By Nick Stanley
Facebook, as a virtual classroom, may be closer than we think.
Debates and ongoing school-wide bans on social media aside, research has found that students are already turning to networks as an extension to structured learning. Fifty-nine percent of students already use social media to discuss education topics online, while 50 percent of those who talk about education topics online talk specifically about schoolwork (Bennett, 2013).
Despite reports that younger Australian users are drifting away towards mobile messaging apps, the popularity and reach of Facebook remains staggering, with over 15 million users in Australia alone (Cowling, 2016).
The advent of social learning is unsurprising, considering the concept and deployment of the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) started decades ago. VLE is an online system that allows teachers to manage and share educational materials with their students. While VLE has become analogous with distance learning and homework, the benefits of online learning has transcended to effectively allow a more immersive and direct, one-on-one learning experience.
Weighing in on Facebook as a Learning Tool
Local educators and parents continue to harbour their own (and valid) apprehensions about the use of Facebook in schools. Some argue that it is a distraction; others believe Facebook empowers learner procrastination and, left unmanaged, will potentially make the learning process less effective compared to a more structured learning system.
From an administrative point of view, one major issue is rooted in the way that Facebook is insecure and unmoderated, limiting control for the organisation. The lack of structure, boundaries and protocols can not only lead to poor quality content, but also security threats. Organisations would be hard-pressed to maintain standards around corporate applications, including those that manage risks.
However, what remains evident is that the wide accessibility and social nature of Facebook as a platform is ideal for learner engagement. As Facebook’s user base and the frequency of access by Australians continue to grow, educators who dismiss Facebook based on privacy concerns are potentially missing an opportunity to harness social networking to inspire children to learn and share using technology in a transparent manner.
With up to 95 percent of teenagers using Facebook and 25 percent going online constantly (Lenhart, 2015), its potential as a medium to excite and educate students is unquestionable. While Australian school policies may not (yet) support its use, Facebook can and will be used by students to meet, collaborate, share and learn. It is unavoidable that educators must, at some point, develop methods to practically harness this platform.
Tips on how to use Facebook for Effective Social Learning
To optimise the positive educational opportunities social media can offer students as well as control the adverse elements, educators need to understand the platform to use it effectively.
- Create closed groups – Teachers can create a group and invite pupils to join the group by email, side-stepping the anxiety around teacher-student privacy. A closed group creates a space where students and teachers can collaborate on the platform, without needing to share access of personal profiles.
- Moderate – Learner engagement is a two-way street. Teachers are more likely to achieve genuine participation and involvement through being proactively engaged themselves. Moderation also allows inappropriate behaviour and conduct to be controlled.
- Stay active – Active, not passive moderation goes a long way in ensuring students know teachers are there and see the group as a virtual classroom and its purpose for learning. This also reinforces good behaviours and conduct.
- Look out – As with any physical classroom, staying aware and managing individual student behaviour in the group is necessary to establish a positive classroom climate.
- Filter – Introducing keyword lists will serve to filter out inappropriate language for a learning environment. Profanity filters, however, do not apply to images, so it is critical to moderate external content and intervene as necessary.
- Feed – Use RSS feeds and subscribe to feeds to receive regular alerts regarding new content.
- Share – Create a group to share learnings with other teachers.
- Accept – Whether teachers like it or not, students are probably going to use Facebook as part of their learning experience. Just like advising them on the physical environment they might encounter, teachers can introduce strategies to help them with the virtual environments they navigate daily.
If students and teachers can find a way to productively co-exist and interact on the social network, the Facebook classroom could prove to be a vital tool for teaching and learning in the 21st century, a feat in the modern education experience.
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Nick Stanley is the Managing Director, Tribal Group APAC.