In a throwback to its college-only days, Facebook has launched a new type of group for schools that requires an active “.edu” email address to join.
Within individual schools’ Groups for Schools pages, its students and faculty members can exchange files, create events and message each other.
Aside from creating school-based online communities, the pages mainly serve as hubs for campus-related subgroups. From them, students can browse, search for and create these subgroups. Facebook makes recommendations on which ones to join based on classes and activities.
The social network has not, however, incorporated existing groups into these subgroup listings. So while I am already in a Northwestern Triathlon group on Facebook, that group doesn’t show up within the “Groups at Northwestern” page. Instead, the page requests that I create a new triathlon subgroup.
When Facebook transitioned from being a platform for only college students to a platform for everybody, it lost some of the features that made it most valuable to students. There was once, for instance, a classes feature on Facebook that students could use to connect with other students in their lectures. It was also easy to search for other students within their schools who lived in the same dorm or shared their interests.
Groups for Schools will create class, dorm and club groups that could help Facebook return to a similar campus role. While many such groups have already been created through Facebook’s general group feature, they haven’t been formally organized until now.
Startups have developed apps that turn Facebook into a better online center for school activities, homeworkand campus in general. A Facebook app by a startup called Inigral, for instance, charges schools between $10,000 and $50,000 each year to create a closed community of their students within Facebook.
“Students know that they are likely to find many of their peers on the site, and unlike email or course management services like Blackboard, students can find out more about one another through the profile in addition to sending messages and coordinating events,” wrote Nicole Ellison, an Assistant Professor at Michigan State University, in a 2010 Facebook blog post about a survey she conducted with students about education and Facebook. “The use of Facebook to support learning inside and outside the classroom may be an untapped resource for instructors and students. In our survey, about one-third of respondents said they wished that Facebook had more tools to help them with their schoolwork.”