I have been teaching at Colorado Mesa University for almost six years. What began as a co-adjunct position teaching a Desktop Publishing course, evolved into a full-time instructor position in which I teach five courses per semester and covering 10 total course titles. I am also the faculty adviser to the student magazine and co-adviser to the school’s chapter of The Society of Professional Journalists. I keep busy, and I love it.
My first full year as an adjunct, I began teaching a course called “Web Content Development.” The previous instructor had primarily taught basic web design, but I felt teaching communication majors about web design was a little like teaching journalists how to fix the printing press.
Instead of focusing on the nuts and bolts of HTML, file management, and FTP clients, I redesigned the course to focus on social media as a communication medium. Facebook was about three years into its proliferation into the mainstream and Tumblr was brand new.
In order to get the students to use social media, I made it mandatory for all students to join a class Facebook group. Only four students in the class were on Facebook and one was on Twitter (but never used it). One or two students claimed that they had some sort of moral/ethical objection to joining Facebook, so I gave them a pass. Less than four weeks into the class every one of the students had joined – even those who had originally objected.
The experiment worked so well, that I created a Facebook group for every one of my classes. Now, more than five years later, Facebook is the core of my class correspondence and the backbone of my classroom structure.
The use of facebook in the classroom is not new. However, I believe that Facebook is missing out on a great opportunity. I’m not a developer, but I have to believe that with the flip of a couple switches, Facebook could create an online education platform that would obliterate Blackboard, D2L, and dozens of minnows trying to become big fish in the education space.
My students use the class Facebook group to correspond with each other and ask questions off hours. Here are just a few of the benefits:
1. No more excuses. If you don’t know when something is due, ask the Facebook group. If you don’t know how to do something, message the instructor or fellow student via Facebook.
2. Spontaneous topical discussions outside of class. When something relevant to the class is happening at 8pm on a Saturday, students post about it and the discussion that takes place leads to some great in-class material on Monday.
3. It creates a perpetual syllabus. If you can’t remember the website you showed the class last year, you can refer to the group’s archive. If you need to change the course schedule due to illness, you can notify the class immediately.
4. The students are already on Facebook. Yes, there are dozens of studies that show that “kids” are leaving Facebook for other channels, but there’s no such thing as leaving a social media channel. There is only a shift in focus. Students are still on Facebook, they just aren’t using it to post stuff that they want to keep hidden from their parents.
5. You can upload rubrics, syllabuses, assignment details, etc. into the Files area. You can post pictures, screenshots, links, and videos.
There are a few missing features that would make Facebook an even better classroom supplement. If Facebook were to create a Facebook for classrooms, students would be able to upload their assignments, create group study sessions, take quizzes, and interact in a far more engaging way than existing online classroom tools allow. The biggest problem with existing services is that students have to consciously check-in on a regular basis. Real-world discussions are organic, but having to login to an cold interface and produce artificial feedback takes away from the genuine conversation. Although bulletin board platforms are useful, Facebook commenting is far more accessible and familiar – and there are way more emojis.
The mobile version of most online classroom services is terrible. The options are limited and the interface is clunky. A Facebook classroom platform could run side-by-side with the existing Facebook app. Once the class was over, acquaintances would continue offline.
A Facebook classroom mode would give Zuck and the team access to some amazing data. They could also create group access to course material and provide tools for educators and students. It may or may not be publicly stated that Facebook’s goal is to create a portal on the Internet that you never leave. If Facebook is going to be a ubiquitous service that knows everything about us, isn’t the classroom a logical next space for it to spread?
Mark – if you are reading this, give me a call. I have ideas.
This post was originally posted on my LinkedIn page.