Facebook returns to its roots with Groups for Schools

Facebook will alert students when their college joins Student Groups.

Facebook has a peace offering for every college student who resents the social media giant for opening the site to their parents: new pages known as Student Groups that will only be accessible for Facebook members with official “.edu” eMail addresses.

In a throwback to the nascent days of the world’s most popular social networking website, Facebook announced April 11 that its newest feature, Student Groups, would create specific pages that could only be joined by students or faculty members from that campus.

Students will be able to share files—including lecture notes, schedules, assignments, and photos—on their university Facebook page. Students who register on their college or university Student Groups page can communicate with group members without being their friend on Facebook.

The .edu eMail addresses must be active, so when students leave the campus community and their school eMail address is deactivated, they will no longer have access to the Student Groups page. In its announcement, Facebook said it would alert students when their school page was available in Student Groups.

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The closed, student-centric environment that allows file sharing and collaboration led to some speculation among social media observers that Facebook had rolled out the first phase of a learning management system (LMS), but Facebook officials who spoke to a blogger hours after Student Groups was unveiled said that wasn’t the case.

“Facebook … isn’t attempting to break into the education-software space, instead focusing on more general collaboration tools that can be applied to multiple functions,” wrote Dieter Bohn, a blogger who interviewed two Facebook spokespeople for The Verge, a technology site.

A Facebook spokeswoman said the company would “likely” contract outside web developers to “build more specific educational systems” within the new Student Groups platform.

“Our focus is on helping facilitate communication,” said Kate McEwan, a Facebook spokeswoman. “Groups for schools was just a natural product evolution for us.”

Facebook’s Student Groups pages asks members to select a college or university, the dormitory in which they live, and campus clubs they have joined, among other questions.

Student Groups will also display “facepiles”—collections of profile pictures from a person’s Facebook friend list—throughout the sign-up process.

Jackie Cohen, a blogger for the site AllFacebook, which tracks the social media company’s every move, said the Student Groups feature will include a “much-needed layer of security” that could protect against a rash of recent malware attacks involving fake alumni groups designed to trick Facebook members.

Cohen wrote that malware was sometimes spread through marketers or botnets posing as former college classmates.

Facebook was accessible only by people with valid “.edu” eMail addresses when the site was launched in 2004. Since then, Facebook has allowed anyone with an eMail address—academic or otherwise—to create a profile.

The site now has more than 800 million active users, including 425 million who use Facebook’s mobile application.

“At its core, [Student Groups is] about making it easier to form smaller sub-communities within the gigantic monster that is Facebook,” Bohn wrote. “The net effect is to make Facebook feel a bit more like it did in the very early days when it was only available to college students.”

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