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Using Facebook in your teaching

In this area we introduce ways you could use Facebook (or other Social Networking tools) in your teaching, considerations you need to think about when using it and links to more information.

vincos on flickrImage: Facebook Jelly Bean by Vincenzo Cosenza

What is Facebook

Facebook is a social networking tool which allows groups and individuals to engage in peer-to-peer conversations and both generate and exchange content online. Users firstly set up a profile of themselves, with professional and/or personal information from which they can post links & multimedia from the internet or their own photos and content. Approved friends are able to interact around the content that is shared between them through public or private messages and a chat feature. Users can let people know what they are doing by changing their ‘current status’.

From a teaching perspective members can set up public or ‘closed’  groups. These are ideal for courses or departments wishing to exploit the benefits of the tool.

There are a number of tools within Facebook including a wall for posting comments, galleries for posting images and messaging facilities. A ‘news feed’ on the main page allows you to see the latest activity from all your ‘friends’. This can act as a useful aggregator of information for class collaboration. A number of additional tools or ‘apps’ can also be added to enhance learning opportunities (e.g. a Twitter or News (RSS) feed).

(If you are more interested in using Facebook for marketing or PR type purposes then you may be interested in reading guidance and advice produced by the Marketing and Communications department at QML)

Key benefits

  • Most students are familiar with the interface and are comfortable with using it, so it is easier to build into their routine
  • Encourages collaboration and communication among groups of all sizes.
  • Extends the classroom and can assist you in helping manage your students time
  • Has been employed successfully for: induction, assessment, feedback, time management and research management

Why use Facebook?

Facebook along with other Social Media tools enables you to extend your classroom in new and interesting ways. In the broadest sense it can enable communication, collaboration and network building around areas of common interest in your discipline or specialism. In a more structured way it can be used at course level to build activities to augment face to face interaction. This supports a form of ‘social learning’ – constructing learning in a social setting. You might post activities to be completed on facebook within facebook or on the College VLE.

Another popular use of Facebook is to aid the smooth administration and management of courses, year groups or departments. Deadlines for essays, research seminar timetables or indeed relevant and topical news items from around the internet can be shared and discussed quickly. Public facing sites can also attract alumni and other interested users from around the world, student work can be profiled and new research students might even be found.

Students come to the software with a high level of understanding of its use, indeed many students are already using it informally for revision and arranging group or project work. Students also talk about being able to access their networks faster (e.g. for information about coursework) than more traditional mechanisms set up by their institutions.

  • References, links and resources can be shared easily
  • Setting-up a Facebook page or group is relatively easy
  • Integration with the mobile internet (e.g. tablets & Smartphones) means students can engage with discussions and materials when they want to providing flexibility of delivery & access

Key issues

  • Is an existing College tool already available to do the job? E.g. Conversations do not thread as easily as a dedicated discussion tool
  • Understanding of security settings is paramount when setting up groups
  • Are you going to assess student contributions and if so how?
  • Without clear learning objectives for using it facebook use may come across as gimmicky and shallow.
  • Context-sensitive advertising within the facebook interface may be annoying
  • Using tools like this may mean keeping personal work separate from academic work and managing multiple personas
  • Though external to the institution, content posted on them and topics discussed should still comply with University Guidelines on such issues as harassment/bullying and copyright/ IPR

Is it Ok to use at Queen Mary?

There is no reason per se not to take advantage of the technologies that the rest of the world is using for communications.  They move and develop much more quickly than organizationally provided systems typically can, and often do completely different things.  The choice of tool you use to meet you and your students’ learning objectives is your choice. Some practical considerations are outlined below.

Classroom practice

An Engineering lecturer set up a Facebook group for the school. Incoming students are sent the address and are encouraged to meet each other online prior to arriving on campus. Two students from the 2nd or 3rd  year cohorts are paid a small stipend over the summer to act as group moderators. Questions like what to expect on arrival, initial reading lists, expectations of study , what kind of food to expect etc can be shared and questions, fears and concerns dealt with in a friendly, relaxed and familiar atmosphere.  Successful departments have noted improved retention and less problematic first semesters.

An English lecturer created a Facebook group which the class then joined. Students were asked to post a paragraph on the text they were reading that week to the group after they had completed the reading, focussing their comments on specific course aims. Students noted that they were socially motivated to complete the reading and that they heard from peers who generally didn’t participate in class discussion. Students were attracted to using Facebook in this way because being in a group they didn’t have to ‘friend’ people or expose personal information.

A Spanish Language lecturer set up a class Facebook group for her first year students. The settings were adjusted so that the site worked entirely in Spanish. Students were encouraged to post links to interesting articles, video and pictures in Spanish onto the wall as well as commenting on each other’s posts. Facebook increased engagement with the course outside the classroom and facilitated communication among the students on topical subjects.

A Computer Science lecturer set up a public facing Face book page for their Undergraduate programme. The aim of the site is to assist students and faculty in learning what the current  social, legal, ethical and economic issues surrounding technology and the internet are. The site acts as one part of the formative assessment of technology literacy as students are asked to post and comment on articles of interest to them and the wider audience.

Library staff were prompted to set up a Facebook group to use as an online feedback tool to inform a wider consultation about the effective use of space in the library. Facebook offered a very open-ended way of consulting people and the discussions raised both interesting as well as unanticipated points of view that other approaches may not have picked up.

Practical considerations

  • Choose between facebook pages or groups – pages are more like official profiles and are popular with commercial enterprises/ marketing whereas groups are more closed.
  • Is the tool easy for myself and my students to use? Do the benefits outweigh the time it will take to set up?
  • Is there an internal service that offers the same functionality? (Contact the e-learning unit)
  • Are my students aware of the risks of posting information online? Are they aware of privacy settings? Who will review the content posted?
  • Who owns the content that is being posted? Guidance for students can sensitise them to copyright/IP issues
  • How will the site be moderated? If it is you will it be light touch or frequent?
  • How accessible are you going to be? Professional boundaries need to be established.
  • Will the site outlive your course? Are their ways of saving/ backing up the data stored there?
  • Will students use their personal profiles or set up an alternate profile for the course?
  • Is the site accessible to students with Special Educational Needs?
  • Do my students understand what constitutes  abuse or bullying and what the consequences are if they do it in this environment?
  • Should I get students to sign up to a set of guidelines for use e.g. Not allow them to friend anyone outside the classroom, not post inappropriate content etc.

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