Inviting my students to join me on facebook and use it academically was a difficult and controversial decision. I was inspired by Obama’s “race to the top” as well as a TED talk that convinced me that one has to be genuine and willing to lose control in order to be a website administrator. This coupled with the fact that one does not have to be “friends” with one’s students to be in a group, led me to embark on a journey to educate the 21st century student. There are two major things I have accomplished: one is that I engaged my students in their space (social media, facebook) and I taught them how to use it academically (for their own personal gain); and secondly, I have allowed students to drive the content of the course by collaborating and pursuing information, all the while driving one another to learn and better articulate their opinions in open academic discussion.
Admittedly, I was nervous creating a group and showing the students my facebook, but when I proposed this idea, I realized the students were willing to open their facebook pages to me. Fortunately, most students learned how to ramp up their privacy settings. They were forced to evaluate their Internet image, and then promised to use their facebook academically. Since that agreement, I have been nothing but pleased with the results. I am engaging them in their space and getting what I wanted out of them. Below is a screen shot of one night’s homework.
The real beauty of this forum however, is that this model for homework promotes collaboration. Instead of grading homework assignments that are all the same, I have the students build answers to questions by adding off each other and questioning each other. Not only does this prepare a perfect study guide come test time, but it promotes academic discussion outside of the classroom. Some students are stronger in discussion when that discussion unfolds behind a computer screen with more time to analyze and articulate their thoughts in writing.
In addition to teaching collaboration, the group requires that students evaluate other posts as well as new historical information all the while trying to be the first to teach that Napoleon wasn’t actually that short, he was 5-6! Every night, I require students to answer questions from the reading, but also to research extracurricular historical knowledge, learn it and then teach it to their peers. Thus, I can post a list of historical figures or events to have the students research; and I always have one student who becomes an expert on that topic that I will reference in class.
Furthermore, I can also post links, videos, articles, pictures and documents to use in my course. Some of the students were so taken by our discussion of the events in Egypt that they posted news articles, links, and one student even posted a link of a protestor getting shot! This sharing of educational links has changed the way my students look at the facebook.
The last great advantage of engaging students in facebook groups is perhaps the most powerful, the social influence from their peers. Whenever a student writes a strong answer or asks a good question, it inspires other students to rise to that level. I have noticed that the majority of my students do their history homework first every night, this way they can be the first to show the class a BBC video of Hannibal’s elephants (as one student did).
I’ve also experienced students correcting one another’s spelling and students pressuring one another to avoid copying and pasting information from the web. Also if a student does not complete the homework, the whole class could find out and ask him why he was on facebook, but did not get the homework done. All in all, this social influence has helped student’s work ethic and academic skills in reading, thinking, writing, researching, and technology. And, they are growing together and will certainly see this growth over the course of the year.
Despite being hated by other teachers for giving students a right to facebook during study hall, I hope that some teachers can also see the benefit of engaging the students in this forum. I have enjoyed watching the students evolve their opinion of facebook from a place to be social to a place to teach and learn. Of course, the person who benefits most from all of this is me, because I feel I can teach more historical content while they are rapidly improving their intellectual and digital-literacy skills.