Friday, April 22, 2011

Just to let you know...Facebook does not have the ability to cure cancer, solve global warming or make you a better teacher

Recently I have been listening to educators who have been reviewing their work over the last year, and thinking about how to better support and engage students, with the outcome of improving retention and increasing pass rates. One theme that has emerged is a sudden interest in Facebook.

The rationale for this interest in Facebook is that this is where students meet and communicate with each other. So if educators want to engage with students, Facebook is the logical place to go.

Don't get me wrong. I think that it is fabulous that educators are questioning their practice and looking at ways to engage with students. But I am extremely concerned that educators think that Facebook will cure all their problems and suddenly make them better teachers.

So here's a few thoughts you may wish to consider before launching into Facebook as a teacher.

1. Facebook is not going to make you a good teacher. If you're having problems engaging and retaining your students, you must have a careful look at your teaching. There may be far more serious problems you need to address than what communication technology you use. In other words, it is not the tool that is important, but how you use it.

2. Facebook is not a quick fix for your teaching and learning problems. Facebook is a tool, just like any other technology such as email, discussion forums....blackboards and over-head projectors. Students aren't going to chat on Facebook any more than they do in boring email discussion forums unless you think about the pedagogy behind what you want to achieve, and have an understanding of how eLearning works.

3. Facebook is about social networking, which means you need to understand what social networking is and how it works. This is best done by doing it yourself. It's no good suddenly deciding you'll use Facebook as a teaching tool if you do not have a Facebook account, and do not understand all the issues involved in using it such as the confidentiality. It is also no good setting up a Facebook account and nothing else. It's not like face-to-face teaching when you give a two-hour lecture and that's it for the week. Effective social networking requires time, consistency and commitment - it only works when you engage with others on a frequent, regular basis.

4. Ask yourself is it ethically responsible to insist your students have a Facebook account when there are clear concerns about confidentiality and what Facebook does with personal information. Obviously if students already have accounts, this isn't so much of an issue, although I would suggest that you should remind them about the concerns around Facebook. On the other hand, there are people who have chosen not to have Facebook accounts, so you should respect that decision and think how to address their communication/learning needs.

5. You cannot assume that young adults have mature digital literacy skills that would allow them to use Facebook for learning. Yes, they may have Facebook accounts, but if my kids are anything to go by, all they use it for is sharing YouTube videos, letting the world know when they've broken up with their latest boyfriend, and playing games. This then leads into my next point.

6. Not all students will want to use Facebook for educational purposes. Many are quite happy to have it as a fun activity but they do not want to have to be "serious" in Facebook, and they definitely do not want to socialise with you there...they have enough of you at college or university. This is what is known as the "creepy tree house" syndrome - when teachers try to lure students into the treehouse (or Facebook) on the pretext of playing when actually what they want to do is "teach".

7. I am probably repeating myself, but I think it bears saying. When you use social media tools with a social networking approach, you need to change the way you teach from delivering content to being a facilitator. One of the first questions you have to ask yourself is whether you are ready to make that change? Your focus will change to developing a community or network of learning, and facilitate opportunities for student to network with each other and the outside world in order to learn. If you're not sure how to do that, here's a couple of references to start you off.

Have you used Facebook in your teaching? How do you use it? How effective has it been?




Mary said...

Thank you so much for saying this, and I agree with you 100% (especially about requiring students to join). It's frustrating to see so many teachers try to jump on the bandwagon who have such little understanding of how to use the tool.

I think a big issue is the limitations in the learning management systems we use, like Blackboard. If we consider that "the medium is the message," then what message does Blackboard send to students? It's not engaging at all. Facebook, on the other hand, has been very successful in capturing students' interest. It's that engagement we're trying to bring to our classes. But, I think many teachers just need to realize that they're just not cool, and Facebook isn't going to make them cool, and that's OK.

And, because I am, indeed, cool (not really), I am sharing this post with all my colleagues on Facebook.

Sarah Stewart said...

Thanks Mary for your comments. I must make it quite clear...I am not saying you cannot use Facebook as a teacher...far from it. I know lots of teachers who are doing fabulous work with FB which their students are really enjoying. What I am saying is....any communication technology you use must be carefully considered before use.

I agree with you about BlackBoard...I do think BB can take a lot of the blame...or credit... for driving teachers to FB. How do you think Moodle fits into this discussion?

Jean Jacoby said...

I agree with you completely, Sarah! I think Facebook in education is a bit of a flavour-of-the-month, and I can't help but wonder if Mary's reference to coolness isn't part of the reason. Although trendy and convenient, Facebook also (as you say) comes with a number of security, privacy and professionalism concerns which means that we need to use it carefully. Apart from the trendy factor, there is nothing that Facebook offers that can't be matched or surpassed by good use of a LMS such as Moodle, and much that it doesn't offer. What we can learn from Facebook, however, is the social networking tenets which make Facebook a success, and then apply these to the way we design and implement courses on Moodle to ensure engagement and active participation.

Jo said...

Totally agree Facebook is just another tool! I am using it with my regional online students. I teach literacy/numeracy entirely online to Voc Ed students who can't attend f-2-f classes for various reasons including distance. I never meet most of my students who include adult returners, Youth at Risk and others marginalised in society.
I am not trying to use Facebook explicitly for "teaching" I am using it as an additional "glue" for my course. There is no compulsion on my students to friend me on the FB account I use in a teaching context. I have simply created the FB account and a group that I use with my students. Anything that goes out to all students goes out by email as well as through the FB account.
Even though it is very early in the use of FBI am finding that it is helping to maintain contact, students will ask me a question on FB rather than email because they feel comfortable there.

Sarah Stewart said...

Hi Mary and Jo, thank you both for your comments.

I am stuck with BB at the moment and hate it as a communication vehicle. One of the things I am looking at is ePortfolio and keeping in the back of my mind how that might fit into a communication strategy. I do think communicating with students takes on an experimental elemental and what works with one class might not work with you have to throw that into the mix.