In their 2011 National Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, Educause reported that 90% of undergraduates use Facebook and 58% of undergraduates use the site several times a day. For those of you familiar with Facebook’s history, this makes sense. Facebook was created by a few creative college students so that could interact with one another. In the beginning days of Facebook’s existence, someone needed a college email address to even join the site. Eventually, people outside of academic environments were allowed in and the site exploded into the multi-billion dollar company that it is today. The site now has over 850 million active users and is available in over 70 languages.
Last week, however, Facebook went back to its roots by announcing Groups for Schools. With Groups for Schools, students and faculty members at collegiate institutions can create groups to allow interaction and collaboration. Groups for Schools will allow members to create events, message other members and stay up-to-date on what’s happening around campus. The most interesting feature is a new file sharing option that isn’t currently available in the Facebook architecture. With the Files option, members can share lecture notes, assignments, schedules and many other file types with other members of a school group. Anyone in a school group can upload and download files (up to 25 Mb) within that group. Even though the file size is relatively small, I expect many school organizations to use the Groups for Schools feature mainly to tap into the cloud storage for their members. It’s like Dropbox has come to Facebook!
For those of you who might be interested in using Groups for Schools, Facebook offers three kinds of school groups with different levels of privacy and sharing options.
Open: Anyone can see an open group, and who’s in it. Members of the school community can also see or post updates, photos, files and events shared within the group.
Closed: Anyone can see a closed group, and who’s in it. Only members of a closed group can see or post updates, photos, events and files.
Secret: Only members of a secret group can see the group, who’s in it and what members post and share.
While some people may be concerned that students could create a “secret” group to share information and files, I think the option will be helpful for school organizations who are trying to plan events and share materials without worrying about non-members’ interaction. Before getting too excited about creating groups for your institution though, I suggest checking the Facebook Groups for Schools page to see if the feature is available for your institution yet.