The idea of using Facebook in the classroom may seem radical to some. The standard advice is to not friend your students due to privacy issues – yours and theirs. Yet there is a way to leverage the power of social media in teaching without actually friending your students. It turns out that by creating a Facebook group for your course you can provide a means for students to communicate and collaborate outside of the classroom in a medium with which they are very familiar.
Dr. Alexios Monopolis teaches in the Global Environmental Change & Sustainability (GECS) program at Johns Hopkins and serves as the program manager for JHU’s Sustainability & Health doctoral program. He is a strong advocate for using Facebook groups in his classes and authored one of our Innovative Instructor print series articles on the subject: Interactive Collaboration Using Facebook (April 2014). Noting that most students are already familiar with Facebook, Monopolis states: “I wanted an online application that would facilitate communication and collaboration between faculty and students, allowing for interaction and the sharing of information beyond the confines of our formal classroom. It needed to be asynchronous so that students could easily access and use it at any time. I also wanted a way for students to reflect on the content learned in the classroom, as self-reflection is an important means of reinforcing learning. With Facebook, when one student offers an observation or posts an article, video or link, others can respond by commenting on the post. Although Blackboard offers a discussion board tool, Facebook has the advantage of being instantly familiar to students, and they have no hesitation using it. Its interface is also simpler and more intuitive.” The article details the process for creating a Facebook group and discusses other reasons to adopt social media in the classroom.
What if a student doesn’t have a Facebook account and doesn’t want to create one? The answer may depend on your institutional policies. Dr. Monopolis acknowledges that he has “…been fortunate that all of [his] students were Facebook users and did not object to using Facebook for academic purposes. In the future, if a student does not already have and does not want to open a Facebook account to join the group, an accommodation would be necessary.”
Dr. Monopolis is not alone in his enthusiasm. According to a recent article in The Chronicle for Higher Education, Why This Professor Is Encouraging Facebook Use in His Classroom by Avi Wolfman-Arent, August 5, 2014: “Kevin D. Dougherty, an associate professor of sociology at Baylor University, has spent the last two and a half years measuring how the Facebook group he created for his introduction-to-sociology course affected student performance. He found that students who participated in the online group enjoyed the course more, felt a stronger sense of belonging, and got better grades than those who did not participate.” Dougherty’s class had 250 students and while they were not required to participate, those who did formed a strong learning community.
Matthew Loving and Marilyn Ochoa, faculty at the University of Florida, Gainesville, went even further in their study in 2011, Facebook as a classroom management solution, [New Library World, Vol. 112 -3/4, pp.121 – 130]. They concluded that University of Florida faculty found “…the tradeoffs between the appropriation of Facebook as an online classroom management solution and using a conventional CMS [course management system] were relatively few and in many ways worth the necessary workarounds. Facebook allows instructors to distribute documents (via posting and messaging), administer discussion lists, conduct live chat and handle some assignment posting as long as it is alright to cut and paste and share between students. Areas where Facebook cannot compete with other CMS is in grading, assignment uploading and online testing.” They offered other solutions for these tasks.
A number of studies have linked social engagement to student retention. Kelly Walsh, Chief Information Officer at The College of Westchester in White Plains, NY, reviews the research literature on both social engagement and student retention, and more specifically, the use of social media and student retention, in Can Social Media Play A Role in Improving Retention in Higher Education? Research Says it Can [October 28, 2012, Emerging Ed Tech]. As the article title suggests, her findings support the argument for using social media as a tool for engaging students and increasing retention.
KQED, a pubic media outlet for northern California, posted 50 Reasons to Invite Facebook Into Your Classroom by Tina Barseghian, August 5, 2011, on the blog Mind/Shift. This list provides some food for thought if you are weighing the pros and cons of adding Facebook to your teaching tools.
Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources
Image source: By Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons