To facebook or not to facebook?

In my ‘spare’ time I am an associate lecturer for the OU on S104 a first level 60 point course on general science. This is the second presentation I’ve taught and the course is just kicking off. The course has tutor-supported discussion groups with several assessed activities, all held in the crumbling edifice of First Class (an email-based system). The ‘tutor group forums’ struggle to take off, I have only 19 students at the moment, and even with latecomers won’t have more than 25. The forum’s success is very much dependent on the students we get, and while last year’s was OK, it never really had much spark and was mostly led by me.

At a staff development day it was mentioned that there were several S104 groups on Facebook. I’ve been off to have a look and there are several active groups, in particular one for this presentation, and one of my students is very active on there. I’m wondering whether I should go and say hello. I am pretty likely to be the only tutor on the group. However, I should think that this is most likely a place that students want to chat without a tutor looking over them (as OU student and colleague Andy suggests). I know the OU has created Facebook apps and promotes OU groupings on facebook and I know of one group that is specifically using a closed group for teaching, but I’m pretty dubious about engaging with my students in this way.

Seeing something to do with ‘work’ on Facebook has made me think about my own online identity. I have two main channels, Facebook and twitter (@jobadge).

I am pretty much ‘social/personal’ me when I’m on Facebook, my network is made up of friends, old college mates who have known me under more dubious circumstances and other mums from school. It includes a couple of work colleagues but they manage to put up with me and I (hope) recognise the difference in context. My privacy settings are limited to allow access only to friends and so it’s slightly more private than twitter.

My ‘work’ persona is alive and well on twitter. My twitter followers and friends are colleagues, in the OU, at Leicester University and beyond. I may still twitter about baking bread and of course  there is endless #cake discussion, but it is primarily a work channel.

I doubt I’ll join my students on Facebook, but it would be nice to find some S104 tutors on twitter 🙂

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3 thoughts on “To facebook or not to facebook?”

  1. I was recently poking around on FB and found a discussion about a course I’m involved with where the module coordinator was described in unflattering terms. That, I think, is what students use FB for – the sort of discussion you might have down the pub with a bunch of mates, some grumbling, some informal advice, some (cough) “sharing of educational resources”. My impression is that the presence of Professor X might have prevented them describing him as “a cock”, but would also have put an end to any of that informal discussion. I’ve heard much the same from all sorts of people – students don’t want lecturers following them onto FB any more than they want them joining in most other social activities, or coming around uninvited to their house in the evening to help them with their thermodynamics assignment.

    Wearing my student hat, First Class is truly dreadful – like a ten-year-old version of Demon Turnpike, attempting to integrate all sorts of services in one program (mail, noticeboards, real-time discussion groups, access to useful files) and failing to do any of them very well. I’ve also not found the forums terribly helpful – which worries me about the MA course, because all the tutorials are online and in many subjects, philosophy in particular, there’s nothing like sitting with a bunch of people for a couple of hours actually talking. Perhaps that’s partly a personal aversion to real-time online interaction, though. I can see why students here prefer to wait and come to talk to me about a problem in person, rather than using the BB discussion forum (which would get them the answer quicker, usually).

    I’ve got about three online personas – work, family, friends – though they overlap to some extent (Flickr takes in family and friends, and maybe work colleagues see it too). I think it’s often necessary to keep different types of social activity apart. There is some convergence, though – I was discussing different levels of computing support at different institutions with a colleague who used to be at Oxford this morning, and I suspect if I had started mentioning names of people I know socially, he would have known them too.

      1. First para is from a non-student perspective – my only use of FB is for keeping in touch with family, and even then not much (I’m rather relieved to find that searching for the module I teach here doesn’t turn up anything).

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