This is the second of a series of posts reflecting on seminars I attended at the recent IH Portugal Training Day.  Click the link to read the first post on “Class Management by Carol Crombie“.

FACEBOOK

Robert Dickson & Stephen Wardle

IH Lisbon

For some time now, I’ve been experimenting with a number of web tools, attempting to create an online environment for my learners – an extension of the classroom, an alternative channel of communication, a shared resource….  and the conclusion I came to fairly early on was that facebook was probably the best means of achieving this.  After all, why reinvent the wheel?  Everyone’s already on facebook – so it should be easy!

Robert & Stephen’s seminar looked at the “whys” and the “hows” of using facebook, but perhaps more importantly, it also looked at the “should we-s” – the things to think about before connecting with your learners outside the classroom.

The Whys

  • Everybody’s already on it.  845 million monthly active users (whatever that means) as of the 1st January 2012.  Chances are most of your students are too….
  • If they’re on it, they probably know more about it than you do.
  • Most of the technological tools you might want to use with your classes are available via facebook or via facebook apps.
    • Status updates allow for efficient communication & posting of lesson content etc
    • discussions via the comments feature on lesson content etc
    • events / calendar tools for deadlines, tests, assessments etc
    • video and picture sharing for discussion and comment
    • chat – you could make yourself available for a homework helper hour
  • Educator friendly facebook apps:  Robert & Stephen recommend “docs.com”, which allows fellow subscribers to access shared documents via facebook, as being good for homework / lesson reviews.  The Pearson School Systems blog has a post with five further handy apps to investigate and Brian Jenkins at TeachHub has more “Awesome Facebook Apps for Educators“, though I don’t agree with his choice of the various simulation games as being particularly educational – these sound like things for learners to discover on their own time to me!

The Whats

Robert and Stephen suggest the following uses:

  • a record of work covered in classes
  • highlighting core lesson vocabulary
  • highlighting core grammar
  • homework reminders
  • important term reminders
  • exam practice activities
  • links to external practice sites
  • providing a “safe” online communication environment
  • developing group rapport

Back in November I posted “What to do with wikis – an ELT perspective” which (amongst other things) looked at what you can use wikis for – if you scroll down the post until you get to Integrated Wiki Use and read on from there – there might be a few more ideas that are applicable to facebook use as well.

The Hows

There seem to be differing opinions out there as to whether teachers should connect with students using their personal facebook profile or whether they should create a professional facebook profile.  Note – I’m deliberately not using the terms “real” and “fake” as I don’t think it accurately reflects the distinction between inside and outside the classroom.

Facebook themselves are quite hot on the issue – you are yourself and that’s it.  No “alternative” profiles are allowed.  However, most teachers seem to feel that the classroom door represents that dividing line between what students see and what they don’t.

Looking at what most educators out there suggest (see below for relevant links), the professional profile approach seems to be the consensus – though it should be noted that facebook have quite good techniques for working out whether you are a real person or not.  To this end, many people suggest creating a professional persona email address and using this to create a professional facebook profile.  Give your professional email address to the students and tell them to use it to search for you and to “friend” you.  Duly accept their friend requests and having done this, create a “closed” group by inviting the relevant students into the group.

Voila – you now have a facebook group for your class!  You can invite more people later on, but when you start a group, you can only do it by inviting people who are your friends.  To check out the differences between “closed”, “open” and “secret” groups – read the entry under “What are the privacy options for groups?

The Should We-s

The first thing to find out is whether all your students have a facebook account.  If not why not?  Is it personal choice or parental preference?  Would they be willing to set up a “professional profile” to join in?  If not – be very careful how you proceed – it would be incredibly exclusionary to continue and set up a group without the participation of the whole class.

Actually – the first thing to find out is how old the students are – if they’re under 13 years old then under the terms of Facebook’s registration and account security (point 5) – they shouldn’t be using facebook at all.  Even if they have an account, it wouldn’t be ethical to work with them on facebook.

Does your school have a policy relating to online interaction with students?  What about your country?  Does this have data protection or privacy implications?  Do you need to get parental permission slips signed?  It might be worth kicking this upstairs to the school DoS or school director just to make sure there are no objections!

What rules are going to govern the conduct of learners in the online environement?  Will it be English only?  What about mickey taking or mucking about?  How is inappropriate content defined?  What happens in the event of cyber-bullying?

In some respects these are the advantages of the professional profile and of the closed group – it means the teacher only needs to react to events as they occur within the group.  In my view the group is an extension of the classroom and classroom rules and procedures apply.  But again, it might be worth clarifying that with your DoS…

Looking at all these considerations – it’s quite tempting to think that the whole thing is just too much hassle – but I don’t think that’s the case, it’s more that you need to be aware of these things rather than worrying about them constantly.

Other Links and Further Reading:

Not surprisingly – quite a few people have written on their experiences with using facebook within education – and some of them have written guides!

Amber Coggin’s “Facebook Pages & Groups for Educators” (pdf download) is an easy to read guide on what facebook is and how to set up pages and groups – as well as ideas on policy guidelines and considerations, though as this was written for a local school board in Alabama (USA), these considerations might differ depending on your context.  She also runs through using third party social media management software like tweetdeck and hootsuite.

There’s also the “official” facebook for educators guide (pdf download) – which is stronger in the theory department – it is essential reading for consideration of the issues and thinking about the whys and wherefores – but isn’t immensely practical.  That said, they di provide links to a number of educational facebook pages and pages set up for educational professional development.  It also seems aimed more at a US audience (though alternate national links are provided) and again, should be critically evaluated for your context.

Edudemic posts “Every Teacher’s must-have guide to Facebook” which includes a practical pdf (Scribd) guide on how to do it, a you tube video on “How (not) to suck @ facbook” and an infographic on what teachers should try and avoid doing on facebook!

The Edublogger has an exceptionally novice friendly “The Why and How of Using Facebook For Educators – No Need to be Friends At All!” – step by step guides through all the main procedures and a nice comparison of the advantages of pages vs groups.  Also worth a read.

OnlineCollege.org has an amazing article: “100 ways you should be using facebook in your classroom” – if you’re going to use facebook with your classes – you need to read this.  It does date to 2009, so I’m not sure how much of it is still valid – facebook’s been through a couple of revamps since then – but there’s an impressive range of things you can do – whether you should or not is another question, but this will definitely give you lots of ideas and they include links to other sites that give more detail about the “how to” side of things.

In a similar vein is Paul Boutin’s New York Times article: 12 things you didn’t know facebook could do. Though this is aimed more at non-educators, there’s some useful hints and tips – not least for those trying to maintain the dividing line between personal and professional.

For even more resources and links to pages discussing facebook use in education – Larry Ferlazzo has a compiled “A Beginning List Of The Best Resources For Learning About Facebook” – if you haven’t fund what you wanted to know in this post already – you almost certainly will by visiting Larry’s!

In the interests of balance – there are things to beware of with facebook, here’s PCMag’s “When Facebook gets creepy” and finally, a cautionary tale or two:  be careful what you say and be particularly careful with what you do (or at least with what you let people take pictures of you doing).

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