Try Facebook in Your Next Online Class

Facebook online classFacebook, once thought too informal or personal to use in a professional way, is gaining ground in education. Until very recently, when asked about using Facebook for professional purposes, I always advised against it. But the response to several online teaching challenges presented in recent #IOLchats has been: “We use Facebook.” How and why are institutions, support services and instructors using Facebook to connect with students?

Who is using Facebook?

If you aren’t using it in your courses think about how it might augment existing communication tools there. From introductions and group discussions to announcements and assignments, Facebook may help you meet an unmet need in a community where students are already active.

According to the Pew Research Center’s 2014 Social Media Update, “fully 71% of online adults use Facebook.” An overwhelming majority of these users visit the site at least once a day. While Pew found an increase in use among older adults, younger audiences are also still using Facebook. In their 2014 E-Expectations survey, higher education consultants at Noel-Levitz found that 75% of prospective college students (i.e., high school seniors) use Facebook.

The research and exploration continues as researchers across academic disciplines share the experience of combining Facebook and online learning. Recent studies have been published in fields as diverse as Sociology, Communications, Foreign Languages and Engineering. Positive outcomes include improved strategies for community building, student engagement and interaction, and learning achievement.

Profiles, Pages and Groups

There are multiple ways to participate in Facebook and the different types of accounts offer different functions. Here is a quick look at the three main formats to consider:

  • Profiles: Most individual Facebook users have a profile account. Profiles are intended for personal, not commercial, use. Each user can choose how he or she will participate in activities (e.g., post status updates, “like” friends’ posts, upload pictures, join groups) via these accounts, and make their accounts private or public through a variety of settings.
  • Pages: A Facebook Page is similar to a Profile, but designed with businesses and organizations in mind. Individuals also use pages to establish an online community around a specific topic or to promote activities and products. Pages are public, and individual users can connect with them by “liking” a Page to receive updates.
  • Groups: Facebook Groups can be set up as public or “closed” (requiring approval of a membership request). This format allows for small group interaction, including live text chat, file sharing and discussion forum-type posts and replies. Group members don’t have to be Facebook friends (with each other or with you) to access or communicate in these forums.

Academic Activities

Facebook provides a range of tools that can augment your online course system. Many educators are using these tools to not only communicate with students, but also provide alternatives to traditional class activities and assignments. Fortunately, many educators are sharing their resources online. Explore some of the examples offered by the following:

    • The eLearningIndustry.com Facebook Guide for Teachers provides assignment and activity ideas including how to form study groups, publish surveys and polls, and use student-created Facebook Pages as an assignment format.
    • Professors at Curtin University (Australia) found that a section of students using Facebook in addition to LMS discussion forums were more active, as well as more likely to take on additional topics and share relevant outside resources there.
    • Economics instructor Nisha Malhotra set up a class Facebook Page with a specific purpose in mind – to create a place where students could “discuss their research.” It was voluntary, but there was increased interaction among these Facebook-using students and they “performed better than non-participating students.”
    • The Education Foundation’s 2013 Facebook Guide for Educators shares the possibilities of this platform as a “‘Swiss Army Knife’ of tools to unlock learning.” Geared toward K-12 classes, many of the ideas presented here translate well to higher ed, including the use of Facebook Pages for group projects and event/exam reminders.

Getting Started

As with any new tool or strategy, a little preparation can make the process of integrating Facebook and online learning more successful. Whether you are new to Facebook or more experienced with the platform, these tips will help you get ready to make the most of the options available:

  • Check your school’s guidelines. Many colleges and universities document specific expectations about the use of social media with students. Know what your institution expects before you move forward. Examples from Columbia Journalism School, Brock University (Canada) and Penn State’s College of Education provide a combination of official policies and general advice.
  • Review your account. You’ve probably heard of more than one teacher or faculty member whose non-professional posts have caused professional problems. As social, professional, and academic use of social media blurs, it’s critical to monitor your posts with multiple audiences in mind. The Education Foundation Guide reminds us, “there are a wide range of powerful privacy tools that … enable teachers and educators to quickly make different parts of their lives visible to different people.”
  • Practice first. Join an education-related Facebook Group (try the Facebook for Educators Community Page) and “like” a few Pages (try the Online Learning Consortium and The Chronicle of Higher Education) to find out what it’s like to interact with these account formats. Don’t forget to check for Facebook Groups and Pages sponsored by your institution.

The perception of Facebook as a casual, not-for-work platform is changing as more schools and employers embrace it as a way to reach college students. Facebook is just one of many options available to supplement a course site or learning management system. Think of the possibilities an external platform could provide for students enrolled in different sections to cross-communicate, and for alumni of the course to connect, since a Page or Group won’t automatically end when the semester ends.

What communication and engagement problems exist in your courses? Could Facebook provide a solution? Talk with colleagues to extend the conversation and share helpful practices.

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Source: Inside Online Learning Blog