When people ask me, “What’s PikiFriends?” I usually start off with something like, “It’s kinda like Facebook, but for jr/sr high school students only.”
The F-word makes people imagine an online community, which PikiFriends is. But I argue that Facebook, and many others like it, are inappropriate for education in many instances for many reasons. I know that lots of teachers are using it well, so before you jump all over me, please allow me to explain. I’m talking about requiring the use of Facebook within secondary school curriculum and why I believe it’s not a good idea.
I’m going to briefly talk about safety issues when using an SNS in school, and then I’ll contrast Facebook and PikiFriends in this article. I’m well aware there are other programs out there, some of which are built for education purposes. But as my 1 year old daughter is clinging to my leg as I type this, I think I’ll just use Facebook and PikiFriends as examples for now.
You probably don’t have 9 minutes to spare, but I’d like to point you to our PikiFriends safety video above. I describe general safety concerns about using an SNS in schools, and then in the riveting finale, I present 10 reasons why PikiFriends is particularly safe.
I also want to point you to a brilliant article by Nancy Willard. I love this woman. You have to read this, it will change the way you think about using social media. Her main message in this article is:
"DO NOT sell out your students to the market profilers!"
She’s a mystery to me though, because it seems like she’s disappeared since 2010. I can only hope we see a lot more of her because her research skills and intelligence are off the charts.
For more about why I wouldn’t use Facebook in my classes, read on.
Main Differences of Facebook & PikiFriends
Who can use it?
Facebook is for absolutely everyone over 13 years old. That includes pedophiles, neo-Nazis, anarchists, oh, the humanity. It also lets in a massive amount of 3rd parties, who make apps of all kinds. Some are subversive, deceitful and downright evil. Do you want to associate all of this with your curriculum?
PikiFriends is for accredited jr/sr high school teachers and students only. That’s it.
Who can sign up?
Everyone 13 years old and up can sign up for Facebook. Obviously many very young people also sign up, it’s easy to do.
Only jr/sr high school teachers can sign up for PikiFriends. After that, they add their students. Students do not sign up.
Personal contact info required to join
Go to Facebook’s homepage and you’ll see they require your first and last name, email address, and birthday. Use it for a while and if you’re not careful you’ll enter a lot more, leaving quite the digital footprint.
PikiFriends requires teachers to give their email address, school name, school URL, and school email address if available. But for students, PikiFriends does not require any real information whatsoever. This is because teachers sign up and manage their students (they can use aliases if they wish) and all student contact info is unnecessary.
What languages can be used?
Facebook is meant for everyone, and supports hundreds of languages. Clearly Mr. Zuckerberg’s plan to rule the world is working well.
PikiFriends is meant for English speakers and learners only. We don’t have built-in translation tools or spell checkers because we want students to engage in active language learning in an immersive environment, and they need to make efforts instead of letting computers do the work. Limited use of other languages is tolerated, but character-based languages (such as Chinese or Arabic) are not supported within the program intentionally (in other words you can not enter Chinese, Arabic, Korean and other non-alphabetical characters).
3rd party information sharing
PikiFriends does not share any information with 3rd parties or have ads. What user info do we have to share, anyway? Uh, lots of our users really like Justin Bieber, want to be architects, and have dogs and cats. We don’t know where they live or how to contact them. What’s that worth to the target marketers? Nothing? Good.
Facebook has a huge amount of features, and they did a great job making it look and feel simple. But to properly set up a class you’ve gotta get in there and do a lot of fiddling around. That’s a big hurdle for the average teacher. And for students, there are endless distractions to click here and there and everywhere, I should know because I do it too.
In comparison PikiFriends has very few features. For teachers, this difference is really important when it comes to keeping things safe and manageable. Simple is best for blended learning in my opinion, although some teachers may need more features than PikiFriends offers to match their objectives.
What if a hacker breaks in?
Those meddlesome hackers. They’re a fact of life, so we have to watch out. If a hacker broke in to Facebook they can steal LOTS of juicy data.
Pikifriends users aren’t allowed to post any contact info at all, and there’s no contact info on our servers for any students. They could come in, but it would be a waste of their time. Our students can’t become targets.
Hidden messaging, chats
Facebook has chatting and private messaging features. Have you heard of the so-called ‘Facebook law’ in Missouri?
PikiFriends doesn’t have features that break any ‘laws.’ On PikiFriends, all interactions are visible by everyone, no matter if you’re a ‘friend’ or not. This makes a huge impact on safety and potential risky behavior. I personally believe it’s one of the main reasons why we have had so few, and such minor, incidences of students using foul language, and usually it’s by non-English speakers making a mistake which others kindly report. We have such a wonderful and open community of young people.
Blocked on campus?
Many school districts block the use of Facebook on their networks.
PikiFriends is Flash-based (for now, but hopefully someday we’ll get an HTML5 version going), so we don’t get blocked as far as I know. Sometimes teachers have to update the Flash Player on student computers, which can require getting in touch with the ‘tech guy’ and going through some hoops. It’s crazy that something so simple can be a stumbling block, but it’s happened.
Facebook is intended for everyone, and while setting up a class can be done, it’s not nearly as simple as PikiFriends.
PikiFriends has the unique “School Organizer” which was built specifically for jr/sr high school teachers to manage their students. Learn about it in our video “PikiFriends Features for Teachers” on our YouTube channel. You can keep track of your student data in ways that help teachers assess students.
I’m not aware of any set curriculum for using Facebook in schools, but there probably are some lesson plans around.
PikiFriends has one, and it rocks. (Disclosure: it’s optional and how we survive; use of the website is free.)
Blurring of teacher and student personal lives
Teachers and students most likely have a Facebook account already, which means things can get messy. Teachers have to be really careful not to make the wrong connections. Fortunately Facebook users can create a separate page or group for their classroom and set up the privacy to keep it safe, but there are many “don’ts” you have to worry about such as don’t friend your students, don’t chat with students, don’t message students, etc..
PikiFriends is a separate entity from all other platforms, there is no potential linking of your other accounts, and no worry about what privacy settings you need because it’s all safe and open.
In a nutshell
Just because your students are already using Facebook on their own doesn’t make it right to use in schools. I believe it is completely inappropriate for teachers to incorporate Facebook in their classrooms with students under the age of 18. I know many teachers are using Facebook in positive ways with minors, but perhaps they don’t understand the potential dangers. PikiFriends and other tools have many of Facebook’s features without the risks or complications.