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April 24 2012

19:52

April 20 2012

13:27

Facebook Groups for Schools Raises Concerns

The explosive growth of online social media sites specifically targeted at schools has compelled Facebook to edge its way back into the fertile ground of college campuses. Last week, the company announced a new feature available only to students and faculty with an active .edu email address, Groups for Schools. It's billed to be exclusive -- even alumni and perspective students aren't allowed in, limiting the scope of the groups and creating something that approximates the intimacy that was Facebook's strong suit when it first launched.

Groups for Schools is meant to network students in the same university community for social or extracurricular events, but also includes elements that make it useful as a study tool, like the popular platform Edmodo and a number of other similar sites that have cropped up. It allows students and teachers who are members of a group designated to a particular class, for example, to share comments on a class discussion and reading, as well as to share class materials like notes, assignments and calendars, up to 25MB.

The concerns

But just a week into its launch, red flags are already being raised. One of the main concerns that has not been addressed by Facebook is the potential liability that students, faculty, and universities might face for file-sharing through Facebook. Many universities are already cracking down on file-sharing through school-owned Internet networks, and Facebook's new tool adds yet another facet to the complicated question. Additionally, schools must consider intellectual property right issues. Facebook's terms and conditions specify that is has a transferable license to use any content associated with Facebook. Would that be the case for student-produced work? Facebook has not updated its terms and conditions to reflect the new product, so that remains to be seen.

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Another complaint is that by creating Groups for Schools, Facebook is undermining apps already built by partner developers, like Inigral, which markets itself as a way for universities to increase enrollment and retention through social networks that meet student needs. Now Groups for Friends will offer almost the same service. Inigral founder Michael Staton says the company isn't too concerned about Facebook's new product because the more students communicate with one another, the better it will be for their business. But there is a sense that Facebook is an unwieldy landlord, who doesn't pay much attention to the innovations of others that use its platform.

A different conversation

Another criticism of Groups for Schools is that it doesn't inspire the kind of online discussion other education-related social media sites do. When Facebook tested the product at Oberlin College, a small liberal arts school in Ohio, for example, the students simply weren't active in groups that formed -- in some groups, the creator was the sole member, according to an e-campusnews article. One theory behind the flop at Oberlin is that Facebook is an escape for many students and they'd prefer to keep it unconnected to their academic pursuits.

One very noteworthy aspect of the new Groups for Schools is that it loosens the privacy settings so that any Facebook user with an .edu email address that corresponds to the individual university can be messaged. On the rest of Facebook's network, two users must be "friends" to exchange messages. While the new looseness in privacy settings might work out fine at a small school like Oberlin where people might even know each other in person, it could be more disconcerting at a larger school like University of Washington or Texas A&M, where much of the student body is just as much a stranger as any other random Facebook user.

Groups for Schools is still rolling out and will eventually be available at higher education institutions across the globe.

Thumbs up graphic by Flickr user birgerking

mindshift-logo-100x100.pngThis post originally appeared on KQED's MindShift, which explores the future of learning, covering cultural and tech trends and innovations in education. Follow MindShift on Twitter @mindshiftKQED and on Facebook.

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April 10 2012

17:54

January 03 2012

15:20

The Pedagogy of Play and the Role of Technology in Learning

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The goal of the videogame "Civilization" is to build a civilization that stands the test of time. You start the game in 4000 B.C. as a settler and, with successful gameplay, can create a civilization that lasts until the Space Age. Throughout the game, you need to manage your civilization's military, science, technology, commerce and culture.

One doesn't read "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" to develop strategy before playing the game. One starts by playing. This is true for all videogames. You start by exploring the world with curiosity and begin to develop a hypothesis of what you're supposed to do. Through trial, error, pattern recognition, logic and chance you continually reformulate your trajectory.

This model of learning is not only effective for videogames but for all digital tools, and I would argue that play -- especially in the digital sense -- is emerging as a pedagogical keystone for education in the 21st century.

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Stuart Brown, M.D., explains in his book, "Play," how a range of scientific disciplines have revealed the importance of lifelong play. Playfulness amplifies our capacity to innovate and to adapt to changing circumstances. Adults who are deprived of play are often rigid, inflexible and closed to trying out new options. Play is an active process that reshapes our rigid views of the world.

The power of play

Play is also a powerful vehicle for learning, something that's been underscored for me in my work at San Francisco University High School where we began a one-to-one iPad program in the fall.


The iPad has been hyped as a device that will revolutionize education. And, while I've witnessed glimmers of this potential, it isn't microwavable. Migrating from an analog to a digital environment sounds simple enough, but the reality has been more disruptive.

Disruption can signal the onset of innovation, but this isn't comforting to the
organizations and individuals that are at the epicenter of such turbulence. Yet with a

schema of play, we can start to mitigate the resistance to change.

Creating a 'sandbox'

The virtues of Apple's intuitive interfaces have been widely extolled, and while you don't need to be computer-savvy to navigate the operating system, there still is a learning curve. As we've designed training programs to make the learning curve as frictionless as possible, I've noticed that sessions that put a premium on play were not only more effective at cultivating the targeted skills, but also encouraged a growth mindset.

The atmosphere of play created a sandbox where both students and faculty could explore the features of the device and apps with the spirit of curiosity and experimentation. Rather than solely being guided through this virtual landscape, they were learning how to orient and guide themselves. Within this learning model, the teacher or trainer shifts into more of a coaching role. The value of this approach extends beyond the classroom because students begin to develop a self-reliance that enjoys independent experimentation and exploration.


Play is vital for normal cognitive, social and emotional development. It reduces stress and increases well-being. Absence of play leads to maladaptive behavior.

As positive as play is, it requires the ability to make mistakes. It implies being able to entertain multiple scenarios and outcomes. Bubble logic, i.e., our testing culture, is diametrically opposed. Our systems of education haven't prepared us to think and act playfully, nor do our institutions of work by and large encourage this behavior. Yet it is this kind of playful disposition that is the muse of all great thinkers, artists and innovators.

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Joichi Ito, the director of the MIT Media Lab, in a recent New York Times essay emphasized the correlation between innovation and play. In Ito's view, retaining childlike qualities such as idealism, experimentation and wonder is vital for innovation. In his words, "I don't think education is about centralized instruction anymore; rather, it is the process establishing oneself as a node in a broad network of distributed creativity."

Play is about exploring the possible. In times of rapid change, exploring the possible becomes an essential skill. We don't have maps for the territory of tomorrow. As a result, all citizens must become explorers of this emerging world. The best way to prepare for the emergence of the future is to learn how to be comfortable with uncertainty. To be comfortable with uncertainty, one must remain fluid, receptive and creative -- in a word: playful.

Aran Levasseur has an eclectic background that ranges from outdoor education to life coaching, and from habitat restoration to video production. For the last five years he's taught middle school history and science. From the beginning he's been integrating technology into his classes to enhance his teaching and student learning. He recently gave a talk at TEDxSFED on videogames and learning. Currently he's the Academic Technology Coordinator at San Francisco University High School.

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