Blog Posts

Facebook Graph Search and Higher Education (Or Why You Should Care About More than T. Swift and Drake)

Today I readthis post that Liz Gross wrote on the opportunities Facebook Graph Search presents for college campuses. To summarize, Liz shares that many of the social graph results gives colleges and universities the opportunity to gather a more in depth look at their student population. She gives examples searches such as, "People who like UW-Madison and are in high school and live in Milwaukee", and "Music  people who attend Bridgewater State University listen to". To the last one she says,

A campus activities group could plan what bands to invite to campus to ensure a higher turnout. In case you’re curious, the top results are Taylor Swift, Drake, Kenny Chesney, and Eminem.

Now, I am going to pause here to say that I do not disagree with the points Liz is making in her post. Liz works as a social media manager with experience in marketing at a university, so the ideas in her post clearly align with her interests and areas of research. However, my issue is this: if we allow ourselves as higher education/student affairs professionals to view the best use of social network technologies as a way to decide between a Taylor Swift or Drake concert, we will never successfully engage with our students via technology channels.Image

Screen shot 2013-01-24 at 1.31.50 PM

While reading a recent NY Times article on LGBTQIA students, this phrase stuck with me, "she first heard the term “bi-gender” from Kate, who found it on Tumblr." If that doesn't blow your mind, go back and read it again. Let it sink in. Students enrolling on our campuses are using social network technologies to develop and understand their personal identities. Students who are going to come us as advisors, professors, mentors, and figures of authority in the ivory tower, and want to discuss these issues of identity formation and intersecting lines between personal lives, public lives, and digital citizenship (perhaps that is all actually the same thing).

Again and again I read/hear the ninjas, gurus, experts, mavens, folks in higher ed who are above the average on the technology curve talk about "convincing" the "other" folks on campus why they need to "buy in to" and use technology. My thoughts are this, if we as the "experts" continually use technology in ways that do not stretch our limits, if we are providing information that is in other ways self-evident, why should we expect them to care? Technology has revolutionized communication, how can we grab onto this and revolutionize the way we communicate with students?

I think the most important post from Liz's post is actually one she never addresses -- when explaining why she does not use screenshots, she says it's due to the "amount of personal information the searches revealed about people I didn't know". Take a look at this awesome tumblr that popped up the other day.

Image from Actual Facebook Graph Searches

Much like this Diversity Officer from Gallaudet who received wide spread criticism for signing an anti-gay petition, Facebook Graph Searches social network technologies mean (among many other things) that our own identities, conflicting interests, political views, etc. are viewed in a more public arena than ever before. "Personal information about people we don't know" is now the norm. What is not lost on me, is that we have the ability to influence this impact on higher education by being intentional and thoughtful about how we use this information. Do we raise money for Taylor Swift, or do we have open dialogues around ways that traditional gender roles continue to be perpetuated through online media? Do we scramble for ways to submit budget requests for ipads, or are we looking at the ways our campus technology use can actually increase the social class gap among our students?