Yesterday, my co-author Allen Webb and I talked to Julie Prescott from Facebook. Julie is fairly new to the company (recent grad) and is working on researching academic uses of Facebook. As these things sometimes go, Julie’s mom knows Allen and his work, so our names were recommended. In any case, it was really enjoyable and compelling to talk to someone on the inside. Our conversation ranged over a number of topics, but I think came up with some great ideas. A few highlights:

  • It would be great if Facebook had an academic space or channel that remained separate from the main interface. The academic space would look a bit like the group feature, but would also incorporate third-party educational applications and remain at least partially disconnected, with events not reported in the news feed or on individual profile pages.
  • A number of really cool things could happen in the academic space on Facebook. It would be really cool, for instance, if educators could discover other educators teaching similar content, and then invite them to join cross-class and even cross-country conversations. Teachers and professors could invite authors and experts into their academic space; all could participate in threaded discussions, note writing, document sharing, video, audio, and image sharing, and more.
  • Third party developers could build some cool apps for this space, too. Allen and I imagined an application that automatically linked teachers/students to other teacher/students using the same text. You might just enter the ISBN of your text, for instance, and instantly see that it was being taught in five different schools in five different countries. We also thought that a homework application would be helpful. Students struggling in any topic (e.g., the quadratic formula) could enter that query and be connected instantly with other students (or teachers) studying the same topic. To some extent, Facebook users are already using it to do homework, so this would be a natural extension.
  • A really killer idea by Allen would be for Facebook to provide small mini-grants to teachers/professors who want to use Facebook in interesting new ways. The grant would be small (say $1000) and require very little paper work, but could push teachers who are naturally hesitant about social networking into using Facebook. Let’s face it, most teachers are pretty gun shy about social networking, given the media scare over cyber-bullying and sexual predation. Facebook would stand to gain by offering these small grants. Teachers could have something to show to colleagues to boot.

All in all, a very productive conversation. Thanks, Julie!