December 4, 2011

Student Facebook Pages – A New Agenda in the Classroom

This text was initially published by Profweb under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International licence, before Eductive was launched.

I was asked to prepare a presentation on students and social media. An excellent way of demonstrating the effectiveness of social media in an academic environment was obviously to use it, and I put out feelers on Facebook and tweets on Twitter and waited for results. One great suggestion I got from a friend was to consult the students themselves, and have them participate in the presentation. At the first presentation, the students themselves told the audience about an initiative that they had undertaken to create a Facebook group for their program Liberal Arts, as they were in a cohort which would go through several classes together. They could share ideas, notes, witty observations, and so on, but they could also stay abreast of assignments going on in the several classes that they had in common.

Video of Maggie McDonnell’s Students Discussing Their Facebook Page

The page was started even before the students entered college as a byproduct of the communication between various members of the class, once they realized that they were all going to be in the same program. It was felt by some students that the Facebook page was a more reliable way of staying on schedule with their homework than an agenda as they didn’t consult their agendas nearly as frequently as their Facebook page. Another student mentioned that the Facebook page was an excellent way of catching up after missing one or several classes.

As the teacher, I have absolutely no input whatsoever. The Facebook group is exclusively for students, and we teachers are not members – we do have a program group maintained by our coordinator, but the student group is an independent organism although I can’t help wondering if our group was the inspiration for theirs. That said, the existence of their group gives me another means of communication with my students – I can assume that at least one member of the group will see communications from me in some other forum, and if required, spread the word through the student group.

Students felt that math assignments seem to lend themselves particularly well to this medium. In a recent class discussion about the Facebook group, one student mentioned that there was considerable exchange and peer instruction happening around math concepts that had been hard to understand in class. References were made to tutorials on YouTube that were highly appreciated. It was felt that the Facebook group was an excellent way of sharing the different ways that a mathematical concept could be mastered therefore catering to the different learning styles of students.

I think it’s very important to let students run with it without teacher interference.

I don’t think the Facebook group in and of itself presents a threat in terms of plagiarism, collaboration or cheating. There are many more “useful” Internet resources, most of which are very much known to students. Part of my job, I believe, is to make students aware that while collaboration and research are wonderful things, documentation and citation are essential for academic and professional integrity.

I think it’s very important to let students run with it without teacher interference. As teachers, we have many other forums for classroom management; we use Lea at my college, and some teachers use Moodle, and of course there’s nothing preventing us from creating course pages on Facebook as well. In fact, at least one of my colleagues does exactly that, and invites students in her current class to become members, while keeping former students on the page, so her current students can interact with their predecessors. The Facebook group that my students created, however, is something separate, and I feel it’s important to give them ownership of it. It’s an incredible initiative, and a testament to the positive power of social media in education.

Have any of your students formed program-specific Facebook pages? How would you help your students to understand the difference between plagiarism and collaboration when using social media such as Facebook or to become more conscious of the necessity to “self-edit” the material that they post on social media?

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