I finally get to blog about Facebook – that social network that seems to gathering more and more users. Now, there has been some discussion regarding the split of users that participate in Facebook and MySpace. I find this interesting and wonder what this impact might have on education and how teens are dividing themselves using the different networking tools that are available. It just happened that I came across a short radio interview with Mike Wise about a project he was doing in conjunction with Facebook.
Friday on CBC radio, there was a short discussion on a poll that was taking place on Facebook that was started by a CBC journalist, Mike Wise, in cooperation with Facebook to create the Great Canadian Wish List. It is a place where people can go to a)vote for a particular wish by joining that wish or b) starting their own wish. The voting ended June 30th and the list is visible on the site. During the discussion on the radio, several different ideas came out that I think are very important for people involved in education.
First, the majority of those who were commenting were youth – students who had a desire to have a say. This demonstrates that youth not only want to be involved but have some very important things to say about topics that are socially important such as abortion/pro-choice/proportional representation/environment. I didn’t go through each of the topics to investigate the number of youth but it did appear that there were a large proportion of youth making comments on the various topics. As educators, we need to be sure we are addressing these types of things in our classes and letting students have a chance to discuss and discover. Just as an aside, Dan Meyers started a good discussion on lecturing and the difference between social science subjects and those like math which Christian picked up on. By using such things as polls, one can move from the lecture, where instruction and information is given, to the discussion, where there is a chance for the use of web2.0 tools within the discipline of math. Such things that might be worthy of exploration in something like this are: breakdown of respondents by age, sex, province. Also, the number of youth taking part compared to national known numbers, breakdowns by province. Then, if possible, a comparison by ethnic origin. These would be interesting in light of the information about the differences between Facebook and MySpace. By bringing together the world of statistics and the information obtained by a social networking idea, we can begin to bring everyday applications to the classroom in subjects that have traditionally been very difficult to have real-world discussions. Now, Dan teaches a remedial class which, I think, would be interested in finding out who is saying what. Now, this was Canadian but such things could be done with a US audience. The projects don’t need to be on this large of a scale.
A second thing that came to mind was the idea that this type of social networking interaction should be something that schools and government should be using to see what ideas the youth think would fly and would are lame ducks. For the most part, things are done to the youth or for the youth and not with the youth. This follows the pattern that adults know best and, although willing to help the youth, want that help to take place in certain places following particular criteria. I’m not proposing that we just let youth go at it but, instead, bring them into the conversation and have them be part of the answers given the particular criteria that needs to be met.
A third thing that struck me was the nature of the group that were being given a voice through this method of discussion. Mike Wise made commented in the interview that “Everyone has a chance to have a voice in this type of discussion.” I’m not going to deny that it allows for a group of our population, youth, to have a larger voice in what is being discussed but I don’t think that it allows everyone. In fact, my personal thought is that it excludes a certain demographic of our society, the poor. This is why I’ve always been against any kind of system of voting using computer/internet technology – it discriminates against the poor who do not access. Having had this discussion with others, setting up free voting sites and such does not draw people, who have no connection with the technology, into voting. It would create a divide in society that is even greater than it is now. Although I’ve read that few lower socio-economic people vote, the move to electronic would virtually eliminate their voice since, I believe, they would not use this means to make themselves heard.
A final point was mentioned by Mike Wise during the interview. He commented that this was the first type of poll of this type in which a social network was used for such a thing but he could see that it would be done again, with some modifications. I wonder if we, as educators need to take notice and begin to realize the power that these social networks have in the social life of our youth. Wise acknowledged that the poll was not scientific but that it could not be dismissed out of hand given the responses that were taking place. I agree. We need to see that networks such as these are bringing youth together and giving them an opportunity to connect and create relationships that are very strong and powerful. As educators, we would be negligent, I believe, to ignore the possibilities that such networks offer in education.
Facebook is something that I have just begun to explore myself. It does offer a great deal of possibilities that I believe educators can take advantage of just as some of the other communication tools, like Twitter, have possibilities. This is a great time to be an educator.