Do Facebook and Education Mash?

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Social Media and Education: a Match Made in the Near Future?

With social media and mashable technology entering their heyday, one could imagine a great opportunity and, perhaps,  an intriguing potential for competitive learning games. However, if you search the Facebook apps directory with the term `learning` or `education,` there won`t be a lot of results. And most of those results are going to be language learning software aimed at adults outside of the education system.

This isn`t all too surprising. It seems beyond a teacher`s or a professor`s authority to effectively mandate that a student have a Facebook account, even though those who do are certainly in the majority, at least among teens and adults.

Yet we are at a time in the history of the Internet where applications and websites are becoming mashable, which is to say they interact fluidly and influence each other`s behavior. Facebook is perhaps the most familiar and glaring example of this. There is the basic Facebook box or button that is now almost obligatory on every website and there is the more advanced way in which Spotify, for example, is set up by default to post what music you are listening to on Facebook. Maybe most importantly, Facebook is becoming the identity service for the Internet. Increasingly third-party services are piggybacking off of users` Facebook logins to provide a login to their own sites and apps.

So if Facebook login credentials are becoming the foremost consumer identity management system for Internet services, will there be a market for learning software that is designed to integrate with social media (de facto Facebook)? If everybody has it, the professor making Facebook a class requirement deserves little more thought than a college requiring a more traditional, ubiquitous identity management system that we wouldn`t think to question these days: a social security number.

If your knee-jerk reaction (like mine, admittedly) was `Oh no, we can`t have our children`s education wrapped up in a large private corporation`s products and services!` believe me, I`m pretty sure this is already happening, and if you need a historical example, think Apple/MECC`s push to get Apple II into classrooms in the 80`s.

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Facebook Notifications [1]: All Your Oxen Died

Whether or not there currently is (or will shortly be) a market for this, and aside from any objections to mashing Facebook, Inc. into our children`s education system, the most interesting question is the door this opens for learning technology.

The most memorable learning game (sorry, learning simulation–let`s keep it professional) from my own scholastic career is The Oregon Trail, which many grownups of my own generation will remember. (The phrases `You`ve died of dysentery` and `Your oxen died fording the river` have become memes.) The premise was to simulate the crossing of the untamed West. Accordingly, most of your party died horrible deaths most of the time.

It was the practice in my fourth grade computer lab, even though this was a single-player game, to name the members of your traveling party after your classmates so it was like you were playing together. (Valuable life lessons were learned when the party member you not-so-subtly named after your fourth grade crush tragically died of cholera to be left in an unmarked grave somewhere in Nebraska…) Now imagine if this game were actually multiplayer and that it integrated with social media so that you and all your class buddies could really form a single party of pioneers. It sounds fun, right?

We can imagine the benefit of social functionality for high school and college study groups just as well. Playing a trivia-style board game using questions from your upcoming final (played by each student on his or her own tablet/smartphone while lounging together in the commons, maybe) sounds a lot better than taking turns quizzing each other from your notes.

What could integration with social media do for learning technology? In short, it could provide an easy route for creating engaging multiplayer games. Everybody and their aunt was addicted to the original Farmville not long ago. What if that same fun could be applied to what is generally a very un-fun task, cramming for a test?

Could mashing social media and education vivify the stale air of both, or will the kids of the coming Orwellian education system soon be singing, `We don`t need no education…All in all, you`re just another post on the wall`?

About Bret Norwood

Bret Norwood is a staff blogger for Learning Laboratory in addition to other roles, including UI design and content development for Study Putty, our free memorization tool for chemistry and many other course topics. He is also a published writer of literary fiction--see BretNorwood.com
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