Learning in a Facebook environment : the writing is on the wall.
This thesis explores how students learn in a Facebook learning environment. While e-learning environments offer many new opportunities to engage in learning, these new spaces are still largely unexplored and the purview of students more than lecturers. This is even more so the case when it comes to the recent emergence of Web 2.0 technologies and specifically Social Network Systems. These spaces, originally conceived for social agendas, are increasingly being applied to a variety of other uses. Recently the application of not designed- for-learning environments to formal learning has begun to be explored. Most notable amongst these emergent spaces is Facebook, the largest single website, with over 1 billion users. Facebook, unlike traditional e-learning environments, represents a departure both technologically and paradigmatically from what is normally used by universities. Technologically Facebook is not institutionally hosted or controlled. Paradigmatically it is built around conversations and not organisation and artefacts. Using an affordance theoretical framing based on the Latourian concept of actants, the actant action opportunities arising from the students’ use of Facebook are explored. This analysis revealed the existence of a dynamic web of interacting affordances that push and pull against each other as students use the environment. This conversation-based approach to learning shifts learning from correct content to correcting content, from artefact to conversation, and from prospective to retrospective sense. The key tenets of learning in a Facebook environment, as identified through the Latourianbased lens, exist in the notion of “between”. In addition to the affordance tensions the students navigate, is the interplay between a learning discourse and a power discourse. The learning discourse itself is also framed by the interplay between vulnerability and validation. Students make themselves vulnerable through posts, and thereby open up opportunities to learn through the validation of subsequent comments. At the same time the learning discourse is interwoven with the power discourse, where decisions and actions are no longer autocratically or democratically enacted, but rather homeocratically through retrospective sanction of small evolving actions. Using Facebook as a learning environment signals the emergence of a new theoretical perspective for learning, one that is founded, not on organised, deterministic, artefactual principles, but rather on networks of retrospective conversation-based learning. These new environments which challenge not only our conceptions of the place of learning, but also our paradigms of learning, operate in a realm of uncertainty, something that in most respects is foreign to university learning environments.