Current Topic Seven, ED 650

Facebook as an LMS

Miron, E., & Ravid, G. (2015). Facebook groups as an academic teaching aid: case study and recommendations for educators. Educational Technology & Society, (4), 371.

The first point the authors develop is the difference between open online education and, what they call, walled garden solutions the standard learning management systems, BlackBoard, for example. The next insight they offer is the difference between cooperative and collaborative learning.

Collaborative learning is a personal philosophy, not just a classroom technique. It suggests a way of dealing with people which respects and highlights individual group members’ abilities and contributions. There is a sharing of authority and acceptance of responsibility among group members for the group’s actions. Cooperative learning is defined by a set of processes which help people interact together in order to accomplish a specific goal or develop an end product, which is usually content specific. Cooperative system is more directive than a collaborative system of governance and closely controlled by the teachers.

The differences in these two approaches collaborative and open online education are the foundations on which they build their case study of using Facebook groups in online instruction.

The use of Facebook informal learning consists of the following:

  • Creating a Timeline or Facebook Group to support the teaching of any curriculum subject.
  • Creating a space and platform for homework and revision resources.
  • Running debates on topical issues and hot issues in the media.
  • Peer tutoring and support.
  • A research tool to post, share ideas, videos, and resources.

It is striking that the authors have to make an argument for open education, for collaborative learning and for going where people prefer to be. Higher education was, of course, the only game in town for decades. However, since the 1980’s, that monopoly has eroded. For, profit higher education was the first place I saw a threat to the classic private/public college model. Distance education (audio and teleconference technology) in rural states was the next turn that signaled significantly. Then in the late 1990’s online school began to flourish. Finally, the national and state budget crisis for public higher education was a severe change in the landscape. Along with this came the scrutiny of politicians and citizens as to the effectiveness and productivity of higher education. In the 1960’s the call for “relevance” was aimed at social and moral agenda, in the 21st century ROI has been added to the list of criticisms. As well, the credentialing role of higher education has eroded over the last 40-50 years.

What if we explore the claim that open, collaborative, customer-centered online education is the only way higher education will reclaim any authority. What if we extend that to public K-12 school as well? I might complicate that as well because I still see a place for face-to-face cohorts. In part, this is important because in the workplace we routinely switch between face-to-face and online collaboration and work.

From my colleagues in K-12, I have heard concerns about open online education. The interests include, that student’s work is entirely in the public eye, because on the internet the persistence of artifacts is beyond control, and because online bullies or predators might victimize students. I think these concerns are valid especially, for kids K-6. Therefore, if I soften my claim and we keep our K-6 curriculum and online experience in the walled garden, we begin to transition middle-schoolers between environments and with many conversations about digital citizenship, and online security. Then, during 9-12 grades, we operate nearly entirely in the open, collaborative, and social online environment.

From my colleagues in higher education I have heard concerns as well, frankly, none of which hold water. Their syllabus and curriculum are not proprietary, nor original, and MIT’s move to publish all course materials online renders that conceit moot. Adult learners collaborate and communicate online extensively in every other aspect of their lives and work, higher education’s slowness to the realization reflects only on higher education. Higher education has celebrated peer review for decades, and well the peer review online is just as brutal, efficient and public as well, so fools are fools in public. Collaboration is the name of the game in many disciplines as well as all workplaces, so the vestiges of scholarship that depend on the cloistered researcher are, well all gone. Perhaps the hardest transition I have seen in higher education is to a customer-centered approach, we have long deluded ourselves with the conceit that we know best and certainly better than our customers – alas, that we alone suffer from that delusion.

Despite my criticism, despite my frustration, I hesitate to participate in Facebook groups as an LMS. And the reasons are mostly personal. I only just a year ago set up a Facebook profile and that only to manage ads. As well, I recall conversations among librarians at my previous job talking about the “creepy treehouse” effect of inserting ourselves into a social moment for business or educational purposes.

And so in the end, while I love the work of this essay I am left with no single solution to open, collaborative, customer-centered online education. And I think that that is a really good thing. Because when teaching imagines it has found the single right answer it has instead found one more mechanical, industrial, institution centered, heavy-handed approach to schooling that misses the mark of learning entirely.

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