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Once I understood most students were keen on using facebook (I did that last year),I started thinking of ways to take advantage of it. Is there a way we can channel this enthusiasm to achieve educational goals? Well, of course! These are the key pedagogic reasons why I use facebook with students:
- You get to know them (and they get to know YOU) in a whole different light. Let’s face it, if you are a secondary school teacher in Argentina, you see students once or twice a week and you have many different groups. In my case I usually have more than 200 students! Can I really know each and every one of them and what they like? Can they see me as somebody they can trust if I am almost a stranger? Facebook is all about self-expression so it can become a useful tool. Once you start using it, you learn about students’ tastes and hobbies, and have the chance to show them what you like. In that way, you become a real person they can connect to, not just a content deliverer.
- You can create a more supportive atmosphere. Communication is essential to develop good rapport but, once again, if you hardly ever see your students, that may turn difficult. Using facebook will help you keep in touch with them. Those students who are shy or have doubts after class can send you a private message ( or even chat with you ) when they are stuck on a homework question or don’t understand a particular topic. Students will appreciate having the chance to contact you when they are in need.
So, if you decide to start facebooking, what exactly can you do? These are some of the things I have done and how I have done them:
- I set up a second facebook account just for students (or parents). Last year I used to “friend” my oldest students (17/18 years old and adults). It all went smoothly, but I felt a little too exposed. I know there are ways to limit what your students can see but I never learnt exactly how to do it. That’s why I created a different account this year and could finally relax. Now, I can “friend” anyone because I can choose exactly what I want them to see. However, from time to time, I make a point of posting something personal or a little silly (such as a funny picture of myself). Why? Because I don’t want them to feel this account is “cold” or “too academic”. For example, on St. Patrick’s Day I wrote some information on the celebration and I uploaded a picture of myself wearing a green wig. Students loved it (and had a good laugh!).
- What do I share with my students? Useful links, photos of things we’ve done in class (so that they can show them to their parents and other friends), videos, and anything that can be useful or interesting. I also remind them of homework assignments and deadlines.
- I create groups. Each class has its own. Groups may be open (anyone can become a member and see what’s in it), closed (you have to be invited to join the group and see what members post) or secret (only members see the group, who's in it, and what people post there). What I always choose is “closed” so that only students in a particular class can become members. What are some of the advantages of having a group? Well, if some students don’t want to “friend” me they can be added to the group by one of their classmates and still interact with me and the rest of the people there.
What do YOU think ? Have you tried using facebook with students? How do you use it?