Love them or hate them social networking sites are deeply embedded in our lives. And if they are deeply embedded in the lives of those aged over 20, it’s safe to say they are second nature to anyone under 20. Sitting in a campus computer lab writing this blog there are more than a dozen people in the room checking their Facebook pages at any one time. For the under 25s, Facebook is a conduit to life. It forges their sense of identity and belonging. Older generations may struggle to see the relevance but I’d suggest you leave such thoughts at the door. While you ponder “Why would you?”, “Who has time anyway?” or “No wonder their personal communication skills are so poor”, a new social network site will have sprung up defining the next generation of communicators, collaborators and colleagues. You don’t have to “get it”. You don’t even have to like it, but if you truly want to connect with secondary students – now, today – you’d be crazy not to use them in class.
So clearly I’m not going to bother to defend the “Why would you?” question for this post.
First up the sea of blue and white screens currently threatening to engulf me is the portal to the wonderful world of Facebook which surely needs no introduction. If we’re looking for ways to engage with our students , to build positive and possibly lasting relationships with them, this social network ticks boxes.
So here’s a few basics pointers in case….Facebook has a number of features with which users may interact. They include the Wall, a space on every user’s profile page that allows friends to post messages for the user to see; Photos, where users can upload albums and photos; and Status, which allows users to inform their friends of their whereabouts and actions, News Feed appears on every user’s homepage and highlights information including profile changes, upcoming events, and birthdays of the user’s friends. Users can control what types of information is shared automatically with friends. Facebook Notes is a blogging feature that allows tags and embeddable images.
If you’re considering setting up a Facebook group, there are a few things to consider first. Here are a few tips for starting out:
- Create a separate account just for your classes. Keep two accounts if you want to use Facebook personally as well. This keeps your Facebook relationship at school on a professional level.
- Manage privacy settings. If you don’t want to manage two accounts, use these tips to manage privacy to keep your personal and professional lives separate.
- Friend students carefully. Make sure you are “friending” students in current and former classes for professional purposes. As a rule of thumb, maintain the same level of professionalism on Facebook as you would in person.
- Ask students to put you on limited access to their pages. This keeps you from having to see their personal photos, status updates or other information that may compromise your professional working relationship.
- Use FB as a course management system. Use in place of other course management systems such as Blackboard to access all your online information and connections with fewer restrictions.
- Stay active. Keep posting messages, use as many Facebook apps and resources as possible, and update status reports so your students know you are engaged.
- Get over the term “friend”. Some teachers are disturbed by the idea of making friends with their students. Instead of adapting the Facebook term in the common way, try to think about the relationship as one of a mentor.
Sribd has a visual presentation which covers off a lot of the privacy/security questions as well as the ethics of communicating with students this way in its Teachers’ Guide to Using Facebook. or you can read a teacher’s suggestions here.
So exactly how might you choose to use Facebook in class?
- As a way to manage assignments, to network with students and learn more about them. Dunedin School Logan Park High is doing this successfully….
- For class projects – share book reviews, poll your class using the poll app, bring literature to life by doing a character study
- To establish your own personal learning networks – Facebook in Education aims to be an ongoing resource for information about how educators can use Facebook – yes, free resources and lesson plans! Join groups, stay in touch with former classmates, share material and access resources.
- Facebook has student resources – weread, flash card creator and more.
- And of course there are resources and tools for us too – webnaria enables you to post lesson notes to your group, there is a file uploader and a quiz creator
- Plus resources for both students and teachers – slideshare etc.
If you need more ideas – here’s another 94!
Now I said I wouldn’t but in case you’re not convinced about the potential of social networking sites as a learning tool, here’s a few more positives to ponder. Online social networks:
- create an inviting atmosphere
- are informal
- encourage collaboration
- are current
- assist with engagement outside the class
- teach personal responsibility (through educating students about privacy and security issues)
- enhance student-teacher relationships
- encourage active learning
There are various social networking tools you can set up to help students collaborate, share and discuss learning online. I am out of time to look at more today but will quickly mention Ning which is a bit like Facebook for education. It allows you to set up a closed community where students each have their own profile. You can customise the tools you want to have available but typically there are resources to enable everyone to upload video, documents, photos and sound files, have online discussions, blog and create events which are stored in a calendar and shared with all users.
The main difference between Facebook and Ning is that Ning has far fewer apps (add ons/tools/toys) than Facebook. Personally I think the interface is cleaner, smarter and simple to use. Setting up a group on Ning would certainly keep your class work separate to students’ personal social networking activity – less danger of crossover. But it would also mean students would need to join another site and set up another account which may be off-putting for some …