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The benefits, risks and limitations of Facebook

November 8th, 2007 by Graham Attwell

Brian Kelly writes about using social software services in education: “I think we’re revisiting …f fears that popular Web 2.0 services (not just Facebook) are challenging IT development plans. However rather than simply asserting limitations and implying that these are the overriding factors (with the “Web links are easily broken” argument being updated with various concerns over privacy, rights and interoperability) I feel that we need to engage with successful widely used services.”

Whilst I agree with many things Brian says, I think he misses the point. The issue is not technical development – yes lets socialise education software – but the issue of values and control.

Take this story from Labourstart: “The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) was organizing casino workers in Halifax, Nova Scotia. They set up a page on Facebook. Facebook later took the page down, claiming that groups like a union were not allowed to have pages, and that Facebook pages could only be setup by individuals. The union responded that many companies had set up Facebook pages including Tim Horton’s (of donut fame).
The story has a happy ending. In early September, the results of the vote came in — and the workers overwhelmingly chose to be represented by the SEIU.”

The lesson of the story, says LabourStart’s Eric Lee, is “that by “outsourcing” our online campaigns to social networks like Facebook and MySpace — which are for-profit, commercial organizations — we are more vulnerable to this kind of thing than when we build websites ourselves, using freely-available tools.”

Eric is not opposed to using social software services. He goes on to say: “That doesn’t mean we should avoid using Facebook — after all, LabourStart has 998 members in its Facebook group. But it means that we should aware of the risks and limitations.”

I think in education we also must be aware of the risks and limitation inherent in Facebook and similar services. I tend to agree with Steven Downes who sees these as interim applications. And I think that we also must educate learners in to understanding the benefits and the limitations of such services. that is one reason I am so in favour of e-Portfolios: to ensure that learners themselves have a copy of their own data.

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The debate over the use of third party social software services in education is important. We should be aware of the benefits but also of the risks and limitations

3 Responses to “The benefits, risks and limitations of Facebook”

  1. Brian Kelly says:

    Hi Graham
    I would agree with you – the important issues are about control. social acceptance, accepted norms, etc. The point of my argument was that the technical issues are nothing new, and that we should move the debate on to the important areas. This would then lead us to ask whether IT services are the right people to make policy decisions in this area.
    Brian

  2. Graham Attwell says:

    Take your point Brian. In that case, IT services are almost certainly not the right people. But how can we widen the debate and who should be involved in decision making?

  3. Brian Kelly says:

    Hi Graham
    This is an issue we’ll be addressing at the UKOLN workshop on Exploiting The Potential Of Blogs and Social Networks . There’ll be many IT service people there – but maybe we’ll find them agreeing that others need to be involve din the decision-making.

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