And Sir Alan invited me over for tea again, which was nice….

I wonder how many people remember that sketch on The Fast Show where a painfully middle class person would be making coffee in a silver plated ‘Bodum’ cafetiere, talking about how “Hermione then won the first prize at this year’s local gymkhana for the third year running, and on the way home we ran into Bono and his wife walking their dog.  They invited us in for drinks, but we had to refuse because Julian had piano practice and I had to pack for my forthcoming winter lecture tour of South East Asia…which is nice…”  If you don’t remember that, then you may well recognise similar behaviour on the internet.

The advent of Web 2.0 means that we can all write about our amazing feats of courage, our fantastic love lives and our work or academic achievements to anyone who cares to listen, be they friend, acquaintance, family member or complete stranger.  I often wonder whether some blog posts, like Facebook status updates, are un-tempered opportunities for individuals to ‘big themselves up’, or just show off.  “Just been invited to speak about my groundbreaking work with Fuzzy Felt at a conference that the Queen is attending in Outer Mongolia!” says another Facebook update.  “Click here to read my blog post recalling the last time I saw HRH, after her personal invitation to me to attend one of her infamous tea parties at Buck House!”

My point?  None at all.  I’m just preparing you, dear reader.  The following blog post is one such example of blagging.  Maybe that’s what it should be called.  A ‘blag’ post.  Anyway…

Last year I was involved in an LSIS funded project looking at how social media can play a role in education and training.  I’ve long wondered how Facebook can be integrated so as to become a part of the learning experience for 16-19 year old learners, seeing potential as a place for contacting students, posting and sharing important information and collaborating with peers, My interest was prompted by a colleague who told me how she had found it impossible to contact her learners via email, as they never replied.  However, in a last, desperate attempt to contact them, she sent messages via Facebook…and received replies within minutes. This linked into my ethos that ‘if you build it they will not come’: that to find a swift tresponse, teachers need to go to where their learners are. 

Cutting a long story reasonably short, the LSIS project started a few weeks after this encounter, and I was given the task of writing a briefing paper and suggested Safe Use Policy for all schools and colleges in the South West.  I also delivered a webinar presenting these documents which were freely available to download and adapt for individual institutions.  All went well, the presentations were put on SlideShare and the JISC website and Cornwall College started using these documents to support staff wanting to set up Facebook pages or groups for their courses and students.

A few days ago the JISC ILT Champions email list put out a general request for any information about using social networking sites and I replied saying that I had written some documents and would email them to anyone interested.  30 people from colleges, universities and JISC regional offices across the UK contacted me asking for copies of the documents, and it was suggested that a national webinar was set up in the next couple of weeks to talk about the work Cornwall College (and me!  ME!) have done to promote the safe use of Facebook in 16-19 education.  Remembering that the documents had been uploaded to SlideShare, I checked how many views the briefing paper had received. At the time of writing this post, it stands at 2, 234 views.

Maybe this marks the start of a mindset shift.  Certainly, up until reasonably recently, Facebook was blocked by the college both as an unwelcome distraction and a possible virtual playground for bullying or grooming.  However, it has since been unblocked (as there is little point blocking it if students access it on their Smartphone anyway) and we have almost 2 dozen Facebook groups and pages set up by members of staff for their learners / courses.  At the time of writing, these are being monitored thoroughly and are working well, with no signs of bullying or ‘trolling’ to report.

So, the use of Facebook seems to be very much in the educational zeitgeist at the moment, and I’d like to think that I had something to do with putting it there. Check out the documents what I wrote below and do feel free to download them and pass them on to anyone you think may be interested.  Next week I’ll be presenting my findings and showcasing some of the best Facebook sites coming from Cornwall College at a University of Plymouth – based conference along with other speakers streamed from The States and other universities around the country. 

Which is nice….

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