We can’t and shouldn’t forget that Representative Ric Keller told us during the March House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property hearing on campus peer-to-peer and “piracy” that “the hammer’s comin’.” Shortly after that hearing, Keller, who is also the senior Republican on the Subcommittee on Higher Education Lifelong Learning & Competitiveness, introduced the Curb Illegal Downloading on College Campuses Act of 2007. It’s clear that at least one member of congress is serious about addressing (and forcing us to address) this issue.
In the closing sentence of their March 12 news story about the the American Council on Education (ACE) noted that “it is possible that further discussion of file sharing on campus will be folded into debate of the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act later in the legislative session.” Rumor has it that this may be coming true as the Senate and the House continue to work on the latest incarnation of the Higher Education Act (HEA). Even more foreboding, there may be reconsideration of the current safe harbor protections offered under copyright law; Representative Schiff forcefully and pointedly reminded us in that hearing that Congress wrote the copyright laws and they can change them.
These could be mere rumors. Even if they are true, they have to run a gauntlet through a bitterly partisan congress and make it onto the desk of a president of a different party than the congressional majorities (even though this issue is a bipartisan issue – Keller and Schiff sit on opposite sides of the aisle, for example – making this part of an omnibus bill like the HEA may place it squarely in the domain of partisan politics). We’ve certainly seen enough ineffective action related to the HEA over the past few years to know that it’s far from certain that anything will actually be done. But they appear to be serious this time and getting more serious as the copyright holders continue to press this issue and make our efforts and concerns appear to be hollow. The hammer may be comin’ and it may be buried in the HEA.
In the past month, two events related to “hacking” on residential computer networks have been reported and discussed.
First is a court case in which a university employee investigated a student’s computer in relation to security incidents at the institution and elsewhere. In 1999, an official at Qualcomm reported to the FBI and the University of Wisconsin at Madison that a computer at the University of Wisconsin was being used to hack into Qualcomm systems. A University of Wisconsin system administrator located the computer on the university’s residential computer network, noticed that it was also being used to attack computers at the university, and blocked the computer. The student evaded the block and the system administrator logged into the student’s computer to verify that it was indeed the computer he had originally blocked. The FBI showed up with a warrant and discovered that the student already had 15 minutes of fame as an infamous hacker interviewed by Forbes.
The student, Jerome Heckenkamp, attempted to have his conviction overturned since the University of Wisconsin sysadmin had searched his computer without a warrant. In an opinion filed on April 5, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled denied Heckenkamp’s appeal. This case appears to be pretty important for ResNet professionals so let’s enumerate some of the specific findings:
Heckenkamp “had a legitimate, objectively reasonable expectation of privacy in his personal computer.”
“The act of attaching his computer to the network did not extinguish his legitimate, objectively reasonable privacy expectations.” The government even tried to argue that the usage policies of the University of Wisconsin network eliminated Heckencamp’s expectations of privacy. The court didn’t buy it: “When examined in their entirety, university policies do not eliminate Heckenkamp’s expectation of privacy in his computer. Rather, they establish limited instances in which university administrators may access his computer in order to protect the university’s systems.”
Although Heckencamp had an expectation to privacy, an expectation not waived when using the University of Wisconsin’s network, the court concluded that the sysadmin’s “search of the computer was justified under the ‘special needs’ exception to the warrant requirement…. [He] was acting to secure the Mail2 server, and that his actions were not motivated by a need to collect evidence for law enforcement purposes or at the request of law enforcement agents [and thus] a search warrant was not necessary because Savoy was acting purely within the scope of his role as a system administrator.”
Legal experts interviewed by The Chronicle of Higher Education’s called this ruling “a win for privacy.” However, it’s worth considering a slightly different viewpoint. Wired’s Threat Level blog was one of many voices labeling the University of Wisconsin’s actions “counter-hacking;” their analysis of the court case was a bit drier than that of the Chronicle but it was enough to elicit a response from a University of Wisconsin sysadmin. Although I’m sure that many would bristle at the notion of a good-faith, limited investigation of a computer attacking one’s network as “counter-hacking” that viewpoint is worth considering as it is held by many. Also worth reading is the analysis of Jennifer Granick, an attorney who represented Heckencamp early in the case.
The second incident is the suspension of a University of Portland student for his involvement with a program designed to circumvent his institution’s network access control. In this instance, the institution used Cisco Clean Access, a system that requires most computers on the network to install a program that checks to see if the computer meets the requirements set by the University of Portland for computers on its network. This commonly involves checking to see if anti-virus software is installed and up-to-date, verifying that operating system patches are installed, and checking other similar security-related settings and properties. Like all other computer programs, there are known flaws in Cisco Clean Access and there are programs available to circumvent many of those flaws. From the story published by the campus newspaper, it appears that this student not only wrote a new program to exploit some of those flaws but he also distributed the program to a handful of friends (and a professor – ???).
The most likely effect of this program was to allow this student and others using the program to log onto the network without having their computer examined. Is this something for which he should be suspended for a semester? As with all campus judicial proceedings, we’ll never know the full details of what happened and why. It’s possible that this student had a previous history of misbehavior. Or there may be an ongoing problem with misbehavior and non-compliance on the University of Portland computer network(s). Or this may be a huge over reaction on the part of a judicial officer not knowledgeable about network technology and security. Or… We could go on all day. We’ll never know and it would be folly to second guess or over analyze this incident without more information – information unlikely to be forthcoming. It’s simply an interesting data point and a curious glimpse at what may be an interesting story that we’ll never hear.
Although I’m sure this student is distraught over the situation, he may have a bright future in network security! Many bright and promising student employees first earned notoriety by exploiting network security flaws before being drawn into the fold and learning to use their powers for good.
Update: Bryon Fessler, Vice President for Information Services for the University of Portland, has publicly commented on the incident on the ResNet-l listserv. Although he is “bound by law and professional ethics such that [he is] not able to comment on the specifics of this case,” he has revealed that “the incidents were very serious, entirely ‘black hat’ in nature, and involved far more than just CCA.” He also points out a recent NetworkWorld article with more technical details.
We’ve seen and are continuing to see attempts by state and federal legislators to restrict the use of social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace on computers with Internet access funded by the (state or federal) government. Although DOPA was not passed into law last year, Sen. Stevens introduced a similar law earlier this year. State legislators in Connecticut and Illinois have introduced similar legislation.
I am neither a lawyer nor an experienced policy junkie so my understanding of the detailed specifics of these proposed laws is likely incomplete and possibly outright wrong in some areas. As best as I can tell from reading the bills and the media reports surrounding them, the federal bill, the Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act, requires that minors not be allowed to use computers with Internet access funded by the federal government (e-rate) to access “social networking websites” and “chat rooms” without parental permission. Connecticut’s law levies a $5,000 fine on social networking websites that fail to verify the age of participants and require parental permission for minors to participate. Illinois’ proposed law is the most stringent; it requires that “each public library must prohibit access to social networking websites on all computers made available to the public in the library [and] each public school must prohibit access to social networking websites on all computers made available to students in the school.”
As a university administrator, I wonder if we have paid enough attention to these and similar proposed laws to gauge their impact on our pre-matriculation programs. In other words, would these proposed laws have an impact on online orientation or similar programs that are aimed at applicants, interested high school students, and other minors? The answer seems to be a clear “yes” for those institutions whose programs have taken on characteristics of social networking. However, the precise definition of “social networking website” has yet to be crafted; for the federal law, it will take into account if the service:
is offered by a commercial entity
permits registered users to create an on-line profile that includes detailed personal information
permits registered users to create an on-line journal and share such a journal with other users
elicits highly-personalized information from users
enables communication among users
For some of the proposed bills, requiring that the users supply proof of their age and secure parental permission for minors to participate would satisfy the legislative requirements. That seems like a low bar for colleges and universities, particularly if the users are those who have already applied to the institution and thus already supplied proof of age; it’s only one more bullet point on the application form signed by the applicant and, if necessary, mom or dad. Of course, this completely dodges the question of how the laws would actually be enforced in libraries and schools, how easy it will be to overcome the necessary technological filters and restrictions, what evidence would be necessary for librarians or teachers to allow minors to access social networking sites, etc.
The primary concern of many who perform research into youths’ use of social networking sites is the disparate impact this legislation would have on youths whose primary Internet access occurs at school or the library. That concern should hold true for college and university administrators as this proposed legislation would have a negative and disproportionate impact on prospective students with a low SES. It seems to me that this legislation may strengthen continued concerns about the widening SES gap in America between those attend college and those who do not. Further, this proposed legislation may harm efforts to attract students with low SES and help them fit into the college environment in that crucial first year.
Colleges and universities must monitor this area of legislation. Not only does it impact current and developing programs such as online orientation programs and cutting edge recruiting efforts, it may intertwine with the continued debates about widening SES gaps and efforts to shrink those gaps.
There are many academically interesting aspects of the uses to which online tools are being put as students and professionals struggle to make meaning of the recent tragedy at Virginia Tech.
The most visible aspect, onealreadynoted in the popularmedia, is the use of social networking tools like Facebook and MySpace. Students, alumni, professionals, and others are using these tools to:
Communicate with one another. This use was most visible and common during and immediately after the shootings as students updated their online profiles to let others know they were alive (I almost typed “okay” but that is clearly the wrong word).
Publicly grieve and memorialize the slain. Others have discussed this usage of social networking sites; some time ago, Facebook apparently had to modify their policies to take into account this unexpected behavior.
Make meaning of these events. Of course, this use is intimately tied to and intertwined with the previous use.
Let’s take a closer look at the most obvious example of this search for meaning using online social networking tools: the rapid development of the Wikipedia article. The article was initially created at 10:16 on Monday morning and has rapidly grown since. As of 20:58 CDT on Thursday evening there have been over 6300 edits to the article with each edit occurring 47 seconds apart on average. 1865 different editors have edited the article; 507 of those editors were anonymous, unregistered editors. A quick and thoroughly unscientific review of the edits seems to indicate that just over 10% of the edits, around 650 or so, were acts of vandalism or removal of vandalism.
A video of the article evolving during the first 12 hours:
Our interest lies in how people are using this collaboratively created encyclopedia article in the search for meaning. First, it’s important to remember that like everything else, these actions are taking place in a particular context. In this case, the context is that of a collaboration that aspires to create encyclopedia articles. For those who are unfamiliar with the inner workings of Wikipedia, suffice it to say that the scale, nature, and goals of the projects have led to the development of a maze of rules, policies, guidelines, cultural norms, and formal and informal expectations of user behavior and product quality. Examples of these forces include Civility, Neutral Point of View, No Original Research, and Verifiability. But even within those bounds users have great latitude in constructing articles, particularly brand new articles.
The most visible and easily traced activity is the process by which the name of the article was decided, challenged, and changed (several times). Even with the guidance of the Wikipedia Manual of Style, there were still many minor decisions to make about the title regarding the possible inclusion of the year “2007,” word order, capitalization, etc. However, the major decision was to use the word “shooting” or “massacre” to describe the events. Although the decision to adopt “massacre” was ostensibly made as a reflection of the media coverage (the “common name“), many of the initial (and ongoing; very few things are ever settled or beyond debate and discussion in Wikipedia) arguments were clearly subjective judgments about the unfolding events and details.
The choice of details to include or exclude in the article also reflect not only Wikipedia policies but the judgment of more than 1300 individual editors. Wikipedia’s notability guidelines provide some guidance but the ultimate decisions lie with those editors. For example, do the questions and arguments about gun control raised by this tragedy belong in this article? What about the various offers of assistance from other universities – if only some of them are to be included (as it would be impossible to include them all), which ones are “notable” enough to make the cut? What about the victims – are they inherently notable and should they each have their own article? Or would such articles be memorials and thus unenyclopedic (many editors argue that “Wikipedia is not a memorial.”)? How can we place these events into historical context? Do we rank school shootings and tragedies or is a historical comparison inappropriate and impossible? And how many of these issues can and should we decide right now given the incomplete facts and high emotions? Many of these questions are clearly fundamental questions in making meaning of these events, even if they are wrapped in the guise of creating an encyclopedia article and guided by Wikipedia rules and customs.
Let’s briefly return to Facebook and MySpace. The positive and supportive uses of these tools (communication, grief sharing, support, etc.) are being widely documented. Not as widely documented, though, are the expressions of negative emotions like anger and hatred. A quick search turns up the following public Facebook groups, all featuring a prominent photo of the shooter:
Although such expressions are understandable and a natural part of the grieving process, I am a bit concerned about the permanent nature of the electronic media being used to document negative but (hopefully!) temporary emotions. Given that these records are publicly accessible, archivable, replicable, and searchable, I hope that others who view these groups and other similar expressions of negative emotion (including the members themselves) will keep in mind these factors that make transient expressions of emotion take on a permanent nature in this context (and when removed from this context).
Of course, there are those who are exploiting this tragedy via online tools. For example, an a Facebook group entitled “UWF praying for Virginia Tech 4.16.2007,” a user took the opportunity to push her own group and political agenda:
That’s classy, huh? At least she’s not trying to directly profit from this tragedy like these scum.
Let’s end on a positive note. Like others, I deal with tragedy by trying to learn from it. Karine Joly evidently feels the same way because she has been writing about the lessons administrators, particularly those in communications, can learn from these events. It’s probably a bit too early for some to step back from these events to objectively analyze our reactions to learn from them. But when you’re ready, Karine’s got some good advice to share.
(Update: Wikipedia stats updated on Thursday, April 19, at 21:15 CDT, mostly to reflect a more accurate calculation of the average time between edits – I found the setting that allows me to view the exact second that edits were made which obviously allow a much more precise calculation)
(Update 2: YouTube video added. First seen (by me) on the Wikipedia article’s Talk page.)
After attending so many sessions about and related to Facebook at last week’s ACPA/NASPA Joint Meeting, I’m a bit burned out on the topic and trying to take a break from it. However, I’m teaching/facilitating a 3-hour session on social networking this summer at the ResNet Symposium so I can’t afford to get away from the topic for too long.
In the meantime, here’s what some others have recently said about this topic:
Attorneys Sheldon Steinbach and Lynn Deavers shared their legally-informed thoughts about university policies about and related to Facebook, MySpace, and other sites at InsideHigherEd. Their analysis is thoughtful and offers a critical insight into some of the legal considerations that may escape or elude non-lawyers. In particular, some of their analysis focuses on the legal concept of the “duty of care” that is established when a published policy is specific enough to establish expectations on the part of campus constituents.
An article written by Karine Joly in the current issue of University Business discusses social networking tools and the various uses to which institutions are putting those tools. The anecdotes and examples are particularly interesting and should give you food for thought.
An article in Knowledge@Wharton (free registration required – sorry!) not only discusses some of the basic issues surrounding Facebook and other social networking sites but also the long-term viability of these sites and the issue of exclusive membership and the role of membership. This discussion is particularly relevant for those who have created or are considering creating their own site with limited or exclusive membership; some institutions have already done so with success.
The final session I attended at the 2007 ACPA/NASPA Joint Meeting was entitled “Leading the Way in Developing Plans, Integrating Student Learning, Learning Outcomes, and Technology.” The session was presented by Gal Cole-Avent and Diane Cooper of the University of Georgia.
The basis for their presentation was a small study done at UGA analyzing one (perhaps two – poor notetaking on my part) professor’s use of a listserv to communicate with 6 students before they arrived on campus. Although the group studied was very small, the findings seem to make sense and are consistent with my own knowledge and experiences:
Convenience was cited as a huge factor in the use of the medium although it’s unclear (either in my notes or from the research) if the convenience is specifically tied to the listserv medium or more generally linked with computer mediated communication tools
That the students were able to communicate with persons on the UGA campus before arriving helped them transition to the campus by reducing the perceived size of the institution
Similarly, the communications helped build a greater sense of community
The use of e-mail (via a listserv) fit well with students’ perception of e-mail as a means of communication with faculty and staff (compare with instant messaging, social networking services, and SMS that are generally used for communicating with one’s peers)
Among the presenters’ recommendations were that we:
Identify alternative ways to supplement what is already provided through traditional means
Decide if technology is appropriate for the proposed use: instruction, programmatic, service objectives, etc.
Apply measurable outcomes to technology use
The general theme of the presenters’ remarks seemed to be that our use of technology must be intentional. It’s a simple message but an idea that often alludes both those who enjoy technology for its own sake (“We like new toys!”) and those who do not keep up with technology (“Whaddya mean our students and new professionals are using ___? Never heard of it…”).
Once again, Facebook arose in discussion. Novel points in this discussion included the observation that using Facebook allows one to bypass parents and get messages directly to students and the point that “we don’t always go ‘where they’re at.’” The specific example posed by the attendee who rejected the notion of always meeting them “where they’re at” was that of the ubiquitous bars and clubs near campus: we know students go there but unless there is a very compelling reason we don’t “go there.” There are clearly some (legal, social, and cultural) boundaries that we can not and should not cross despite our best intentions and desire to help and communicate with students. Is Facebook on the other side of one of those boundaries? Many students seem to think so and some administrators agree.
That this research focused on the use of a listserv intrigues me for several reasons. First, as noted above, the use of e-mail for faculty to communicate with students fits in very well with students’ perception that e-mail is used primarily to communicate with faculty and staff (e-mail is for “old people” and official correspondence). One of the students even noted that she felt obligated to clean up her grammar and syntax when communicating to the faculty via e-mail. Second, I have personally observed that listservs are very familiar and comfortable technology for many administrators and “old people.” I am subscribed to several listservs where the other subscribers are more than capable of using a different medium such as a bulletin board or a wiki but they choose not to do so. I suspect it has as much to do with their familiarity of listservs and how they function as it does with desirable properties of listservs. I really do think there is something more to be said about the longevity of listservs (and that must include their history and the culture of those who use them) but I’ll not say it here and now.
Finally, there was a brief discussion of some specific tools such as housing management software and student group management software. As one who has previously administered a housing management system, I empathize with my colleagues who perform that task. The world of discipline-specific software is a unique one that is seldom seen outside of those specific areas and I always wonder if those areas are being served well or just well enough.
The first session I attended on Wednesday, the final day of the ACPA/NASPA Joint Meeting, was entitled “Too Much Information? An Empirical Study of Undergraduate Facebook Profiles.” Daniel Saunders, Shaun Jamieson, and Jordan Hale outlined the results of research they have conducted at the University of Massachusetts-Amhrest.
These gentlemen examined the profiles of 464 UMass undergraduates in March of 2006 to answer questions like: What proportion of UMass undergraduates have a profile? How do those students differ from those without profiles? What proportion of UMass undergraduates with Facebook accounts post contact information? What proportion have positive references to the university? What proportion have positive references to partying, drugs, and alcohol? Some results of their research:
82% of UMass-Amherst undergrads had Facebook profiles
Women were more likely to have a photo of themselves in their “central profile,” one or more photo albums, and more photos (women averaged 81 photos vs. 30 for men); however, men were more likely (21%) than women (8%) to list their phone number
On-campus residents were more likely (63%) than off-campus residents (23%) to post address information
Over half (58%) posted some or all of their class schedule
7% had central profile photos with a clear photo of alcohol/drinking with White students (71%) more likely to have references to alcohol than students of color (49%) and women (73%) more likely to reference alcohol than men (61%)
Women had more positive references to UMass-Amherst (2.2 on average) than men (1.5 on average)
As you can see by the research questions and the statistics presented above, there are similarities to a few previous studies. In particular, Jones & Soltren’s 2005 “Facebook: Threats to Privacy” and Watson, Smith, & Driver’s 2006 “Alcohol, Sex and Illegal Activities: An Analysis of Selected Facebook Central Photos in Fifty States” studies explored some similar themes. Jones & Soltren explored the amount and type of information Facebook users shared on their profiles whereas Watson, Smith, & Driver specifically examined the central photos of Facebook profiles. Aside from the obvious differences, the methodology of this research differed from those studies primarily in that it concentrated on students at only one institution. Although the details vary, the general results of this research do not seem to substantially differ from those older studies. In particular, the number of students with clear photos of alcohol or other substances in their central profile photo remained low in this research although the greater proportion of women than men with such photos differed from the Watson, Smith, & Driver study.
There appear to be two interesting facets to this research:
The demographic differences – men v. women and White v. students of color – were very interesting. That students of different genders use Facebook differently is no surprise as we already know there are differences in how men and women typically employ CMC tools. The differences between White students and students of color, however, is very interesting and an area that I do not know has been researched or examined thoroughly. During the discussion after the initial presentation, I raised the point that those differences may be attributable to not only race or ethnicity but also socioeconomic status. In other words, students who have had lots of access to the Internet and technology throughout their youth will have a level of comfort and familiarity that those whose access has primarily or exclusively been at school or in libraries do not have. And those students are disproportionately students of color. That’s a very tentative hypothesis and we need to know more about how students of different backgrounds use Facebook and other tools. Further, we should not ever assume that all incoming students or even students already enrolled have the same levels of knowledge, comfort, or access – Digital Divide, Participation Gap, etc.
Although we talked about the positive uses for Facebook in other sessions, this is the only research I know of (as if I know of all of it!) that specifically looked for positive mentions in students’ profiles. Further, the presenters stressed that role of Facebook in how institutions’ images are presented and perceived by others. The connection between Facebook and campus attitudes (i.e. social norming) was obvious to me but I missed the connection with institutional image. I suspect I failed to make that seemingly-obvious connection as the medium is completely outside of our control unlike, for example, MySpace where institutions can register an account and control it.
Some other interesting points raised in discussion:
Has the self-disclosure practiced on (and inherent in) Facebook led to an increase in any negative incidents such as stalking, assault, etc.? Some attendees were of the opinion that harassment had increased but I know of no relevant research.
As discussed in other sessions, the boundaries (or lack thereof) between students and staff on Facebook were discussed. This appears to be more of an issue for graduate students and new professionals (possibly due simply to their much higher usage rates than older staff). Are we doing enough to educate these young staff members about this tool and how to negotiate this shifting boundary? I suspect that we are not doing enough but I have felt the same about other advances in technology that new professionals bring with them into the profession such as instant messaging. We should be dealing with these issues holistically and intentfully rather than reactively dealing with each particular technology two years after it has been in use.
One attendee reported on a very successful self-created social networking tool at his campus. There was even some talk on his campus of moving away from e-mail as the official means of communication and using the social networking tool instead.
Similar to the concern about how students (and others) are portraying our institutions in Facebook, there apparently are some (parents and other non-Facebook users?) who appear to confuse Facebook with an institutionally-controlled and -approved service (“Why did you let him say that about my son/daughter?”). Yikes! I wonder if that was covered in the “Online Parent Course” session that was being presented at the same time by the University of Redlands…
Another session I attended on Tuesday was one entitled “Shaping the ‘Facebook’ of Higher Education: Teaching Online Street-Smarts During New Student Orientation.” The session was presented by Staci Lynne Hersh and Sara Hinkle of New York University (NYU). Both work in orientation and they discussed how they have begun to integrate Facebook education into their education of both their student orientation leaders and their new students.
Informal surveys have shown that nearly all NYU students have when they show up on campus for their first orientation. The presenters also asserted that registering for and using Facebook is a “coming-of-age experience” but given that Facebook is now open to anyone with an e-mail address I have to wonder if that statement is true. Regardless, a balanced approach in educating students about Facebook and similar tools should be welcome, particularly given the relative newness of these tools and their many unrealized (and potentially long-lasting) implications.
There were two main parts of this session that differed from other Facebook sessions: the concentration on student employees and the educational session offered at NYU’s student orientation.
Before offering an educational session during orientation, Hersh and Hinkle knew they had to ensure they were on (or close to) the same page as their student employees. Like most orientation programs, student employees play a huge role in NYU’s orientation program. One aspect of this interaction with the student employees was including clauses in the student employees’ applications and contracts related to their portrayal (profile) in Facebook and other services. Another aspect was an open discussion with the student employees about the institution’s concerns, including students’ privacy, safety, employability, and representation of the institution. Hersh and Hinkle initially experienced resistance from their student employees when broaching this topic similar to the “it’s our space – stay out!” message reported by other presenters and attendees.
The educational program offered by NYU took place during orientation and was a voluntary session (presumably offered simultaneously as other sessions). The program features several hands-on activities intended to generate discussion and reflection, including analysis of several real Facebook profiles and an activity designed to make students aware how quickly initial judgments are formed.
As part of this session focused on student employees, including hiring and screening of student employee candidates, part of the discussion centered on how to use Facebook in those processes. The presenters stressed that administrators who are not on Facebook don’t even know what their current student leaders’ profiles look like. Personally, I was not very pleased with the discussion of this particular facet of this issue as there are definitely legal considerations related to this and I’m not sure if many of those making these decisions are equipped and trained to make them; there’s a good reason why the phrase “I Am Not A Lawyer” is used so often in discussions on the Internet that the abbreviation IANAL has entered the common lexicon. One attendee (at this session, I think – I could be getting confused with another Facebook-related session) even raised the point that a student who feels that they did not get a job because they were discriminated against because of something in their profile could sue. That there are often many pieces of information in social networking user profiles that employers are prohibited from using in their employment decisions (age, ethnicity, race, etc.) is an excellent observation and a consideration for anyone who hires students as well as a consideration for students themselves.
While one attendee said that most (perhaps all) problems caused by students’ improper use of Facebook are already covered by existing policies, another attendee (perhaps the same one – my notes are not clear) asked if NYU had a policy prohibiting electronic misrepresentation. It was an excellent question and one that goes beyond Facebook and reaches what seems to me to be a core principle of honesty applicable in many general situations.
Anecdotes shared by the presenters and attendees revealed some inconsistencies and shortcomings in the experience and developmental levels of incoming students. While some students express disbelief about the idea that administrators and employers (i.e. non-peers) can and do view students’ profiles, others share their profiles openly and “friend” administrators in one moment and post incriminating information (such as photos of themselves drinking in the same profile that has their underaged-birthdate) in the next.
The common thread of “there are positive uses and we can’t lose sight of them!” ran through this session.
Are privacy settings really effective in a physically close-knit community (i.e. I surely know someone with whom your friends so I can just ask them to show me your profile)?
One attendee related how she not only checks her high-school-aged daughter’s Facebook account but she also Googles her daughter to see what other information is out there. She then deals with what she finds in an educational manner rather than a confrontation followed by demands. What a Mom!
Scribbled at the bottom of my notes on this session: “We’re too damned focused on this one service!”
The first session I attended on Tuesday morning was entitled “Have You Facebooked Astin Lately? Facebook’s Impact on Student Involvement” and it was presented by Ruth Harper and Greg Heiberger of South Dakota State University (SDSU). Greg actually did all of the presenting and I’m not sure why Ruth was included in the program (Give it more credibility since she has a doctorate? Change of plans since the program proposals are due many months before the conference itself?). Given the title and the implied connection between student development theory and Facebook, I was very excited to attend this session. It met expectations and was a great session.
Heiberger is a Student Activities administrator and Master’s student who has conducted original research at SDSU about students’ use of Facebook in relation to their involvement in student activities. Given his role in Student Activities, Heiberger focused on student involvement and related his Facebook research to Astin’s Involvement Theory and Tinto’s Departure Theory. In short, his concentration seems to be on questions like: “Is involvement increasing or decreasing? Or just changing form?”
His survey had 375 unique respondents and asked 20 questions with the eventual goal of longitudinal research. Some results of the survey include:
98% of respondents log in daily (contrast with 31% who use the SDSU MyStateonline portal each day)
Respondents spend an average of 1-2 hours each day on Facebook
Respondents log in to Facebook an average of 5 times each day, personal e-mail 3 times per day, and institutional e-mail 1 time per day
The number of logins positively correlates with the number of student organizations in which respondents reported they are active
This survey included some demographic data such as GPA but did not find a correlation between GPA and time spent on Facebook. However, Vanden Boogart did find a negative correlation between these factors in his research. Why did these two research efforts reach different conclusions? The major differences between them are (a) Vanden Boogart surveyed students at multiple campuses whereas Heiberger focused on one campus and (b) Heiberger performed his research more recently than Vanden Boogart. Therefore it’s possible that the difference is simply the difference between students at different campuses. More interestingly, however, is that we may be seeing an effect similar to that observed in the classic Internet Paradox and Internet Paradox Revisited papers: some negative effects of technology dissipate with time as users become more familiar with it. Like most things, this all requires more research and investigation.
There was a brief digression into a discussion of the role that Facebook and related education may play in the larger area of information literacy. Although the term “information literacy” was not used, it was the topic of conversation and another example of the language barriers between professions (in this case, student affairs and information science). The observation that there is a tie between the focused education in the area of Facebook (which is sometimes too narrowly focused, IMHO) and the larger topic of information literacy is an excellent observation and one deserving of further exploration.
In many discussions about Facebook, the students’ perception that “Facebook is our space” and staff are not welcome was noted. However, one attendee pointed out that this perception may change as new students enter our institutions who have grown up with increased parental and institutional awareness of and presence in Facebook and similar tools.
Other excellent quotes, questions, and examples (all quotes are from Heiberger unless otherwise noted):
“As responsible administrators, we are obligated to assess and evaluate technology and its effects on student development.”
“We must either assist in making it a positive developmental experience or risk its effects on our recruitment and retention rates and ultimately higher education’s value.” While I understand the point of this statement, it seems a bit extreme to me. There are many things that students do that we do not and should not “assist” or become involved with for ethical, practical, or legal reasons. Let’s not allow our zeal to care for and assist students to draw us into a parental, controlling, or protective role.
A student contacted Heiberger via Facebook, and only via Facebook, to inquire about starting a new student organization. This a curious mixture of contexts and crossing of boundaries (explicit student use of a “student-only” medium for performing an administrative function/process).
Students who “friend” staff members (including student staff members) may find themselves in unique and potentially uncomfortable situations as much of what they do is visible or even broadcast to their friends. One potential benefit, however, is the opportunity for the staff person to model proper behavior. The potential conflict of interest caused by students and staff “friending” one another was raised in multiple sessions throughout the conference, particularly in the context of student staff, graduate students, and new staff.
Do students (or users in general) use the number of friends, groups, messages, photos, etc. as a measure of status or self-worth? I think there may be some relevant research out there, particularly in the teen/MySpace arena and the placement of one’s Top 8 friends, but I can’t seem to recall the exact article(s)…
Does any institution use Facebook as a reflective tool? (Attendees at this session did not answer this question but in a different session a psychologist explained how she uses Facebook in group therapy sessions.)
Are there a significant number of students who belong to Facebook groups but have low participation rates in the physical group (don’t attend meetings, participate in activities, etc.)? Attendees claimed to know such students but no one (including myself) knew of any relevant research.
If we assume that our efforts to use Facebook to advertise events are successful, are participation rates increasing, too?
It seems to me that there were two dominant themes throughout this presentation and the subsequent discussion:
The role of Facebook in student involvement and the changing nature of involvement itself. For example, Heiberger said that Facebook’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Pool was an example of “engaging across the country versus across the room.” Although many university and college administrators and student employees are using Facebook and similar tools to advertise campus events and communicate with students and student groups, the larger questions of the changing nature of involvement and engagement must be asked and Heiberger and others performing research in that area are doing very interesting and necessary work.
Despite the negative media attention (much of it generated by student affairs and higher education, IMHO), there are many positive uses for Facebook and similar tools. In this session and in others, there was a pushback not just from the presenter but from attendees against the negative stereotypes and a call to recognize the potential for healthy, good, and productive uses of these tools.
Update: Ruth contacted me a few weeks ago to clarify her role in Greg’s research and presentation. She was the faculty member that supervised Greg’s research and helped put together the conference proposal. She told me that it’s standard practice at South Dakota State University for supervising faculty members signing on as the “coordinating presenter” for grad student presentations. Thanks for the clarification Ruth!
The third session I attended today was entitled “Students and Cell Phones: Exploring Their Use and Crafting Our Response.” The presentation was an overview of preliminary research conducted by a doctoral candidate from Emory University. Her research is a qualitative analysis of traditional students’ use of wireless phones based on interviews, journals, and analysis of phone bills. While the sample size of the initial research was tiny (5 students), the results are interesting and the presentation was fantastic.
Given the tiny size of the sample, I am hesitant to delve into specifics on the results of the research. However, the findings are not terribly surprising and reflect the common uses of wireless phones as ubiquitous and useful communication tools. In fact, the presentation largely focused on how similar our own usage patterns are to our students’. Following the discussion of the research results, Molyneaux enumerated some concrete ideas for student affairs administrators:
Students may need education and mentoring in particular skills that their uses of wireless phones show they lack or possess in inadequate measures. Such skills may include scheduling, patience, immediacy of expectations, and reflection.
Parents, too, may need to be taught new skills or convinced to improve already-possessed skills such as the ability to sift through large volumes of data/conversations and letting one’s child handle problems on his or her own.
Discussion from and among attendees was also interesting.
Although one attendee emphasized the need to “meet [students] where they are,” another stressed that her students were adamant that administrators must not too actively pursue SMS or other use of wireless phones as students perceive it as too personal or “theirs;” compare with the same sentiments and issues surrounding Facebook.
An idea with significant potential (it’s unclear if this idea has actually been put into practice or is merely an idea) is to use e-mail distribution lists with an SMS gateway to send mass SMS messages to groups of students. I’m pretty sure this has been done as it’s too simple and cheap to not have been done already.
When the question of “Does your institution have a policy regarding student use of phones when in 1:1 meeting with administrators or faculty?” arose, one attendee shared that she makes it a point to leave the room when students answer their phones in these situations. Before leaving, she tells them that “I know this call is important so I’ll leave you alone” and when she returns in 5-10 minutes she not only makes sure they know that their appointment will end at the scheduled time but also works the incident into the educational process as appropriate (the classic “teachable moment”). A different attendee followed up with the observation that staff members must also uphold respectful ethics of phone use and model proper behavior to which a faculty member replied that the most effective way to get his class to turn off their phones is to turn off his own phone in a very conspicious and noticeable manner.
During a discussion about the ethics of phone use (perhaps following the above discussion of phone use during meetings), an attendee described a student-initiated effort to make part of the library a “quiet zone” where wireless phone discussion are not allowed.