UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Social Networking Article in Forthcoming Education Guardian

Posted by Brian Kelly on 2 May 2007

I have just had a phone call from a Guardian reporter who is writing an article for the Education Guardian which is due to be published next Tuesday.

Her feature is about “academics who argue that universities should relax their constraints on students’ use of MSN, MySpace and Facebook. They say these sites can actually be helpful for students and even help their academic work.” She asked for my views on why universities are imposing constraints on use of such services – and was, I think, somewhat taken aback when I suggested that many universities have moved on over the past few years and are acknowledging the potential benefits of such services. I gave example of the survey carried out by Edinburgh University of IT Service department policies on use of MSN Messenger. Although the report was internal to the University of Edinburgh, I did receive a copy, which included some great quotations such as the following which I used in a talk I gave on What Can Internet Technologies Offer? at the UCISA Management Conference way back in March 2004:

IM … is ‘here to stay’ – an ‘unstoppable tide’. Seen as part of youth culture, along with … SMS” – Liverpool John Moores University
Students will arrive familiar with, and expecting to .. use such tools. Email seen by younger people to be ‘boring’, ‘full of spam’, IM and SMS immediacy preferred” – University of Bath

From subsequent talks I’ve given to senior managers in IT Services (the most recent one on “Web 2.0: How Should IT Services and the Library Respond?“) I’ve got the feeling that, at a senior management level, IT Services are willing to embrace use of such technologies, leaving it to the academics to discuss the learning benefits and the challenges of assessing use of the services. And others have put it to me that it is actually other academics who would like to see such technologies based, and not the service departments. This was how I finished my contribution to yesterday’s Webinar on Web 2.0 for content sharing for learning and teaching in which I gave a talk on Content Creation: Web 2.0 Is Providing The Solution!.

Have IT Services redefined themselves, or does the management rhetoric fail to be implemented by the staff who are responsible for implementing such policies? And am I missing out on the general trends? Perhaps we are better served, in this respect, by BUCS, the Bath University Computing Service than other institutions?

4 Responses to “Social Networking Article in Forthcoming Education Guardian”

  1. I would think many Universities have moved on in accepting these technologies and the benefits of them. At Edge Hill, for example, we’re not only allowing our students to use them we’re positively encouraging it and not just for learning.

    The Academics and Learning Technologists do indeed have a role to play but I think we (IT Services/Marketing) also have a role to utilise these tools to support students (and enquirers/applicants) in these more ‘informal’ environments.

  2. […] More: Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) […]

  3. After suggesting to the journalist that many universities are engaging with Web 2.0 technologies, I think she decided that there wasn’t scope for an interesting story. Instead the article on It’s a world of possibilities covered the potential of Second Life in e-learning. The story included contributions from Andy Powell at Eduserve and David Harrison, chair of UCISA – both of whom I suggested as useful contacts.

  4. I think this was the UCISA poll they used:

    I say, “they” because even though I am working at the University of Edinburgh, I was not on the short life working party for this one. However, it is little ole me that keeps the whole of the University up to date with this application (as well as a great deal of the rest of the apps here!).

    I think the biggest problem between upper management and the implementers in these cases is resource. Yes, management can see the advantages and all that of the technology, but having IM as a service can be a resource hog, especially if you are rolling out several of the clients (and especially since the likes of Yahoo and Microsoft will sometimes kill versions and say “you must upgrade to log on” – in which case it becomes a category 1 critical incident, because the students WILL complain!).

    Obviously, do this and this service has a major flaw in that someone like a student can’t find out what their classmate’s ID is without asking them, so going above that you could implement something like Jabber, put it through your institution’s single-sign-on. Better, but 2 flaws: that’s a big project by now, and you still upset the students who have friends on MSN or Yahoo.

    Go even further up in the resource stakes, and you could implement something like Office Live Meeting, but then in order to get the most out of it, you have to start thinking about integrating a VOIP solution in, integrating your Exchange (or equivilant) service in and that’s not just a major project, that’s a strategy!

    The thing is, there are 2 easier ways out. Firstly, “Windows Live @ edu” ( Pretty much all you want, and as free as you are going to get that sort of solution for. However, you’ll make the Anyone-But-Microsoft crowd that exist at Universities mad.

    The other thing? Do absolutely nothing. It really doesn’t matter what University policies are regarding this (unless its tied to either disciplinary procedures or a baseball bat!) – users will use IM anyway. Gmail has it built in, Hotmail has it built in, there’s MSN Web Messenger (, Yahoo Web Messenger (, AIM express (, meebo ( and countless more. This genie is out of the bottle…

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