Using Facebook groups to engage your students

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Using Facebook with your students can be an effective teaching tool – but what issues must you consider? Jennifer Begg offers her advice.

Using Facebook with your students should not be done on a whim or because you feel you have to. The only reason to ever use a particular piece of technology is because it enhances your experience or helps you achieve something. With that in mind, let’s look at the potential for using Facebook with your students. 

The most basic rule of communication is: go where your audience is. Are your students using Facebook? Most likely the answer is yes. So how can you use it to improve engagement, encourage better online safety and make your teaching more effective? 

The best way I have found to do this is by using the “groups” function. It is a great way to gather your students together in the setting of a private forum and they can help to improve engagement by helping you to keep your subject in front of your students for longer and enabling better cross-curricular conversations.

It will also be easier for you to encourage discussions beyond the classroom, your students will have more access to any online resources you share within the group, and the “open forum” format will encourage them to support each other’s learning.

I regularly find students answering each other’s questions before I get a chance to respond so all I have to do is confirm or correct as appropriate.

As for online safety, nothing will make your students tighten up their privacy settings faster than knowing that Facebook is being used by their teachers.

Depending on the age of your students they may or may not already be thinking about their online reputation. This is a great way of getting them to think about it without preaching. Not only that, give them ownership of the community guidelines and make it clear that they all have a duty to “self moderate”.

The rule I use with my students is that if they post anything I deem inappropriate within the group, they lose at least one of their 10 marks for my subject for that term. That’s potentially 10 per cent of their mark lost before they have handed in any coursework or sat any exams. I don’t make a fuss about it, I am just very clear that is what will happen – so far, I have not had to dock any marks.

The pros of Facebook groups

  • You don’t have to be friends with students to be in a group together.

  • Students are likely to have Facebook on their mobile phones and as such will get alerts from the group promptly and easily.

  • Only their (and your) profile pictures will be visible if privacy settings are correct – this is a really good opportunity to check this and talk about the implications.

  • Students can answer each other’s questions while you can act as a moderator.

  • By encouraging students to come up with their own community guidelines you are giving them ownership of their learning experience and ensuring that they are more likely to comply.

The cons of Facebook groups

  • Students can feel that this is an encroachment on their social lives.

  • Teaching staff can feel this is an encroachment on their private lives.

  • Not everyone is going to have access to Facebook or want to have a profile.

  • This method may not be relevant for every teacher and should be used only as a way to enhance lessons.

Setting up your group 

Setting up a group is simple. Click on “create a group” on the left hand side of your Facebook newsfeed. Select the “secret” option to stop anyone being able to search for your group. This should stop you getting requests from anyone other than your students. Click “create” and select your icon for the group (I have created a video tutorial running through the process and offering further information – see link below).

What can you post?

Similar to your own Facebook updates, you can post pictures, videos, text updates, links to websites and user polls (the “ask a question” option). Beyond that, a group lets you share and create files, send a message to everyone in the group, add a description of the group (a great place for “House Rules”), and schedule events.

Hidden extras

By clicking on the * symbol next to “notifications” on the right hand side, you can play around with your group settings. Here you can change the visibility of your group, allow anyone to approve new members (I would advise against this), set up a group email address to make sharing easier, and control who can post to the group. How you choose your settings will depend entirely on how you want to run the group and the students you are working with. 

If you would like to play around with Facebook Groups before setting one up, then you can join the SecEd Demo group (see link below). You will need to request to join and I will be available to chat to you and answer any questions.SecEd

  • Jennifer Begg is a digital obsessive, trainer and campaigner by night. She is also the founder of JaniesSchool.org and is passionate about girls education and its impact on equality and development. Visit http://livefreerange.com

Further information
This is the first in a series of articles on how schools can make the most effective use of social media. Jennifer’s next article will appear on June 13. To watch the tutorial on setting up a Facebook group, visit http://youtu.be/rsAKyE5INsk and to join the SecEd Facebook Demo Group, go to www.facebook.com/groups/494515247270604/
You can see all Jennifer’s articles for SecEd, including this latest series, listed at www.sec-ed.co.uk/article-search/author/128.


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