Can the social networking giant be a platform for learning; or is it just a virtual ghetto for bullies?
In last week’s entry I discussed the merits of microblogging in the classroom. This week, the focus is Facebook – now seven years old (half a lifetime in the world of technology!) and still seeing an ever-expanding audience; larger than 250,000,000 worldwide, with an estimated 150,000,000 of those logging in daily, according to businessinsider.com. Since the critical hit ‘The Social Network’ was released in cinemas, the debate has intensified as to Facebook’s place in the society of the twenty-first century. There are the myriad security issues with such innovations as facial recognition, concerns over what would now appear to be rampant amounts of cyber-bullying via the site and of course, the perennial fear that Facebook will render an entire generation incapable of face-to-face collaboration, which is ironic given that founder Mark Zuckerberg says that at its core, Facebook is about ‘…personal connections.’ (www.facebook.com/blog)
These challenges are all very real; but I suggest that we need to be careful of ‘blaming’ Facebook for bullying, disengagement or supposed declining social skills in our kids. Why? Because in the end, Facebook is no more than a tool – an advanced, powerful and highly sophisticated tool, yes, but a tool to use as we will, nonetheless. Here I hope to suggest some ways of using Facebook in the classroom in a meaningful, constructive manner.
Class Facebook Page: The most obvious means of using it in the classroom is to create a page for your topic; where you run the profile and the students sign on as your ‘friends’. Increasingly, we are seeing users ‘cross-pollinate’ their information and ideas by adding links to other websites where the exploration of an idea can be extended. This provides virtually limitless possibilities for your students to expand their thinking, as well as to experience the extraordinary array of online communities with which they can link in. If you want to assess the development of a topic page; add a descriptor that requires the students to include a minimum number of useful, reliable links to further information.
Face-to-Face If another group is creating a Facebook page at the same year level, or on the same topic, develop a task whereby the focus is on peer-assessment of the page. The possibilities here are many: you could have the students simply assess the other class’s content, or assess the creativity of the page, critique the security measures the user has applied to the page or even evaluate the effectiveness of how the group is using the page as a means of communication and sharing.
Facebook Role-Play This activity engages students physically as they imagine themselves into the position of someone being bullied via Facebook, or a person using the site as a means of victimising someone else. They could even take on the role of a Facebook board member who is confronted by an angry parent and must try to justify their position. Here, students must consider the different points of view and use communication skills present their ideas. Have them swap roles and evaluate each others’ role-plays.
‘Are you on Facebook?’ This statement has almost become a cliché among members of Generation Y and the ‘Millenials’ behind them. Have the students think about who is NOT on Facebook and, where whole nations or regions are absent from the so-called ‘Facebook Community’, ask them…why? Was it an individual choice, or do people in some parts of the world simply not have access to social networks? Who is excluded from the ‘Facebook narrative’? Students could research the world’s social networking ‘black-spots’ and discuss possible reasons. Assessment could take a wide variety of forms.
Face the Music – this task would be excellent for students with a preference for musical tasks. Have them review a number of Facebook pages (those that have been created within your school, or approved pages in the community) and develop a ‘soundtrack’ for their chosen page. It’s one of the few mediums that the social network doesn’t make widespread use of. Have the students imagine that they are music consultants for Facebook Corporation and have been asked to match music to the pages of the users you have chosen. For each piece they choose, have them add a rationale as to why it was selected and how it will further personalise the user’s page.
These are just a few ideas to bring Facebook into your classroom in ways that are engaging, relevant and can contribute to the learning of your students. Because let’s FACE it…the world’s third largest virtual ‘nation’ is in your classroom already. It’s here to stay, so as teachers we need to support students in gaining the skills they need to use Facebook (and indeed, other social-networking tools) as a force for genuine creativity and collaboration and to use it with awareness and precision.
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