Are you a devoted social network user? Are your students ardent social network users? I’m going to take a wild guess and say that you answered ‘yes’ to at least one, if not both of these questions. Of course, I don’t want to assume that every man and his dog has a Facebook profile (although I have heard of a few cats that have one), it would be hard to deny the widespread use of social networking applications. Seeing as this is the case, why not use them for teaching?
For some time now, educators have been interested in integrating personal communication practices with social media for educational benefit. With their community ethos and interactive capacity, social media technologies provide possibilities for collaborative learning. In my own teaching practice, I have been endeavouring to put these applications to the test.
Recently a colleague and I used Facebook as a platform for reading and discussion with our English language students. This was great fun, and we found that Facebook provided a useful tool for engaging students to read and discuss news articles with each other. Unexpectedly, we also found that by using it with our class, relationships with our students and between our students formed more quickly. Students were ‘friending’ each other in virtual space as well as in the classroom, providing further opportunities for getting to know each other. This, perhaps, should not be so surprising as that is what social networking sites are primarily for- connecting with others. However, in our decision to use Facebook in our classroom this was not something we had factored in, though it came as a very pleasant surprise.
Primarily, we were trying to engage our students to do something that they weren’t that interested in- reading. By using a social media application, we wanted to capitalise on the interactive nature of a social networking site, to give students a space where the solitary act of reading could be turned into a collaborative process of discussion and understanding. We also had to choose a platform that was easily accessible to students, so for this purpose we chose Facebook.
Of course, the road was not always smooth. Some students were reluctant to put comments or offer opinions because the felt anxious that their language was not perfect. Other students had their Facebook accounts suspended after trying to add unknown people as friends. There were also a few that were concerned about participating because they were afraid of government surveillance.
Yet, all of these concerns provided ‘teachable moments’, where we were able to create dialogue about what type of writing is acceptable in informal settings, issues such as cyber safety, and the right to express a personal opinion in a country such as Australia.
All in all, we found that Facebook provided a great platform for learning, engagement and relationship building, and though the ‘cons’ were part of the terrain, we felt that it was one that was better traversed by our students with us as guides. In conclusion, we gave Facebook for teaching, the thumbs up!
Read more about our action research using Facebook in the English language classroom.