Volume 6 [Issue 1], 2014


Introduction - Facebook in Education: Lessons Learnt

Tama Leaver & Mike Kent


The revolutionary zeal with which Massively Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, were embraced in 2012 ostensibly situated online education as completely new, unprecedented, and entirely disruptive for the status quo of higher education (Pappano, 2012). Yet only a year later revelations of incredibly low completion rates (Pretz, 2014) and poor learning outcomes (Perez-Harnandez 2014) led to questions about whether the appeal and lifespan of MOOCs as a concept was already terminal (Strauss, 2013; Yang, 2013). While the rise and fall of MOOCs have both been radically overdetermined – they are an emerging if largely unpolished form of mass education, but certainly one that is here to stay in some form for the conceivable future – it is equally if not more important to recognise that teaching and learning utilising and via networked digital communication tools has a history as long as the World Wide Web itself (Kent & Leaver, 2014). Moreover, as the largest online social network in the world, Facebook has been part of the education landscape since its inception in a Harvard dormitory a decade ago. This special issue of Digital Culture & Education takes the tenth anniversary of Facebook as an opportunity to critically reflect on role of that platform in higher education, whilst simultaneously engaging with some of the larger questions about the place of education online, questions which pre-date the emergence of MOOCs by a significant number of years.


Learning or Liking: Educational architecture and the efficacy of attention

Leanne McRae


The language surrounding the rise of online education, the use of learning management systems and social networking sites in university education is based on under-researched ideas about grasping and sustaining the ‘attention’ of digital natives. The assumptions supporting the promotion of digital learning interfaces as effective, efficient and essential to teaching and learning in the modern university confirm that education takes place around and between otherwise busy lives and must capture the ever-shifting attention of accelerated cohorts flitting through their socially networked and time-poor interactions. This paper examines the language used to promote digital learning interfaces and questions the consequences to teaching and learning when digitised artefacts are used to direct and govern curricula decisions. The argument in this paper suggests that allowing students to self-direct their education through functional and fashionable interfaces, means that a more detailed understanding of how ‘ambient computing’ environments shape and frame attention is deprioritised. Furthermore, this paper suggests that the fundamental experiences of learning – struggle with ideas, disciplining the mind, exploring concepts with individuals more expert than the student – is impoverished as we offload students onto social networks and out of classrooms.

“Face to face” Learning from Others in Facebook Groups

Eleanor Sandry


This paper extends Emmanuel Levinas’ articulation of “the face to face” encounter (1969, p. 79-81) to suggest that students and teachers can be brought into an ethical proximity created by the media they share and discuss online in Facebook. In Levinas’ terms, a ‘face’ is not simply a physical face. Instead, the Levinasian face encapsulates all the ways that one person is able to reveal aspects of their personality to another. Interactions in Facebook remain “bounded by the impossibility of ever knowing the Other,” as does all communication according to Levinas (Zembylas and Vrasidas, 2005, p. 72). However, while a profile picture may or may not disclose much information about a person, the content posted and shared online (in the form of text, images, videos, likes, etc) reveals aspects of an individual’s personality in a way that encourages responses from others. Facebook can therefore bring people unable to meet in the same physical and temporal location into a proximity created by their online disclosure. In addition, the asymmetry between students and teachers, emphasised in spaces such as lecture theatres, is destabilised in Facebook to provide students and teachers the opportunity to learn from one another’s shared ideas, experiences and understandings.


Separating Work and Play: Privacy, Anonymity and the Politics of Interactive Pedagogy in Deploying Facebook in Learning and Teaching

Rob Cover


This paper addresses some questions which have arisen around the separation between study and social life in the author’s use of Facebook as a first-year teaching and learning tool. A frequent comment made by students who participated in the use of Facebook as a course learning tool is that contributions they made to study forums which appear on their own page’s wall can be “embarrassing” or “awkward” when read by friends who are not also students in the same course. The comment raises questions as to how the semi-public site of Facebook operating in teaching and learning modes has implications for privacy and anonymity. Students’ questions about such comments expressed a desire for their work to remain “private” (unseen by those other than the examiner or moderator), although were choosing a career in media production, publication, journalism or other writing. What is it about Facebook in particular that evokes questions of privacy? As a teaching and learning tool, Facebook provides an environment in which anonymity and the separation of different elements of one’s learning, study and social or personal lives are made more complex. What does the breakdown of context and distinction do for processes of learning? Theorising the relationship between privacy and the use of Facebook and other social networking sites as teaching and learning tools, this article presents a summary of its use in media and communications teaching, the mechanisms by which privacy questions are invoked in this context, the ways in which its use opens new and unexpected ways of thinking about pedagogy in relation to the everyday, and the factors that invoke questions as to how online social networking identity is managed by students using Facebook as a prescribed learning tool.

Exploiting fluencies: Educational expropriation of social networking site consumer training

Lucinda Rush and D.E. Wittkower


The idea of the digital native was based on abstraction; when we look in detail at the digital activities of high-school and college students, we see deskilling and consumer training rather than information literacy or technical fluency. Yet that training is still training, and may be adaptable in such a way that it can become a literacy—in, for example, the way militaries have mobilised skill-sets produced through gaming. We too can and should mine the narrow and profit-driven consumer training that emerging adults have undergone for kinds of inquiry and critical engagement for which they may have inadvertently been given tools and training. In this article, we will analyse the structures of Facebook to see what sorts of consumer training it produces, and suggest avenues for the educational expropriation of that training. First, we take an inventory of categories of consumer training, analysing each and identifying exploitable elements within each. Following this, we suggest activities and assessment structures exacting these literacies and habits to educational ends. Many of these structures involve direct employment of Facebook in coursework, but others identify assignments, projects, and approaches which draw upon SNS consumer training but do not themselves employ Facebook.