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.
- "CoP Series No 10: Stewarding Technology for Community" by Nancy White, 2009.
- Wearing Four Pairs of Shoes: The Roles of E-Learning Facilitators by Ed Hootstein, 2002.
- Gilly Salmon's 5 stages of moderation model, 2004.
Have you used Facebook in your teaching? How do you use it? How effective has it been?
- Bernadette Rego. 2009. Teacher's guide to using Facebook. .
- Martin Weller. 2008. When is a creepy treehouse a community of practice?
- Joseph P. Mazer; Richard E. Murphy; Cheri J. Simonds. I'll See You On “Facebook”: The Effects of Computer-Mediated Teacher Self-Disclosure on Student Motivation, Affective Learning, and Classroom Climate. Communication Education, Volume 56, Issue 1 January 2007 , pages 1 - 17.
- Jared Stein. 2008. Defining "Creepy Treehouse".
- Danah Boyd. 2010. Facebook and “radical transparency” (a rant).
- Neil Selwyn. 2010. The educational significance of social media – a critical perspective.
- Caroline Lego Muñoz & Terri L. Towner. Opening Facebook: How to Use Facebook in the College Classroom. 2009.
- Brady Robards. Negotiating identity and integrity on social network sites for educators. 2010.