Faculty and Facebook: Just Say No

Earlier this semester, Barbara and I attended a training session intended to introduce the new version of Blackboard (Bb) the College recently bought to the select (and by select I mean very small) group of faculty members who will be testing the system this Fall before the system goes live campus-wide this Spring. The disciplines represented in the room were fairly diverse – Economics, Aural Skills, History, Russian among them – but unfortunately, a wide range of computer-related technical ability was not. I understand that the system needs to work for everyone, and we certainly should consider ease-of-use, and that those with above-average computer skills can often figure things out for themselves and need not be targeted for training. However, when I need to test whether or not something’s going to hold up to the use and abuse of a much larger group of people, I look to someone who 1) delights in pressing all the buttons she’s “not supposed” to press and consequently breaks the bejeezus out of something and 2) can communicate with me what is going wrong as a result and what she did to break it. To do this well takes a certain level of skill which most of the people in the room that day just didn’t have.

As a result, we spent the majority of the session talking about how students were going to negotiate two separate Bb systems (most of their classes will remain in the old Bb during the testing phase), and how to make a course -look- a certain way, instead of discussing what Blackboard has to offer, and how to -effectively- use those tools. This worries me; is Blackboard going to get the workout it deserves before we as a campus start relying on it? Or will we spend another three years using a piece of software that doesn’t do what we need?

A second concern: many of our IT folks want to move towards Single Sign-On, where everyone has one username and password that gets them into every campus resource, and it’s got them looking for ways to integrate email and Blackboard and a campus calendar and the printing system and and and… I’m not particularly enthralled with or opposed to the idea, but in this training I heard something that sent me almost through the roof: integrating Facebook with Bb.

In case you’re not familiar with Facebook: it’s “a social utility that connects you with the people around you.” Anyone can now join, but you can restrict who can see your profile, or even let some people see some information while others are completely restricted. Once you have an account, you can populate your profile with your contact information, photos, lists of movies, books, and music you like, funny / witty / clever quotes or sayings that reflect your personality, etc etc etc. After you’ve created your online persona you “friend” (yes, it’s a verb) people you know, or sometimes people you don’t, and then communicate with them by using Facebook’s private messaging functions, groups (I am a fan of the “Catcher in the Rye can’t be everyone’s favorite book” group, myself), or a bunch of other features seemingly designed to kill a few minutes between classes.

Most importantly: although Facebook does allow for -some- academic uses (student organizations can form Facebook groups to publish information and stay in touch, and individual students can input their class schedule), that doesn’t mean we as administrators / faculty / staff *should* use it for academic purposes. More on this, including reflections from the SOCHE-sponsored Facebook forum, coming up later this week.

Ryan has been proudly maintaining and contributing to Language Lab Unleashed since 2005, and is the current President of SWALLT. Since the summer of 2013 he's been causing trouble with his all-star colleagues in the UMW DTLT; when not wrangling websites Ryan can be found doing strange things with heavy objects.

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  1. Gary Kornblith · November 20, 2006 Reply

    I found this posting unhelpful. We have been testing Blackboard 7 this fall FOLLOWING a decision by the GF Ed Tech Committee and the Information Technology Policy Committee to make Bb7 the basis for Oberlin’s E-Community/Intranet for the next three years. Now is the time for everyone to pull together to make the new system a success.

    Meanwhile, to my knowledge, there are NO plans to integrate Bb 7 and Facebook. Why can’t you help Albert out rather than spread unfounded rumors? I think he deserves better.


  2. Ryan · November 21, 2006 Reply


    Thanks for responding!

    First, let me clarify that my opinions are only that – my opinions – and that I post them on this blog not because I believe they are The Truth but because I want to start a conversation.

    I feel the new system is not getting the testing it needs prior to being rolled out for the entire campus, as the sample size of faculty testing this system is not large enough or diverse enough in skill level. That doesn’t mean I think those who are working to implement it are not doing a good job. Quite to the contrary: given the limited resources and time constraints of this project, the progress that’s being made is remarkable. But, IMHO, we as a campus don’t know enough yet about the new Bb – I, for example, am more in the loop than most, and yet have questions about Bb’s limitations and potential. So, I suggest we take time to do more wide-scale testing and training before rolling it out campus-wide.

    About Facebook: yes, you’re right, there is no current plan to integrate Facebook with Bb on this campus, and I apologize if I gave you or anyone that impression. However, the integration of Facebook and Bb was indeed a topic during the training session; after several minutes of discussion, many of the faculty present agreed that integrating Facebook with Bb would help them match students’ names with students’ faces, and that it could be useful for sending out course-related messages. I wholeheartedly disagree with the use of Facebook for institutional/educational purposes…but that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms that I’ll get into with my next post.

    Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

  3. dave cormier · November 21, 2006 Reply

    Interesting to see this conversation still going on. I still like the portfolio possibilities of using facebook-like tools for education as well as the possibility for community reflection on different learning ‘events.’ But there you go… open discussion on an issue.

    I’m not sure why this kind of discussion provokes people to the point where they don’t read posts carefully. I believe you only suggested that you had been in a discussion about facebook/Bb integration. Hardly roomer spreading.

    Your concerns about consultation are well founded. In my experience the biggest reason any institutional system does not succeed is lack of consultation. This consultation is even more important DURING the process of transition. Any tool, no matter how restrictive (And Bb is a tool with many weaknesses… particularly if you’re looking for a configurable single sign on) can be used well as long as people are free to express their concerns and be part of the solutions to their problems.

    Simply “getting on board to make it a success” when that is a euphemism for conformism rarely leads to the actual success that sentiment is intending to impose.

    Ironic even. cheers. dave.

  4. Barbara Ganley · November 21, 2006 Reply


    Interesting post that does a nice job articulating some of the tensions that arise within institutions as we sort out the pros and cons of course management tools with walls: we have now such a wide range of users that sometimes we forget one end of the user spectrum for the other. I’ll bet tempers are flaring in these conversations from coast to coast. I agree with Dave that any tool can work (well, sort of) as long as all of the constituents are consulted and really listened to, as long as the pedagogical needs, the learning needs, of our students and faculty are foregrounded.

    This unfolding conversation reminds me a bit of the LLU discussion the other night about whether the porousness of blogs serves students, faculty and institutions or not. I thought our conversation was a healthy one precisely because we disagreed with one another, pushed one another to consider the full implications of blogging, both good and bad. And that’s what you are doing–continuing the greater conversation on the process of adopting a course management system by reflecting on it. It’s a helpful post to me and others who might well find ourselves sitting in just the same kinds of meetings one of these days.


  5. Ryan · November 21, 2006 Reply


    Are you or any of your colleagues integrating Facebook or similar non-academic tools (LiveJournal, MySpace, etc.) into courses? I object to the idea of using them for educational purposes on principle, but must admit I haven’t seen them in action, or to hear from students/profs on the issue.


    As you may well remember, I wasn’t always a proponent of public blogging … but I wholeheartedly agree now. Respectful disagreement, whether on campus or in the blogosphere, is an amazing way for all parties involved to gain multiple perspectives on an issue.

    Many thanks to you both for your comments, and your support. Have a happy Turkey Day!

  6. Gary Kornblith · November 29, 2006 Reply

    For those of you who think I am against broad-based consultation and for conformism, you should know that I headed up a 6-month evaluation process last year that resulted in the decision to support Bb7 as the campus portal/intranet and to support Moodle for use by language courses as a pilot project. We endeavored to involve a wide range of campus constituencies in the process, including faculty, students, and staff. At the end of it, the institution made a big investment — not just in terms of money, but also in terms of the time and energy of a particular individual who has devoted months of work to getting Bb7 ready for prime time.

    I want the new portal to succeed, and as we all know, success in IT and ed tech requires teamwork. Ryan’s post appeared almost simultaneously with a message to all faculty about the deployment of Blackboard 7, and I feared his remarks might undermine the portal initiative. Hence I blogged back.


  7. Cal Frye · November 30, 2006 Reply

    Do you mean “facebook” or “Facebook?” One is a photographic extension of FUSSERS, t’other is a whole different animal.

    The original post implies CIT is investigating integrating single sign-on with campus systems and Facebook — nothing could be further from the truth. SSO is a concept for institutional systems only, and true single sign-on is quite a ways away due to the disparate systems we have.

    Too many passwords is almost as big a security risk as is using the same password for everything. Sensitive systems on campus will probably require more than one’s email password for access. But requiring a different password for each system in turn usually results in them all being written down on little yellow notes, which also isn’t good. Just a clarification…

  8. Ryan · December 1, 2006 Reply


    Indeed, teamwork is important, but IMHO it’s incumbent upon educators, technologists, and those who fall somewhere in between to be critical (yet respectful) of themselves and their colleagues in order to benefit the group as a whole.

    In any case, I certainly hadn’t planned the timing of my post to coincide with the message to faculty about Bb 7…fwiw, I had no way of knowing such a message was in the works, and as I am staff, not faculty, to date I have received no first-hand information about the rollout of Bb 7 on campus.


    I was referring to Facebook.com, not the Fussers extension. My original post makes exactly the implication you describe…the investigation, though not necessarily the implementation, of a Facebook module or tie-in inside Blackboard…because that was my impression of the conversation.

    As for SSO…requiring /different/ passwords for separate systems is not the same thing as requiring /unique/ passwords. So, what’s the difference, security-wise, between having to sign in multiple times with the same username and password, and signing in only once? For instance, with our current system, my passwords for my mail account, my Blackboard (version 6) account, and my PRESTO account are all separate. Nevertheless, it would be possible for me use the same password for all three resources. But even if I did, anyone who wanted to hack into all three of my accounts, would have to breach security on three different servers. No? With SSO, I have the benefit of having to remember only one password , but anyone who wishes to retrieve that password has only to breach security on one server.

    And you make a very good point:

    SSO is a concept for institutional systems only, and true single sign-on is quite a ways away due to the disparate systems we have.

    Too many passwords is almost as big a security risk as is using the same password for everything. Sensitive systems on campus will probably require more than one’s email password for access. But requiring a different password for each system in turn usually results in them all being written down on little yellow notes, which also isn’t good. Just a clarification.

    Problem is, we can’t control passwords for the myriad of non-institutional systems. Hypothetically speaking…take a Typical User. She’s got accounts on email, PRESTO, Bb account, OBIS, Novell, and maybe one or two more institutional accounts which would be consolidated through SSO. But then she also has accounts on her local computer at work, her local computer at home, Amazon, Google/Yahoo!/Hotmail, several financial institutions, Facebook, eBay, uBid, any number of mailing lists which require passwords, the New York Times Online, etc etc etc — all of which have differing password security requirements, and none which can be consolidated. So where does on-campus SSO leave her? Realistically, she’s probably either using the same password for most/all resources (in which case SSO provides no security benefit), using different passwords but archiving them all somewhere (on little yellow notes, in a file on her local computer, or maybe in an email folder), letting her browser do the remembering for her, or a combination of all three.

    Fewer but more secure passwords is a great idea…but I don’t think it’s very practical given the scattered nature of the intarweb. (As Yogi Berra said, “In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not.”)


  9. Facebook as an education tool? Teachers friending students? Could soon be against the law in Missouri. | the Sam Jackson College Experience · February 4, 2008 Reply

    […] There’s a joke in here somewhere about Missouri being the “Show Me State” but I’m not even going to search for it, because this is just so poorly calculated in my mind–the goal and the means to achieving that goal seem very disconnected and its reminiscent of the deeply misinformed national debate on so many “protect the children from the scary internet” stories in Washington. Thoughts? Christian, other teachers and educators, your opinions especially wanted. Faculty + facebook — always no go? […]

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