated snippets form a dialogue out on the web that schools are completely ignoring.  Teachers and administrators need to be on the internet and the social web to take part in the discussion, at the very least to be aware of what is being said.

If you are an administrator or teacher, I’d be happy to talk to you about this.  You can also post at

Courses on Facebook Guide for Instructors

It’s no secret that I stepped out of the classroom momentarily to jump at entrepreneurial pursuits on the internet.  My team and I are working on trying to create products that can manage casual, social yet academic relationships on opening social networks.  Our product, Courses on Facebook, has had over 200 thousand users just in the past 8 months.

By far my most popular post has been about Facebook; it was a guide for instructors thinking about using Facebook.  I figured I’d put up a guide on how to use our product more specifically.  Students have entered over 500 instructors and their email addresses and we’re about to email them.  I want them to have some idea what they are getting into.

So, here it is:

Courses on Facebook: A Guide for Instructors

If your campus has a buzz about Facebook, feel free to email me at mpstaton (that at sign I can’t use here so I don’t get spammed)  I’d be happy to talk shop and arrange a training.  I can even bring Facebook, the actual company, into the mix.

Facebook atop Top Tools for Learning?

John Curry, a professor of Instructional Technology at Oklahoma State University, listed his top ten tools for learning.  What I find very hearting about the list is that so few are actually an enterprise tool sold to educational institutions.  The rest are products targeting the general public for nothing specific to learning.  How is it that the tools most helpful to pedagogy do not have a pedagogical theorist’s underpinnings?

* Facebook
* Google
* Google Reader
* Garage Band
* iTunes
* Google Scholar
* Wink
* Blogs (in general)
* Desire2Learn
* Wikispaces
* Voicethread
* MyLabSchool
* Meebo

My theory on why educators and students prefer the consumer internet to enterprise solutions is the way they are created.

Enterprise solutions generally start with a political and bureaucratic process resulting with a requirements document that has too much in it.  The company works to meet those requirements, and by nature its delivered late and does half what was promised and typically doesn’t really function for a good while.  If they deliver the contracted item, they don’t make any more money if people actually like/use/come back to the site.

The consumer internet starts with a couple of dudes who put up something sticky and then use comprehensive user data to build a coherent user experience around a handful of major features.  They have to pay attention to user activation and retention to survive.  In fact, they must build something so compelling that users like it so much they go refer other people to the site.  What this should mean to education and educators is that consumer internet companies are a much more capable model of software development to build something that’s nice to use and is always up.

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