#IHPortugal Training Day: Facebook in the Classroom

7 Feb

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“.


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).


20 Responses to “#IHPortugal Training Day: Facebook in the Classroom”

  1. Maria Bossa Tuesday 7 February 2012 at 21:33 #

    Hello dear you all!
    My name is Maria and I’m from Argentina. Last year, my dear colleague Ayat Al-Tawel from Egypt and I did a collaboration project using not only Facebook but also Skype with our students. We created a Facebook group called “ArgentEgypt”. We had wonderful experiences with it and we gave an online presentation at Webheads in Action. You can follow the link if you want to listen to us http://learning2gether.posterous.com/ayat-al-tawel-and-maria-bossa-discuss-their-s
    You can also see some pics at http://photopeach.com/album/17qcpq4 and
    We will be giving another one at Becoming a Webhead 2012
    (http://home.learningtimes.net/learningtimes?go=27366) this coming Wed Feb 8 at 15 GMT
    Smiles from Argentina, Maria 🙂

    • David Petrie Wednesday 8 February 2012 at 10:09 #

      Hi Maria,
      Thanks for sharing the outcomes of your project! It’s a really nice modern spin on the pen pals idea and a great way for learners from different countries to interact with each other in a safe environment.
      I won’t be able to make this afternoon’s webinar (teaching) – but I hope it goes well!
      Thanks for commenting,

      • Maria Bossa Wednesday 8 February 2012 at 17:34 #

        Thank you David! I hope to hear from you soon!! Smiles, Maria 🙂

  2. Tyson Seburn Wednesday 8 February 2012 at 03:25 #

    This is a very comprehensive collection of Facebook information and pro-links that address almost any issue you can think of! I have interacted with students on Facebook insofar as through my school or program’s group/page. I’ve more often suggested students themselves form their own Facebook group to collaborate (or maybe commiserate!) in English outside our classroom. It really works well if a heterogeneous group. As more students enter the program, it can widen the group to include a larger degree of level, negotiation of meaning and interesting discussion.

    The one time I have used Facebook was actually to practice form-filling, like you might at on an application form, but in a more relevant, immediate and continuous context. The form I’m talking about really is the profile page. This produce quite a good amount of language. In one class, I even gave guidance as to the type of language they should attempt to use in their profiles for practice, and then gave feedback on its use.

    • David Petrie Wednesday 8 February 2012 at 10:17 #

      Hi Tyson,
      thanks for the kind comment! I try to be thorough – but the original input from Robert & Stephen was also quite comprehensive!

      I think the problem with suggesting that students do the group by themselves is that you don’t necessarily have any input or control over what goes on in that group – with adult / young adult classes this is not necessarily a problem but with younger learners there is a duty of care involved and I think if as a teacher you suggest it, it then becomes an extension of your responsibilities and you need to police what goes on!

      I really like the idea of using facebook as a linguistic object – making it the target of the language input! I would not have thought of that and the form filling is a great real life skill to practice. Online bank account application processes are also good for that – especially for students about to go and study in the target language country!


      • Tyson Seburn Friday 10 February 2012 at 13:57 #

        Cheers, David. Yes, I wouldn’t have framed the suggestion for young learners. I don’t teach them nor raise them and by no means have any expert opinions regarding certain decisions regarding online life.

  3. ahmed aboaisha Wednesday 8 February 2012 at 15:31 #

    I Would like to improve my english language

    • David Petrie Wednesday 8 February 2012 at 18:17 #

      Hi Ahmed,
      thanks for commenting – this blog probably isn’t the best place to learn English – it’s more about teaching English. There are lots of good sites out there to help you practice your English – try this one: http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/
      Hope it helps,

  4. Nick Bedson Thursday 22 March 2012 at 18:15 #

    Thanks a lot for all that info. We’re just in the process of setting up formal groups as virtual class spaces for each of the classes at our school here in Catalonia. We decided to approach the issue as an institution, rather than individual teachers having to set up pages, and we have been able to do this by setting up the groups on the School’s Facebook page. This has a lot of advantages in terms of teachers being able to check out each others groups easily to pick up ideas, students seeing the group as an integral part of their learning and for the school, a way to keep in touch with students from one year to the next. We have also set up a teachers Room Group and an on-line learnining group for “friends” who aren’t currently syudying with us. Teachers are excited, students interested and management happy at teh increased marketing opportunities! Let’s hope it works!

    • David Petrie Thursday 22 March 2012 at 18:21 #

      Hi Nick,
      Thanks for sharing that idea – I’ll admit I wasn’t aware that was possible! Clearly I need to do some further investigation!
      Good luck with it,


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