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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.

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.