When it comes to opinions on the use of Facebook in education, there’s a pretty clear dividing line: one side believes that when used in the right way, Facebook can be a tool, while the other thinks it is a distraction that should be kept away from schools.
Statistics show that 85 - 95% of American high school and college students are on Facebook, with a majority accessing Facebook via smartphone. When so many students access Facebook on their phones, it would be easy to take the position that Facebook could siphon time from classwork and create distraction. The clear remedy would be to ban cell phone use and block Facebook access on campus.
One question, though, begs to be asked those who have taken this approach: How is this working out for you?
This question is not a criticism of school or district policy, as the appropriate use of technology in education is a legitimate concern and there are challenges that arise from open access to Facebook in schools. However, when our students are using Facebook via smartphone as a primary means of communication, should we be communicating with them as “digital natives” on their terms?
There may be constructive alternatives to banning one of the most powerful tools our students have access to today. Let’s take a look at a few simple ways to use Facebook as an education tool and eliminate some of the taboo that comes along with it.
1) Create a private, closed group page for a class and invite students to join. Teachers can use a group page like this to invite students to connect in a safe manner that does not connect them to personal pages. In addition, teachers can add or remove students at any time, thus keeping the group intact and current their current class.
2) Post a daily topic of discussion. Have the students view the page daily to see what the next day’s class discussion topic will be. Via the comments section, allow students to ask questions and post thoughts that can be used to guide the next day’s lesson. This is also a great way to see where your students’ base knowledge of a subject lies. If you’re worried about inappropriate comments, set clear guidelines up front and let students know that access will be permanently removed for any student who violates the rules. Chances are, students will see it as more important to be able to access Facebook and use the tool than to test the boundaries and be banned.
3) Post links to articles, resources and websites for your students. Your Facebook group page is a quick and easy place for you to share other learning tools you have found that could help them.
4) Once a week, have a student create a daily topic of discussion. Open up discussion to topics your students find relevant in their world. A topic may not be within your exact curriculum, but use it as a chance to understand their world and have a meaningful line of communication.
5) Review the comments monthly with your students. As the year goes on, the level and depth of discussion should grow. Use this as an opportunity to motivate your class by going back and reviewing the comments with your students. Assess the growth as a group, having the class highlight comments they felt led to higher level thinking and challenged them. Support the conversation by recognizing discussions you feel had a strong impact on the group as a whole.
Whether you are in favor of using Facebook in schools or not, there’s no denying that our students today learn, communicate and socialize in ways that we never imagined. It is a challenge for us to reach them sometimes, and every once in a while we will have to take a leap and try something new.