Good educators engage with students outside of the classroom, usually through scheduled office hours. But now there's a simpler option for connecting with students in a virtual space most visit every day — Facebook.
The ubiquitous social network has been around for quite some time now (I signed up back in 2004 when it was still called Thefacebook) but it has only recently reached a level of mass engagement among all demographics. It’s Facebook where many now go to catch up on news, view pictures, watch videos, and share information. For these users, Facebook isn’t just the primary destination on the Internet. Facebook IS the Internet.
But can Facebook also be a classroom?
Research has emerged showing that student engagement is not tied to whether students use Facebook, but how they use Facebook. With that in mind, a number of instructors have experimented with leveraging Facebook’s private group feature for class discussions and projects. Here at UNCG Online, we launched an optional Facebook group for one of the core classes in the new social sciences concentration of our BLS program. The student buy-in has been impressive, but like any online platform, there are both pros and cons. Here’s a quick summary of each.
- Easy adoption. Compared to most platforms for online discussion, Facebook is easier to pick up since its interface is already familiar.
- More active discussions. With most comment threads, students respond to each other and not just to the instructor.
- Simple interface for uploading and viewing videos. The easy video sharing tools allows the instructor to quickly record and post lectures for students using a webcam.
- More frequent comments and posts. Students are notified of new page activity whenever they log into Facebook each day, and that has helped maintain their engagment.
- Uneven engagement. While almost all students have signed up for the group, some rarely participate in discussions.
- Poor archiving. Facebook’s interface buries old discussions and makes it cumbersome to find previous posts.
- Advertising clutter. While Facebook groups are private, users still see the same barrage of targeted ads, distracting from the learning environment.
Would you want to participate in a class discussion via Facebook? If not Facebook, then what’s the best online space where those discussions can take place?