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Facebook for Alumni Associations: A Guide for Advancement Professionals

a video we made for alumni professionals

Alumni Associations on Facebook from Inigral Inc. on Vimeo.

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.

Facebook Hits 100M Users

I met up with one of my friends at Facebook yesterday and he told me he and the rest of the company had been celebrating Facebook hitting 100Million users all day.  Zuckerberg took everyone out to a lawn in Palo Alto and gave a Jobsian “100M users isn’t just a company, its a movement” type of speech. Here’s an article with Dave Morin tweeting the news.

I post this because there are still some people in Higher Ed or K-12 that think Facebook is a fad, or that Facebook is for kids, or that students will jump ship as soon as adults get on.  Facebook’s fastest growing segment in the US is those over 35.  Some days they get .5 million new users a day.  Facebook will be bigger than Myspace in about a month or two, and it is infinitely more scalable and usable.  The site has engagement and retention rates that beats the absolute pants off of any other site on the web.  Facebook is not going anywhere.  Hands down.


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.

Best Practices for Educators Using Facebook

I gave a presentation at Classroom 2.0 Live this past weekend about best practices for educators using facebook. Here’s the presentation, Driving Engagement and Belonging with Facebook, if you want to have a look.

Driving Engagement and Belonging with Facebook

Right click the link above and open it in a different window.  The presentation uses the Courses application on facebook towards the end.

Observations from the Bottom Up.

It’s not every day that some of the leading edubloggers give a noob a shout, but today both Michael Feldstein and Stephen Downes gave me air time. Downes even challenged me to write a little more often, so I thought I’d relay a depiction of a trend of which I seem to be a part.

There’s a lot of excitement for new internet products in education; in specific Web 2.0, scalable, affordable, interactive, usable, interoperable, and dependable products. This excitement didn’t come from administrators having shrimp and cocktail meetings with Blackboard, WebCT and D2L. It came from instructors seeing their students use products like Myspace, which suddenly made 100 million people publishers, and Facebook, which proved that it is possible to make highly scalable social networks while respecting privacy, and Ning, which made private social networks a few mouse clicks away. And let’s not forget those that came before – Friendster, Livejournal, and even Geocities – which managed to prove that young people are more than eager to leave Generation X and Why behind and move on to read/write, participatory, multimedia technoanarchademocratic culture.

Yes, Generation You has graduated and handed up their cultural tools to instructors, who are just now starting to realize the educational power of the read/write web. I will summarize this power in a single sentence: The web has the power to transform the work of a student shared with an audience of one teacher into a publication for all classmates, friends, peers, and the rest of the entire world. The entire set of excuses for apathy and lackadaisical efforts are no longer valid. The students’ work matters. It is no longer the practice, it is the event. It is no longer a 12 year audition, it’s a play in which everyone takes part and everyone has tickets.

Even till now, educational institutions have given poorly run technology firms hosting poorly made technology a monopoly of browser-based inter-school interaction. Each interaction is publishable only at the class level. Schools pay too much for not enough.

Conspicuously absent in all of this is the Silicon Valley entrepreneurial engine. Education is a locked gate, a closed door. It’s run by firms like Blackboard with BS patents and investors tied to Washington (Carlyle Group, so I hear).

This is on the verge of changing. There’s a silent movement boiling up. As long as instructors everywhere start demanding change, it will happen. Slowly, but surely. Forbidden Cities are opening their gates. Technlogies like Rails, CakePHP, and Django are letting kids with laptops build entire suites to solve problems in education. put out William Li at Berkeley and Oycas! put out by Arash Sanieyan from come to mind. These still don’t have much traction, but that’s because interests are still too entrenched and barriers are still too high. So, professors and teachers need to keep working their way around archaic systems, and start becoming vocal about the contrasts between systems that are locked in and closed and ones that seem to be readily available on the web.

Hey, a man can dream, can’t he? Join Educators Using Facebook if you are on Facebook.