Best Practices for Educators on Facebook

I recently spotted a Mashable article which focuses on the five best ways for teachers to use Facebook. With advice from Reynol Junco, a teacher who published a study recently showing that certain kinds of Facebook features used actually correlate with higher GPAs, it seemed to be information worth sharing with teachers out there who are in a quandary over how, or even whether, to use Facebook with their students. And in the wake of Missouri’s law which banned relationships between teachers and students on Facebook and other social media (a law which was eventually repealed) it seemed like a pertinent topic for some further edification.

Junco explained the benefits of Facebook, saying, “Students are already very familiar with the platform and spend a lot of time on the site. Because of this, there is usually a good amount of activity [in class related Facebook discussions] because students receive notifications of new group posts in a timely fashion (something that doesn’t happen with Learning Management Systems).”

So, here is a brief summary of the top five tips from Junco and other teachers to help you use Facebook effectively in your classroom:

Use Facebook With a Focus:

Junco recommends using Facebook in a way that makes sense to students. “Instead of telling your students, ‘Hey, we are going to use Facebook for this course,’ it’s important to frame Facebook use in a way that will make sense. For instance, you could say ‘we are going to use a Facebook group in order to interact with each other, discuss course topics, and share links of interest.”

He recommends that teachers make certain that class participation on the social network is taken seriously. In fact, his research suggests that making these interactions mandatory and a part of their grade, makes the social media efforts utilized in the classroom most effective.

Friend Students Cautiously:

Linda Fogg Phillips, a Facebook expert, Derek Baird, an educational media consultant, and BJ Fogg, a behavior psychologist, recommend that teachers use Groups and Pages to communicate with their students.

* Groups: It is not necessary for members of groups to be friends. Every person in the group receives a message when any member posts a comment to the group. It is recommended that teachers use closed groups; in these groups the content of the group is private. However, unless you choose the “secret” option, the list of group members will be public.

* Pages: Pages on Facebook are transparent, open, and secure. Because they are public, anybody can like the page, allowing them to get updates in their news feeds from the administrator. Pages are ideal for compiling important current events and additional resources students may need. Conversation and content can be added by students by using the comments and notes features.

Use a Facebook Group:

Junco’s research suggested that the following Facebook group activities seem to be best incorporated into learning more effectively:
* Continuing class discussions
* Giving students who might be intimidated in a class setting a low-stress way to ask questions
* Providing students academic and personal support
* Helping students connect with each other and organize study groups

Use a Facebook Page:

Since these pages are open to the public and their content can be subscribed to by anybody, they tend to be more interactive resources than sites for private discussion.

Dr. Neil Hammerschlag, who utilizes a program at the University of Miami to expose students to ocean field research, uses Facebook Pages as a tool for staying in touch with updates in research and increasing the number of students he is able to reach. He uses Facebook to post newly published articles about ocean science, videos and photos of weekly shark trips, and research findings.

“We expose over 1,000 kids each year to ocean research,” he says. “But we want to work with more students. You can’t bring that many with you, but we can bring the ocean to them.”

Consider Other Alternatives:

Using Facebook with young children is a little dicey, as children 12 years old and younger are not allowed to have Facebook accounts and many districts block computer access to social network sites. For these teachers, Edmodo, Collaborize Classroom, Edublogs, and Kidblog are all free options that might fit what you are looking for.

The key to the use of any Facebook or other social networking sites in the classroom is finding a site that is both appropriate for student use and effective for classroom instruction. So choose wisely if you plan to incorporate these sites into your teaching strategy.

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