Educator Anthony VonBank of Clouducation predicts that in the next three years Facebook will introduce education accounts. Some educators aren’t waiting.
Among those already leveraging the social network for teaching and learning is Dr. Rachel Baum, an adjunct assistant professor of Jewish studies and Hebrew studies at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee who just finished her 15th course using Facebook.
What began in 2010 as part of a pilot project on the use of social media in the classroom is now an integral part of how Baum connects with students.
On the eve of the Jewish holiday, Purim, Baum posted on the Jewish 101 Facebook page a link to an essay from Zeek, the Jewish Journal of Thought and Culture. “This essay discusses the importance of the holiday for the writer,” Baum wrote in part, “but also the complexities of the story.”
A little later a student shared a link to the YouTube video “Purim Song” by The Maccabeats. “If you want a quick way to learn of Purim, watch this music video!” she wrote.
The exchange illustrates one part of what Baum describes as a three-rung ladder approach to using Facebook in the classroom.
In the approach — explained in this YouTube video —each rung of the ladder represents a higher level of connection.
The first rung is about connecting students to the class, so Baum posts quiz reminders and notes on required readings.
The second is about connecting students to their local community, so Baum posts notices of local events like lectures, exhibits and theatre performances related to Jewish studies.
The third rung is about connecting students to the world, so she posts links to news, essays and videos related to class topics and discussions.
Baum encourages instructors to move up the ladder as much as possible. Class announcements alone will not establish meaningful connections to and among students.
Should you choose to adopt Baum’s ladder approach, she recommends the following.
Post frequently. Baum calls this her most important lesson. Posting less than twice a week risks those posts falling flat, feeling more like notifications than part of an ongoing conversation.
Post essays and videos more often than class announcements. Share items that show up in your news feed just by virtue of being connected to colleagues in your field of study. Though many students won’t read these, sharing them proves the subject’s real-world relevance. Some will read them, deepening their experience in your class.
Connect your posts to what the class is studying. Contextualizing what you share is an important part of curating information; so, include a couple sentences to connect what you share to what students are learning.
Let students know when you’re reading their essays. These are simple posts that can go a long way in establishing a connection with students. For Baum, it’s especially important in her online classes to give students a glimpse of her activities. An example:
Be yourself. Disclosing lots of personal details is ill advised, of course, but Baum finds that sharing bits and pieces is a good thing. For example, one semester when her class was studying the Holocaust, Baum spent time watching the eagle cam in Decorah, Iowa to escape. “I shared [a link to the cam] with my students along with a note suggesting that the intensity of studying the Holocaust requires that we take breaks and find ways to see the good and beauty of life,” she says.
Don’t make Facebook a requirement. Some students have valid reasons for not using Facebook — something Baum respects — but most already have accounts, so it’s rarely an issue that students are left out of the conversation. In those cases, however, Baum offers other opportunities for students to connect, such as through the LMS.
Don’t fear inappropriate use. Though Baum does not have an official social media policy, she applies the same standards to Facebook as she does to the classroom. Only once in two years has a student replied inappropriately to another student’s comment. Rather than delete the comment, Baum seized the opportunity to teach digital literacy. “I used the exchange as a teaching moment to talk about comedy (the post included a Colbert Report clip) and how what is humorous to one person may be offensive to another,” she says.
To Baum, using Facebook with students is like inviting them to an intellectual party. She emphasizes that people have been talking about the subject before their class and will continue talking about it after the semester ends. Her job is to teach them to assess the ongoing conversation and contribute constructively. “I see Facebook as an important tool in showing my students around the intellectual party,” she says.
In the comments, share your own do’s and don’ts for using Facebook with students.