The Use of Facebook in Secondary Education by Luz E. Zúñiga
In recent years, the search engine Google and social network Facebook have been competing for the top spot as the most popular website. According to a recent article in the Los Angeles Times, there are approximately 800 million active Facebook users, making it the most popular social networking site, followed by MySpace with 33 million. Among those nearly one billion users, teenagers have been the largest subgroup since Facebook became public in 2004. Originally created for college students, Facebook keeps users connected to friends and family though a variety of means, which includes status updates, newsfeeds, and photographs. Although polls suggest that teenagers are the third smallest group of users, accounting for between 11-12% of total users, their numbers double within the next subgroup (18-25 years olds), which comprise the largest percent of users.  This means that for the first generation of Facebook users, although still a small subgroup, the use of the social network during these teens years will be of great significance as they move toward their adult years. If these students are using Facebook as much as predictions calculate, shouldn’t adults pay attention to how often, why, and for what purpose these students are using Facebook?
As a high school English teacher, the use of social networks has been a particular interest to me since I’ve noticed its growing popularity among my students. In my early years of incorporating technology into the classroom, I began by having students email their assignments to me, began a Google site that I continue to use to this day, and have attempted to incorporate more digital media into my class lectures and presentations. However, even these forms of technology are slowly on the decline as more and more student’s aged 12-17 are moving away from email and towards the use of social media. Because educators are divided among their views of using social networks in the classroom, it is nonetheless a topic to consider. Having used both Twitter and Facebook as a teacher for the past two years, I too have mixed feelings about using social networks in the classroom. While I find its usefulness and applicability convenient to a more computer-driven audience, at the same time I find using them blurs the line between teacher and students, since most never seem to use social networks as anything other than for personal use. Based on my first school year using both sites, I became disillusioned when I realized that few students actually took advantage of the site, making it useless as an educational tool.
For these reasons, the purpose of my research paper will be to discover and evaluate the major views regarding the use of social networks such as Facebook in the classroom for the purpose of enriching class instruction. I will evaluate various perspectives on the subject and critique its use in the classroom in comparison to both in my classroom as well as others who have or have not as well. Among those perspectives will include case studies of using Facebook as well as its effects on the college population. Finally, I will include student, teacher and parent perspectives on the use of Facebook as an instructional tool, in particular to those students and/or teachers who have had experience with teachers using Facebook in the classroom. Ultimately, my goal is to find the best use of the social network in achieving positive student results in the classroom as well as for success for students as they leave the secondary school setting and embark on their post-high school lives.
Should Facebook Be Used in Education?
Initially, I began researching this topic with the intent to find “best practices” in using Facebook in the classroom; however, I quickly discovered that very few case studies have been conducted on the subject, and the few that I discovered were mostly about the use of Facebook for personal use rather than an academic or professional use. In addition, the majority of the current research seems to be centered on college campuses throughout the United States rather than in secondary education. Most of the articles I found centered on the consequences of using the various social networks in terms of socialization, grades and issues of trust instead of best practices or case studies by researchers, which was my goal. For these reasons, I decided instead to consider whether or not high school teachers should use Facebook in the classroom and explore both the benefits and drawbacks of using this form of social media.
One site that I found that what seemed to answer this question well came from a blogger named Med Kharbach from Classroom 2.0 who devotes several pages to the same idea and is in the process of researching this topic himself. In “Reasons Why Facebook is Revolutionizing Education”, Kharbach provides an adequate overview of not only the pros and cons of using Facebook in schools, but presents statistical data to support his claim as well as provides other less controversial and well known sites compared to Facebook. According to Kharbach, in January 2011, Facebook reached 600 million users, making it the biggest virtual nation ever with 4.5 billion updates every week… [and these] users contribute to almost 770 billion page views per month.”. For these reasons alone, Kharback believes it is “imperative that we, educators, try to investigate its educational potentials and look for ways to better use it in the classroom with our students.” Pointing out how the use of smartphones is on the rise, “Facebook has finally infiltrated the classrooms even when it is blocked by the school network…[it] is part and parcel of our educational landscape. It is the top socializing tool students are using on a daily basis.” Based on my experience in the classroom, I agree that it is rare to find a student who does not have a smart phone or Facebook page. What makes Kharback’s insights particularly credible is that the author does not claim to be an expert or an advocate for teachers to use Facebook but instead simply “an educator and an ambitious researcher” who simply wants to inform the public of their choices. He presents a variety of short video clips and links to other sites which aide educators in deciding whether or not to use Facebook for their educational needs as well as presenting “how-to” segments should one choose to attempt to use Facebook as well as a handbook for Educators in a .pdf format. Unfortunately, some of the videos were about using Facebook at the college/university level, which is out of my scope for this paper, however, I found the information useful to some degree.
What I found most beneficial was Kharbach’s list of benefits and drawbacks of using Facebook in the classroom, based on his research on the subject. Among those advantages include the following:
- Facebook is a free collaborative learning tool that provides an anxiety free environment where students can speak up their minds and work together instead of being socially held back as happens in the real classroom setting.
- Reminders, calendars, and events are easily shared with students
- It offers easy access to online resources such as links, posts, videos, pictures, etc.
- Students who can not attend some classes can use their Classroom page to stay in the loop
- Facebook can boost students self esteem. They can share what they have learnt not just with their fellow students but also with the whole world.
- Facebook creates strong social bonds between instructors and students
- Through the use of Facebook students will have an idea about the importance of social media in learning.
- Facebook can be used as a research tool. Students can use it to inquire about topics of relevant interest to them from other far-flung students, experts, or simply other teachers they have met in discussion groups.
- Facebook gives the introverts and shy students a golden opportunity to excel and contribute to their learning.
- Parents can use it to follow along with class postings and progress of their kids. They won’t wonder about their kids’ achievement and they will be able to intervene in the appropriate time to redress the situation.
- Facebook breaks up the unnecessary and old-fashioned barriers between instructors and their students making, thus, teachers more socially available to students.
- Facebook pushes students to contribute to their learning, they can create, post discussion triggers, links and share resources and comment on others’ walls.
- Facebook can also be used to introduce students of the same class to each other by associating names with faces.
- Facebook is full of learning applications including mathematical formulae, slideshows, class notes, and many more.
- Facebook can even open up career opportunities for students.
Interestingly, Kharbach also compiled a (much smaller) list of the negative aspects of Facebook, both related to its use in the classroom as well as general concerns of its use on a personal level. Among those, he lists the following:
- A source of distraction: It can distract students’ attention and derail them from the targeted learning goals especially when the chat service is available.
- Fake and misrepresented identities: Many users do not accurately identify themselves and some of them even misrepresent themselves online waving thus a red flag in the face of whom our students will be talking to.
- Privacy issues: Several people claim that Facebook leaves a personal digital trace of your activities on the internet for the world to see it.
- A source of information overload: so much content is being shared on Facebook everyday which could confuse students as to the authenticity and veracity of what they read online. This is where educators need to intervene and show students how to sift through the info they find on the web.
Finally, the author concludes the blog with a list of common suggestions for teachers who are considering using Facebook in their classes as well as a “webliography” of other sites which state similar suggestions or facts as listed here. Among the list of suggestions, he includes not using your personal page as your official page in the classroom but instead creating a separate page for your class, to obtain parent permission before using it in the classroom, clearly explain to parents and students the guidelines, objectives and expectations for using Facebook as a learning tool, keep a professional feel in all the wall posts keeping in mind the public aspect of the page and finally, to constantly stay active on the page by posting resources, links and updating statuses to that students know the teacher is engaged and students are more likely to “buy in” to using the page.
As an educator, I appreciated Kharbach attempting to stay unbiased in his report of the pros and cons of using Facebook in the classroom; unlike most sources that I read, he doesn’t seem to advocate Facebook as beneficial to everyone nor does he only illustrate the positive examples of using it in the classroom, but instead warns educators to “tread lightly” and to be willing to adapt to their students’ needs. In addition, the author provided a variety of written and video based tutorials for those who are unfamiliar with how to set up a site, create a group or what kind of information to put on the page. Lastly, and what I believed to be the best aspect of this site besides the list of other sources and suggestions was the video of a teacher who was currently using Facebook in his classroom; unlike most case studies one reads or views on Facebook, he reiterated the idea that using Facebook does not work for everyone but instead what is important to be willing to consider its use regardless of one’s personal views.
Summary of Academic Research
In Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and other Powerful Web Tools for Classroom, Will Richardson’s chapter “Social Networks: Facebook, NING, Connections and Communities” explores the use of social networks as a way of improving interaction with students, especially those who would normally be too shy to do so in a classroom setting. Based on current research about the growing use of social networks among teenagers, Richardson believes that “[educators] have a responsibility to understand what Facebook is all about, even if it’s just to the extent that we participate there for ourselves, on our own time, for our own connections” (133). Using the November 2008 report “Living and Learning With New Media”, Richardson indicates that among the key findings is that kids are using social network technologies in two important ways: “friendship-based ways” and “interest-based ways”. Although he advises against “friending” students on Facebook on a personal level, Richardson believes that using the interest-based aspect of social networks can yield positive results for both teachers and students. In addition, the results of these pages or groups can also benefit other teachers at your site in collaborating best practices that can be used by others in your subject area as well as other subjects.
Richardson favorably illustrates two different uses for Facebook: the use of the private group at a Catholic school and the use of a public page for a library in a Georgia high school. Characteristically positive, Richardson’s examples tend to show only successful examples of using the social networks in the classroom and skims over the possible negative aspects. Examples of these instances include the student’s inability to access during school hours, or having access at home, the responsibility of the students in maintaining the site on an interest level site rather than a personal site, as well as generating student interest or “buy in” in order to make the site successful. In addition, Richardson does not illustrate the use of the Facebook fan page (which is the one I use rather than filtering my own personal page as often suggested) as a possible option, which in some cases may work better than a page which requires email addresses and is not restricted like a private group page.
One of the biggest criticisms of using Facebook as an educational tool is that social networking sites may disengage students from learning literacy skills typically found in a traditional classroom setting. Others fear that privacy issues will impact or even destroy the traditional roles of the teacher and learner, or that the line between student and teacher will be blurred. Still others believe that extensive use of social networks will affect academic performance since too much time will be wasted online rather than studying or reading textbooks. Pollera and Jie Zhu set out to disprove those assumptions in “Social Networking and Education: Using Facebook as an Edusocial Space.” Through a case study of a high school science-mentoring program, they discovered that the use of Facebook “positively affected the relationships between mentors and mentees. In addition, students believed that they learned more by using Facebook and would like to use Facebook for other educational purposes” (1). They conjectured that educators should simply use social networks with which students are already familiar rather than using traditional or complicated media available for educational purposes. They also discovered that using Facebook created a stronger relationship between teacher and student as well as increased student participation and overall dialogue between the mentors and the students that normally would not occur in a traditional classroom setting.
What I considered to be most valuable about this particular research project was that the participants were of a specific demographic and close to the age group similar to the group of students I work with at Sweetwater High. The students were considered “at risk” and were of similar socio-economic backgrounds. In addition, unlike many other articles I reviewed for this paper, it included actual examples of Facebook comments and status updates, as well as quotations from students regarding their views on the usefulness of the groups. The results seemed to demonstrate my initial assumptions about the use of Facebook in high school, which is that it has both its benefits and drawbacks since it does not appeal to every student equally.
Finally, in ““Lessons from Facebook: The Effect of Social Network Sites on College Students’ Social Capital” by Sebastian Valenzuela, et.al., the authors make a strong argument in favor of the long term effects of using Facebook for both social, educational and professional reasons. Using students from a college in Texas, their goals included not only to define who uses Facebook and for what reasons, but also to see if there was a relationship between “intensity of Facebook use and students’ life satisfaction, social trust, civic participation and political engagement” (2). Regardless of socio-economic standing or daily usage, this study found that social networks had an effect on reconnecting individuals, especially young adults, to society and public life. Valenzuela, et.al., conducted a thorough study of various factors that influence usage of Facebook, study trends among different age groups and genders as well as educational status of both the participants and their parents. Comparing both their usage to their various questions regarding their general outlook on life, researchers discovered that unlike common beliefs that heavy social network use leads to dissatisfaction or depression, students labeled as “heavy users” were generally happy with their lives. Although the study focuses on college level students ranging from undergraduates to doctoral students, these findings highlight important lessons for high school educators in shaping and influencing how students will be using the social network during their college years and beyond. However, although an extensive and informative the research was, again, it focused solely on college level students which are not the age group that I want to focus my study. In addition, I was hoping for examples or ideas from the students themselves as to exactly how they use Facebook for academic purposes, rather than just for social or personal uses.
My Experience Using Facebook in a High School English Class
In order to see how effective it would be to use Facebook as a teaching tool in a high school setting, I used my existing fan page to create a teacher site for my students. Although I began the site last year, unfortunately I had very few followers (about 15 or so by the end of the year) mostly due to the fact that I didn’t advocate enough that students should follow the page. In an attempt to gain more followers, I also linked the page to my Twitter account so that students who preferred one social media to another could choose which page to follow; however that did not seem to encourage much more participation either.
I purposely chose to create a fan page over a personal page because I didn’t want to blur the lines between teacher and student, a concern that I mentioned earlier. Furthermore, I also wanted the page to be public so that anyone, not just students, could follow it and not necessarily be a “friend” or a follower; I thought that creating a group page was limiting in how I could use the page and would require more work in getting student involvement and would alienate those who did not want to give an email addresses or Facebook page. Ultimately, I would like teachers and parents to be able to view the page freely and be able to comment or make suggestions. Therefore, I believed that a fan page would be public enough for anyone to view should they not want to be a fan and could like and follow on their newsfeed.
Beginning this school year, I made a more conscious effort to not only advertise that students follow the site but also attempted to include more daily updates that I believed were most useful in assisting students with keeping up to date with the class. Since I wanted genuine followers of the page, I simply asked my students to follow the page without expecting extra credit and did not post anything on Facebook that I didn’t say or write in class. Among the most popular updates, I included reminders of upcoming due dates or general school events such as schedule changes. In addition, I also included funny pictures, anecdotes or quotes related to teaching or related to the subject that we are currently studying in an attempt to “personalize” the page more, something that I personally felt was somewhat important but not as much as the other features mentioned. Finally, since I also have a Google site dedicated to my class (there is a link in the information tab of my page), I frequently post the link when I have updated grades or added any new information to the site. Essentially, my goal is to constantly communicate information I feel is most important in ensuring the success of students in my English 12 class. However, one limitation I keep encountering is getting more students to have a dialogue with me or with each other on the wall; sadly, my attempts thus far are limited to students simply clicking “like” to a post or asking very brief questions. For this reason, this is a feature that I tend to explore further with my current and former students.
Since part of my project for this research paper was to make a case for the importance of using Facebook in a high school setting, I decided to conduct my own survey to discover the ideal uses of the social network based my own personal use as well as how other educators have been using Facebook in the classroom. I elicited participants by posting a link on both my personal and public Facebook page, asking my 642 friends to complete a ten-question survey that asked a variety of questions regarding general Facebook use as well as my public page. The over 100 participants ranged from ages ranged from 16 to 60 years old, the majority of the participants were former students (54%); among the participants were also work colleagues, current students, parents of former students as well as high school classmates, The questions ranged from general use of Facebook among teachers and students, the importance of specific features in a typical classroom, a critique of my page against those common features as well as an opportunity to suggest improvements or changes to the page.
Ninety-percent of the respondents stated that they use Facebook solely for the social aspect of it, to keep in touch with friends and to find old friends from high school, middle school and even elementary school. The remaining 10% stated that they had some experience using Facebook on a professional or educational level. When asked whether teachers should be able to or encouraged to use Facebook as an educational tool, the majority (58%) felt that it would be a good idea since they believed that “students were already on Facebook anyway” so they might at well take advantage of it but had reservations on how it would be implemented in the classroom. Interestingly, about 28% of the participants were undecided on whether or not to use Facebook at all since they could see both positive and negative aspects of using the site. Only a very small percentage of participants (2%) felt that Facebook should never be used in the classroom since they felt that students were already on it too often and were in some ways “addicted” to the site that they didn’t feel it necessary to contribute to its extensive usage as it is.
In terms of its usage, I was surprised to find that an overwhelming majority (51%) preferred a private group (51%) to a personal page (16%) and a public/fan page (31%). As far as use of a personal page, 54% of the respondents believed that teachers and students wait to be “friends” until after a student has graduated or has reached minimally the age of 20; all participants believed that it was very important to keep a relationship or some sort of connection with a teacher while the student is currently in his/her class and especially after he/she graduates. As one respondent put it, “If teachers care about student’s education, why not make relationships with them and make them feel as the teacher cares.”
When looking at a public page such as mine, I asked what would keep students from following or clicking “like” on this type of page. There was a divided response with regards to possible reasons, the most popular (33%) being that students did not want to combine the social or personal aspects of Facebook with professional or educational use. As one parent put it, “Many children may make a mistake in posting something that may be inappropriate for the teacher and teacher may think different of the child.” Another concern (28%) was that the page was too public and did not feel comfortable asking questions in such a space or type of environment. When asked about the features of the page, 68% of those polled considered “Posting due dates or upcoming school events” an element that they considered to be “Very Important” when creating an educational page. Other “very important” features that students and parents wanted to see was the “Ability to post questions for the teacher or others in the classroom” and “Be able to find important links to websites (i.e., grades, school/teacher websites, etc.)” which also received over half of the votes. Features that were not at all important were the ability to “see a teacher on a more “personal” level outside the classroom (i.e., general posts/pictures which may or may not be school related) which only received 14% of the “most important” votes. One of the major concerns for using Facebook as a teacher was that there already existed other pages that are more academically based on familiar to students such as Blackboard or Wikis. When asked to compare my page to those same features, several respondents believed that the page fulfilled these characteristics very well or well in terms of its usage.
Finally, when I asked students, parents and teachers to offer suggestions, most said that they could not find more things to add and generally complementary in terms of how the page currently stands as is. Among the comments that I did receive, most were to include a private message feature so that students could ask questions directly to me without others seeing as well as including daily or inspiration quotes, adding links or information to college related material, more documents related to the class (such a class syllabus or commonly used handouts), creating a group page within the public page, links to interesting articles related to what we are currently covering in class as well as more polls or surveys on what that class should cover next.
One of the limitations, which perhaps explains why so many people see Facebook as a detriment to education, is that they are unaware of how it can be used properly or effectively in classroom. This became apparent to me when I saw that only less than 10% of those surveyed had actual experience using Facebook in anything other than a personal or social setting. Another flaw with my survey was that most of my respondents were former students who are either not following my page carefully, had never seen it at all or confused my personal page with my public page. This became apparent to me when I read on several of the comments that they did not think the page was “professional enough” or completed the survey without looking at the page at all or quickly skimming the page and not looking at all the features. Based on the lack of experience, I also noticed that most people are not aware of the limitation of a public page and the comments for suggestions reflected that assumption, asking that students be able to send private messages when it is not a feature in those types of sites. In addition, I had hoped to elicit more teacher and parent responses but unfortunately I was unable due to time constraints. Interestingly, the most insightful comments I did receive from those two groups came in the form of text messages or Facebook message either privately or on my wall. Many parents and teachers became more aware of the possibilities after reviewing my site when initially they had reservations about considering its use in the classroom.
Other interesting revelations came when I asked about what type of page would be best for educational use. My assumption, as I mentioned earlier was that a group page would seem exclusionary and would not allow parents or teachers to see or contribute to the conversation. Based on both comments and survey results, my next major step in amending my current site is to incorporate a group page within the public page based on class period and/or class level. To encourage more student participation, I will also look into including a private form of communicating with either other students or the teacher directly so that more dialogue will ensue. I was also surprised to see the lack of interest in seeing the teacher on a more personal level, a characteristic that is very important to me as a teacher and the image that I portray in terms of professionalism and appropriateness. Personally, I do not believe in “friending” a current student in my class or someone who is still in high school; and very rarely do I send them a friend request, instead opting to allow them to choose to continue to talk to me after they have graduated. Maintaining a connection with my students is an important factor for me since I like to keep in touch with them and make myself available to them should they need assistance with college level material. Rarely do I send the friend request since I want the student to genuinely want the student to keep in contact with me rather than have a sense of obligation or feel guilty to ignore or dismiss the request. I used the same guiding principal when it came to my public page and the division between the two pages. I strongly believe that choice is a key factor in the way students interact with a teacher both during and after high school. Using the page in any other way would be a disservice to this open forum and oftentimes more comfortable setting for most students.
Finally, I was also forced to rethink my initial assumption that it was somewhat important to include more personalized comments or to add more non academic features to my page in order to make it more inviting and welcoming to students. Here is where I found a contradiction in what I have experienced on the page thus far and what most respondents said. As I mentioned earlier, this was a feature that a majority of the people considered to be “not at all important” yet was a feature that was seen to be well displayed on my page. Based on the statistics one can gather on the site as the page administrator, the majority of the “likes” or comments tend to come from links, pictures or posts that are more humorous and less academic. On the other hand, when I attempt to being a dialogue about a news link, interesting quote or question, I get very few responses, if at all, and usually in the form of a quick statement with not follow up. Even when I try to create a dialogue with the few who do comment, it is rare that the conversation continues or tends to be limited to one student or several former students who still recall topics from the class. Therefore, one of my goals in my continued improvement of the site is to find more ways to elicit dialogue or debate about issues related to the class and to make them more meaningful or interesting for most students as well as assist them with the required assignments in class.
In essence, upon reviewing various blogs and journals as well as the results and suggestions derived from the survey, I learned so much about not only about best practices in using Facebook as an educational tool but was also encouraged to continue using my own page based on the majority of positive results that I gathered from a variety of people. I also discovered that in general, both parents and students agree that using Facebook in a high school setting is a good idea, however, a large majority stressed that the use of the page had to follow specific guidelines that were appropriate to a high school setting. I was pleasantly surprised and encouraged to know that my initial assumptions on how to use a public page were generally accurate in terms of best practices by my current and former students and that very few people believed I should not continue with the page. Based on the survey, I was also able to generate several ideas on how to improve my page as well as to consider including features I had not thought to be important or to omit features which were not as important as I assumed. Although using Facebook as a teacher is a process that is at times arduous, for the most part it seems to yield more positive than negative results when used according to your student’s needs. My survey results caused me to make a more consorted effort to use my Facebook page more frequently in my own classroom teaching and encouraged me to share my findings with my colleagues so that they too many consider using social media in the classroom use as well. Based on my data thus far, I feel I have begun to make stronger argument for the use of Facebook among high school classrooms.
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