Facebook ‘Groups’ could boost privacy, collaboration

Facebook launched an updated "Groups" application that allows for more collaboration.
Facebook "Groups" allows for easy communication and collaboration on projects, but is it an appropriate collaboration tool for students?

A new Facebook feature unveiled Oct. 6 gives users more control over which information is shared with certain groups of people, and it also offers an easy platform for online communication and collaboration on group projects—leading some K-12 educators and ed-tech officials to wonder if the social networking site might be a viable collaboration tool for students.

The Facebook “Groups” application lets users determine specific content to share with members of a defined group, as well as chat or work together on documents within a group. The feature could be a useful communication and collaboration tool for students outside the classroom—but concerns about online safety might keep many teachers and ed-tech officials from embracing the tool for such use.

“More collaboration and sharing of resources is a tremendously valuable development for schools,” said James Bosco, principal investigator for the Consortium for School Networking’s project on Web 2.0 use in education, called Participatory Culture in Schools: Leadership & Policy.

“I think what’s happening is that the schools are beginning to unblock these resources. The recognition is that with the applications being used more widely in society, it becomes more and more problematic not allowing their use in schools,” Bosco said.

Facebook Groups is an update of Facebook’s list feature, which allowed users to limit who could see different content on profile pages. However, only 5 percent of Facebook’s 500 million users took advantage of this feature, according to the web site.

Nancy Willard, executive director of the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use, said while the updates do improve online safety for Facebook’s younger users, it is still not an appropriate ed-tech tool for the classroom.

“From [an online] safety perspective, I think this is really helpful, because it will allow young people to set up groups based on degrees of trust,” said Willard. “[But] there are other Web 2.0 platforms that I think are far more geared for effective educational use. To my knowledge, Facebook does not have a team of educational professionals who are working with [the web site] to design specific educational products.”

Free and subscription-based ed-tech tools, such as Google Apps for Education and ePals, already exist to facilitate student and teacher communication and collaboration online.

Facebook Groups is geared toward helping users more simply sort their Facebook friendships into different clusters, to make people more comfortable posting items they only want a limited number of people to see. If used correctly, ed-tech experts said, that could enhance the online safety of Facebook’s younger users—to an extent.

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