Cross-generational intelligence is Gospel in Higher Education and that Gospel comes complete with canonized doctrine and its own forms of heresy, toward which the ideas in this article might lean.
Ideas can be disruptive and disruption can cause chaos but through the maelstrom of chaos comes the fertile soil needed to grow the seeds of change.
It doesn’t seem too long ago the focus of an article about Facebook and Higher Education would have striven to persuade a reader that Higher Education Institutions need to START using Facebook, not STOP. Though I admit there is a kind of frustration that comes with having to perform a reversal like that, I’m afraid that the ecosystem is such that we can no longer afford – in any industry, let alone an industry on the brink of disrupt like Higher Education – to rest on our laurels and assume any platform or technology is immune from the cycle of “review and adjust” that must be the new norm.
It may not seem like “the hip thing the kids would want us to do.” It might even seem counter-intuitive to entertain the idea that it might be time to not be present in a platform that has seen a BILLION people join the rank and file. Why bother rocking a boat that big? Certainly any negative aspect of Higher Education’s relationship with Facebook is far outweighed by the positive, right? It is exactly this kind of complacency that was the impetus for the poster session I created for HighEdWeb 2012.
Leaving Facebook: 5 Reasons Your School Doesn’t Need It Anymore PST17 Poster Sessions Track First floor foyer, Frontier Airlines Center We’ve learned a lot from the social web. Building on the shoulders of platforms like Facebook designed to offer services for communication that are ostensibly free, Higher Education has been changed.
The poster sessions are a sort of science fair for web geeks. I got to make a display on a huge trifold poster board and stand by it as folks walked by and asked questions. It made me feel a bit like a Carnie…
Awesome! RT @ronbronson: “I’m a carnie.” – @douglaslmiller
The poster session forum proved valuable in testing the tenacity of my heretical argument that Higher Ed may indeed need to begin the process of weaning itself from the Moloko teat of Facebook’s treacle. I asked the question of all who stopped by: Would you leave Facebook if you could? (as an Institution.) The unseen second part of that question is “Do you feel you could if you needed to?” The response I got from many was an uncomfortable one and went something like what follows. “We just spent years convincing people of the value of the social web by telling them they need to be on Facebook, we simply CAN’T go back on that now, right?”
Poll ending: Would you leave Facebook if you could? Reply w/ #LeaveFB #LoveFB http://twt.pl/1NN
1. The Community is the Content. So many lessons have been learned through the adoption of the social web in HigherEd. Communication has taken a decidedly democratized turn as more and more aspects of conversational control get handed over to the audience. Brands and services in the social space have been opened to a new world of listening and authenticity (to name just a few of the flurry of buzz words that have emerged.) In many ways, for many schools, Facebook was the catalyst for internal culture change. Facebook began around a context of Higher Education but HIgher Education needed to enter into that context – into that community – much in the same way any individual might. As more room was made for brands and entities to have a place in that context, the conversation certainly blossomed into valued content, but the relationship schools had with Facebook didn’t grow to match the level of service delivery that was happening as conversations unfolded. That Higher Education turns over control of some of the conversation is what is important, not that it is done on Facebook in particular. The community is the valued content, not the platform hosting that community.
2. Social Objects are Everywhere. There is such a strong tendency for people to treat Facebook as the face of the social web. This is not a surprise, it happens with brands. When you sneeze you don’t ask someone for a facial tissue you ask for a Kleenex. The brand has become synonymous with the product. Order a Coke. Use some Vice Grips. Google something. Facebook has become synonymous with Social Media. Certainly there are other brands of social media just as there are other brands of facial tissue, but when you’re in a hurry, you ask for the most recognized brand and right now that is Facebook. But what happens on Facebook is conversation around the sharing of social objects (which can be the conversations themselves.) These social objects come from many places but the reason we bring them back to Facebook is to share. The community via the conversation becomes the content and the context. But social objects are no longer the exclusive domain of Facebook. As a matter of fact, the restrictive way that Facebook treats social objects is actually detrimental to the development of the social web. Anyone who has tried to share something they found on Facebook to any other platform recognizes this immediately. As Higher Education institutions, that we use the conversations that occur around social objects is what is key, not that we do so on Facebook. Social objects, by their very nature, need to be able to be shared because (despite our knee-jerk reaction to associate the brand with the product) Facebook is not the only game in town.
Maybe yr institution should dump #Facebook & build yr own social network: http://mstnr.me/XsILoF (correct url)
3. Invoices are Leverage. As I mentioned earlier, when Facebook began, Higher Education was the context. To make a profile, one had to have a school email address and that was where your Facebook “network” came from. As schools made efforts to take advantage of some of the new social functionality that the platform offered for “free” they found themselves entering into what amounts to an abusive vendor relationship. That Facebook charges schools nothing to create a page or profile or group is the biggest win for many schools who, struggling to find budget dollars to create or purchase the technologies that allow for community to emerge around social objects, simply cannot afford to go elsewhere. In any common vendor relationship, a school has the option of saying to the vendor “I’m sorry, what you are providing for the cost has not been satisfactory, unless we get some cooperation for better results or better service, we’ll have to take our business elsewhere.” Taking the invoice out of the equation removes that leverage. Not having the freedom to leave has created a perplexing conundrum for Higher Education. We were reluctant to get into the Social Space and now that we understand the value of it, we’re reluctant to leave the womb of Facebook despite a potentially very real need to do so. I’m immediately reminded of “Facebook Groups for Schools” and the impunity with which Facebook acted when creating properties on behalf of Higher Education Institutions but over which those institutions had no purview. Certainly we could go other places. As mentioned earlier, there are other brands of facial tissue besides Kleenex. But “free” is hard to compete against – even though anyone who spends any time in the social space knows, from an HR point of view, even Facebook is not “free.” Likewise, a pre-existing network of 1 billion users is hard to justify leaving, especially when the nature of that network is a “walled garden” and restricts interaction outside of that network. But there are answers for this as well as we become more well versed as an industry in approaching Facebook as a platform more as developers and less as users.
4. Portability is Power. It is possible that Facebook never intended brands to directly participate in the social space “as brands.” Certainly their terms of service made it clear that profiles needed to be of real people representing brands and not fictional individuals and Groups for Schools forces this issue. There are other ways to interact on Facebook, however. The leadership at Facebook has been instrumental in the overall establishment of a new digital ecosystem whereby services make their data available for consumption by other services. There would be no such thing as a social graph or an interest graph if it were not for Facebook (and other companies like Twitter and Google) making those tools part of our everyday lives. But understanding how technologies work behind the scenes is not often the easiest thing for non-engineers to do. It makes sense for a Higher Education Institution to enter into the Facebook walled garden as a brand and to expect to have that be the limit to their use of the platform’s capabilities. Within the last few years more and more schools, however, have begun to see the value of the “billion person single sign-on.” There is perhaps more waiting for schools when they begin to wield the power of API data more skillfully. There is nothing that says all Facebook authenticated conversations have to take place on Facebook pages. There are more and more brands using the API layers of Facebook’s platform to add even more social components to their own digital properties by letting users bring with them their social graph as built into their Facebook profile. But the more we as schools allow ourselves to create social object portability and community by going for the low hanging fruit that is the user penetration of Facebook, the more data we are handing over to Facebook about our students – data we should be using ourselves to solve retention problems, service problems, outcome problems, assessment problems, etc… Why do more schools not develop APIs of their own, opening up potentially vast ecosystems of start-up like lean, agile, internal solutions, operating inside a construct that meets the needs of FERPA compliance? Perhaps there is more room for internal culture change in Higher Ed in that regard.
5. Sooner or Later, Student Interactions will be Student Records. I am not a FERPA expert, nor do I claim to be. Yet it seems odd to me that Higher Education as an industry finds it sufficient to stand by and wait for some precedent setting case to emerge whereby a professor or staff member’s interaction with a student on Facebook becomes a legal issue. Doesn’t it make sense instead to make sure that, rather than being stuck in a bad vendor relationship with little control over access to the data which constitutes the social objects, community, and conversations that are the ever growing social web, we might need to take a stand now? Now is the time to say yes, we learned a great deal about how to use the value of the social web to be better at what we do, but we can do it on our own now.
Ha! Love the evil eye! RT @AnthonyRAndrade: Ask @douglasLmiller why he dislikes Facebook for #highered #pst17 #heweb12 pic.twitter.com/fGAT1Kea
Am I suggesting every school shut down their Facebook pages? Not exactly. More appropriately I’m suggesting that a greater harmony can be found with schools leveraging paid vendors to help them efficiently integrate aspects of Facebook’s API layer to add functionality to the social objects they create in community and content. But it wouldn’t hurt if – as a show of force as an industry – a little sabre rattling made the folks at Facebook stand up and take notice of some of the potentially bad situations we may be facing for our schools and for our students. Particularly because it would not be very difficult for a company the size of Facebook – a billion users don’t forget – to spend a couple billion dollars building, not only a way to deliver educational content, but a way to certify that education – perhaps better than we do. PhD from Facebook U? You heard it hear first. But hopefully you’ve also found new energy for at least asking some tough questions about the way Higher Education needs to play in these ostensibly free, often closed, definitely social spaces.