Students tell universities: Get out of MySpace!: "Universities are heading in a different direction. E-learning gurus want to exploit their students' passion for the new generation of interactive online communication tools - collectively known as web 2.0 - to deliver academic content. Not content with podcasting mini-lectures to students' mobile phones and i-Pods, they are hijacking the internet telephone system, Skype, and invading FaceBook.
But a research exercise carried out by the Joint Information Systems Committee (Jisc), called the Learner Experience Project, has just revealed, amazingly, that students want to be left alone. Their message to the trendy academics is: 'Get out of MySpace!'
Online spaces are blurring, as universities that podcast and text their students have shown. The Jisc project manager, Lawrie Phipps, explains how the battle lines are being drawn: 'Students really do want to keep their lives separate. They don't want to be always available to their lecturers or bombarded with academic information.' Based on qualitative research - one-to-one interviews with students conducted over two years - Jisc has built up a picture of how students are using IT to manage their social lives. Most are confident and competent IT users, but they are too often unaware of how they could apply their skills to enhance their studies."
Really interesting article from The Guardian about the use of social networking sites by Universities and the feelings students have about that 'intrusion'. Although the idea of life-long learning is a laudable one, we all have different versions of ourselves which we reveal or hide according to our own choices. Sometimes we want to learn in public... sometimes we want to learn in private. It's up to us to invite people in to those private spaces - if we choose to. I'm not sure if there's an issue of respect for boundaries here or of complex power relationships which also need to be respected - but just saying 'because students like using this, they'll like using it to learn' doesn't logically follow. I'd love for their enthusiasm for 'poking' or playing online games to be harnessed into something educational, but who's to say that those activities aren't educational in other ways?
I think that ownership and control over environment are important and there's something mildly uncomfortable about 'friends' from one context being introduced to 'friends' in another. Like an awkward online party where the host can't ever feel quite at ease because their embarrassing uncle has shown up. We use lines of communication because we want to use them. We communicate with the people we want to communicate with. Just because you can get an unofficial invite to the party doesn't mean you should attend.
These are early days and it'll be interesting to keep an eye on the changes. I sense that social networking could be a seriously powerful tool for bringing people together in multiple contexts, but there needs to be an increasing degree of contextual sensitivity by users and a subtlety in their development / use before they become really effective. Martin Weller has been blogging about the demise of the VLE recently and he makes some interesting points... but although I'm not keen on VLEs which are a bit Jack of all trades and master of none, at least they can provide a distinct learning space which is knowingly entered into by all participants.