I had a few “moments” with Facebook over the past couple of months. I was digging all the new tools they were brining in with the open API, they even created one for WordPress.com posts. But when folks start to talk about Facebook as an LMS, I find it hard to keep myself from saying sarcastically, “Wow, that’s imaginative! And it will look really good too!” Bill Fitzgerald at OpenAcademic does a nice job in this post framing out why this is madness given the licensing agreement of Facebook, and I couldn’t agree with him more.
In addition to Bill’s points, I have some real concerns about thinking through Facebook as an LMS because I think that the concept of an LMS as it is bandied around now with environments like Sakai, Moodle, BlackBoard, etc. is pretty much dead as a viable, dynamic, and engaging online space where teaching and learning happens. So thinking of Facebook as an LMS seems that much more ridiculous to me in so many ways. Openly acknowledging my position on Learning Management Systems more generally–which as we know them now are course management systems which, in turn, are environments that are as conducive to the imagination, thinking, and a more general impulse towards creativity as the shopping mall (ya seen one ya seen the mall)–I’ll proceed with my critique of Facebook as an LMS.
In terms of aesthetic and imaginative environments Facebook fits right into this grouping, it is not particularly attractive and it certainly fails to let you adequately customize how you present yourself and your work, no less the 3,000 friends you have. Facebook as an LMS is probably one of the more dangerous ideas I have heard recently. Not only for the points about licensing, but also because this space is primarily a social space for students that is good at forging relationships –even if the depth of these relationships seems suspect given the mind boggling numbers of “friends.” I mean who really has 200 friends? Come off it, is this a popularity poll or a viable network? In fact, the peacock quality of Facebook also resembles the surfaces of the mall, it’s about being seen and making an impression, however shallow and unappealing. To think of such a space as way to frame a student’s academic work suggests that with all these tools and possibilities we have begun to shed all of our discretion and scramble for whatever we think those “net savvy students” might like. We are on the brink of surrendering all dignity to a set of misguided preconceptions about the coming generations -what a colossal waste of time and energy!
To try and make Facebook work as an LMS would effectively spoil both the academic experience as well as any value this tool may have had to begin with. Facebook does the social networking elements well, and has without questions become the standard for millions of users. But if we start trying to populate courses throughout this space, I’m relatively certain that those who enjoy the relative separation from their classes will actively resist the idea of conflating the two. I believe you would have some major concerns on the part of both students and faculty -and with very good reason.
The academy has fallen behind in the world of virtual learning networks and tools because they have handed over their imagination to companies like BlackBoard, WebCT, and the like. Well, here we go again handing over all imagination and creative energy for our learning environments to a pre-exisiting monolith that does only one thing well: keep people in touch (despite how little they really care about one another). Shouldn’t students and faculty be able to create numerous spaces for the different facets of their life, not a one-stop-shopping mall for everything from the weekend’s outing to the Art History research paper. The two may be related, mind you, but the tool should afford the student the control to frame their narrative’s in myriad creative and imaginative ways. Aesthetic and formal environments are what we need to be imagining and creating for our classrooms, not a cheap knock-off of a wall and a group on Facebook. The myopic space of Facebook can’t even begin to trace the multi-faceted parts of any one person’s personal, social, and academic life.
In short, Facebook as an LMS is a terrible idea in my opinion, and downright dangerous because it hearkens back to ten years ago when universities and colleges alike handed over all creative and imaginative impetus for online learning environments to a few companies that have effectively kept us in the dark ages in this realm for a decade. Isn’t it time we woke up and got creative, we have already lost so much by conceding our undestanding of what an educational learning environment might be to a profit-seeking entity like BlackBoard -is it Facebook’s turn now? God, I hope not!