Course management systems
The use of course management systems, or courseware, like Blackboard has become widespread in U.S. colleges and universities. With the merger of Blackboard and WebCT, however, the courseware available to most instructors and students has become monolithic, a situation which is not relieved by Blackboard’s patents. While there are a number of free courseware solutions, it may not have occurred to most people that with the introduction of the Facebook Platform, the social networking site can be used for course management.
Why use Facebook for course management?
One obvious reason for using Facebook as an alternative to Blackboard is that most students already use Facebook or are at least familiar with it to some degree. If an instructor chose to use a free system like Moodle, all of his or her students would have to create accounts at the site and learn how to navigate it and its features. With Facebook, most students will already have accounts and know how to navigate the site already, so there will be fewer barriers to their adoption and use of a Facebook-based courseware system.
Another reason that Facebook makes an attractive alternative both to proprietary sites like Blackboard and open source sites like Moodle is the popularity of the site. This popularity, combined with the functionality of the Facebook Platform, encourages developers to add more features to the site—which would happen much more slowly in the form of version releases with a proprietary system like Blackboard or less frequently with less popular sites like Moodle. The Platform was introduced in the summer of 2007, and before fall it has already introduced course tracking, document sharing, blogging, and podcasting applications. It seems likely that at this pace of development, Facebook users will keep adding applications to take advantage of new technologies, a fact which will likely keep those applications on pace with educational developments as well.
Issues to consider before adopting Facebook
Before deciding to use Facebook to manage course communication, instructors should carefully consider how they will use the system. One chief drawback to using Facebook for course communication is that it currently does not have many controls for securely communicating with individual students. For that reason, it should not be used to send students graded work or other sensitive information.
Instructors should also consider how using Facebook for official class communication will affect his or her relationship with students. Traditional courseware like Blackboard automatically grant an instructor a different status in the system, giving her or him a different level of permissions when interacting with it. This is not the case with Facebook. If you decide to use Facebook as courseware, be aware that you will have no special privileges in the system, unless individual apps allow you set those privileges. Additionally, since most students will use Facebook for purposes outside of class, instructors may find that students try to contact them through the system in ways that might be unprofessional. These issues should be thought through before instructors make a decision to move to Facebook-based courseware.
To sum up, Facebook has a lot of promise as courseware, allowing instructors to interact with students in an environment that they feel comfortable in. There are some risks and drawbacks to using Facebook for course applications, but if instructors weigh these risks and set appropriate boundaries with students, there should be significant benefits to using the system to enhance course communication.
In my next post, I’ll suggest some Facebook Apps that can be used in a courseware system and show how they can be assembled together to make Facebook-based courseware.
Update: Using Facebook for course management, pt. 2
Wednesday, August 22, 2007