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Facebook In The Classroom. Seriously.

by Kelly Walsh on March 27, 2011

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Do Popular Social Networking Applications Have A Place In The Classroom? A Growing Number Of Educators Say ‘Yes’.

The post, “100 Ways To Teach With Twitter”, is one of the most consistently viewed article on this site. Similarly, “Facebook As An Instructional Technology Tool”, resulted in the 2nd most trafficked day here in 2010. While Facebook and Twitter are both hugely popular Internet tools, I still find myself a little surprised by the popularity of these posts, considering the academic perspective of this site. Many teachers, even those at online universities, are hesitant to use such popular tools, given their inherent risk of exposing students to inappropriate content.

Of course these are two very different types of tools, but they both have their place in the social networking sphere. Facebook’s place is at the top of the heap (as of this writing it is the second most popular site on the Internet, right behind Google), while Twitter defined the genre of ‘microblogging’ (but much of its use is also in a social networking context).

It appears that Twitter is more widely used in the classroom, based on the volume of articles about this topic that I have come across. One obvious reason for this difference is that Facebook is limited to ages 13 and over, while Twitter has no age restrictions. Facebook is also more likely to be restricted on school networks. Perhaps if teachers were more aware of how a Facebook page and profiles can be configured to provide an appropriate level of privacy for course work, they (and school administrators) might be more open to considering it’s use (more on that below). Of course, there are also other educational scenarios that lend themselves more readily to a tool like Facebook, such as online universities and online courses.

Here are a few of the examples of Facebook playing a productive role in the classroom that I have come across. I will be doing a presentation at Campus Technology 2011 in Boston this July about the use of popular social networking applications in the classroom and I will discuss examples like these, and others that I learn about in the coming months.

  • Professor Gideon Burton’s work with Facebook: I first learned about Professor Burton from student Kristen Nicole. She commented, “In my British Literary History course last winter semester, my professor created a class facebook group which we all joined.  We’d finish our reading for class and then get online and write a paragraph about what we’d read, focusing our comments on the specific course aims that my professor had created for the class.  We would then go to class where my professor would note the ways in which we’d covered the material well and he’d teach anything we missed as well as anything else he wanted us to know.” I collaborated with Kristen to write this popular post about this experience, and Professor Burton later weighed in and commented. Click here to visit a Facebook discussion group for one of Professor Burton’s Early British Lit classes.
  • University of South Florida teacher uses Facebook in class: I recently came across this article about USF graduate student Alessandro Cesarano, who teaches a Beginning Spanish class, and uses Facebook for homework assignments and class discussions in lieu of Blackboard. Cesarano says, “I like the Facebook page better than Blackboard because students have more access to authentic cultural material, and I don’t have to waste class time teaching them how to use a new program because many of them already use Facebook.”
  • Texas Kindergarten Teacher communicating with Parents via Facebook: Kindergarten teacher Matt Gomez wrote a couple posts on his blog, mattgomez.posterous.com, about his use of Facebook as a tool to communicate with parents. In this post, he explained that he had, “been toying with the idea of the page for several months. The main reason is Facebook has 500 million+ users. This is a tool that most parents know how to use and use on a consistent basis. Why struggle to make parents visit your website or blog when you can meet them in a place they already visit online?” In this post, he provides some observations about how it worked out.
  • Classroom 2.0 Discussion Forum: This discussion thread has a number of comments from educators who have used Facebook in the educational setting, such as these comments from …
    • Jason Graham: “I’ve been using FaceBook with grade 1 …….yes grade 1. Most of the parents are on FB so its a convenient way to communicate with them, and they can send private messages as well. Most of the parents are busy on the go people who use their Blackberries and FB, Twitter etc to communicate. Its convenient for all. Plus it provides a digital record.”
    • Anne De Manser: “I use facebook with my students in several ways. I find it is a great way to provide positive role modelling in an online environment by making positive comments on their facebook walls and by providing them a window into the way my ‘public ‘ face looks online. It’s just another way of communicating and building relationships with our school community.”

Setting Up a Facebook Group for Your Class
If you wish to learn more about how best to configure things in Facebook for use in a course based application, here are a few resources that provide guidance.

First, there is this document (link no longer working – KW 2/20/12) from Elon University, which offers details on how to set up profiles and course content, following this basic approach:

  1. Create a teacher profile separate from your personal profile
  2. Ask  students to create a limited profile with controlled settings, and to friend your new teacher profile
  3. Create Lists & Groups for your classes
  4. The document then goes on to discuss how to use various Facebook tools as part of the instructional process

You may also want to watch these YouTube videos from “JayDsfsu“, which illustrate “The Basics of a Facebook Page for Educators“, “Privacy on Facebook for Educators“, “Setting Up a Facebook Group for Your Class“, and more.

Other ideas for using Facebook in the classroom
For those interested in giving Facebook a shot as part of their instructional process, here’s a few more sources of ideas about thing you might want to try:

ARE YOU USING FACEBOOK IN THE CLASSROOM? Please be sure to let us know about it! In the next few weeks we’ll continue this dialogue about Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking apps in the classroom, including some that are designed specifically for education. I’d love to hear, and share, your success story with these types of tools, so please don’t hesitate to reach out, either in a comment below, or through the contact page. Thanks!

Related Posts (if the above topic is of interest, you might want to check these out):
Facebook as an Instructional Technology Tool
5 Reasons Why Educators Need To Embrace Internet Technologies
100 Ways to Teach With Twitter

About 

Kelly Walsh is Chief Information Officer and a faculty member at The College of Westchester in White Plains, NY and is the founder and author of EmergingEdTech.com. As an education technology advocate, he frequently delivers presentations on a variety of related topics at schools and conferences across the U.S. Walsh is also an author, and online educator, periodically running Flipped Class Workshops online. His latest eBook, the Flipped Classroom Workshop-in-a-Book was published in September, 2013 and is available here. In his spare time Walsh also writes, records, and performs original (and cover) songs (look for "K. Walsh" on iTunes or Amazon.com or check out his original song videos on here on YouTube ).

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