Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Why I Love Having a Class Facebook Page

Last August, I was at my local Barnes & Noble doing some work. Ok, you've got me. I was SUPPOSED to be doing some work, but in truth, like so many of my students, I was Facebooking instead. For some reason, I started messing around with the "pages" option, and I decided to make a page for my class. I wasn't quite sure what would happen with it, but I thought if nothing else, I could spend the next hour fiddling around with that rather than writing lesson plans. 

I ended up with my class Facebook page. I think I uploaded a photo of my classroom, wrote a silly status message about how no one would "like" it, finished my grande skinny decaf caramel macchiato, and went home.

One hundred and seventy Two hundred twenty-seven "likes" later, I have to say that the class page was the best thing I could have done last year. As the year progressed, I realized that what had started out as a way to procrastinate had somehow transformed my classroom. It became a way for students to communicate with me in a way that they enjoy. I chuckled this past June when I was still getting one or two student posts on my wall every much for summer vacation!

Here are just a few of the ways I have come to utilize a Facebook class page.

Develop relationships with students
It is called SOCIAL media, after all. Even though I'm not comfortable with "friending" current students on Facebook, the class page enables me to talk to them and get to know them better than I normally would. The public nature of the posts/comments engages a variety of students and gives me a chance to communicate with them in a different way.

Post links that relate to class
I love to post links for my students, from SAT tips to book reviews to news articles about my favorite authors. These links do not necessarily have to relate directly to class. I share links with news about the upcoming Hunger Games films (I can't wait!), funny comics that I think the kids will like, music videos, and other things that I happen to find interesting. 

Inspired by FridayReads, I decided to post a status on my page every Friday and ask students what they're reading. Sometimes I get 20 or more comments. Sometimes I get zero. Either way, I think it's an easy way to get kids fired up about what they're reading and share their latest literary conquests with their friends. 

Answer questions from students
I don't know why I was so surprised when kids started posting homework questions on my wall. I guess it's because I just saw the class page as a fun thing rather than a work thing. Eventually, students started using FB to reach me instead of the email system that our school provides to all staff and students. A couple of students remarked on my course eval this year that they liked when others asked questions because they often were wondering the same thing but were too afraid or lazy (their words, not mine) to ask.

Get feedback from students
I sometimes make surveys in Google Docs if I'm looking for feedback from kids. For instance, this summer I moved my homework blog over to a wiki. I was having trouble deciding how to organize the homework assignments for students, so I made a quick survey and posted it on my page. I got about fifteen responses (ironically enough, mostly from kids who I'm not even teaching next year) with great feedback and suggestions. This was on August 15. I'm pretty confident when I say that if I had sent the survey to students via email, I would have been lucky to get even one response.

Allow students to share what they find
Students have started posting things to my class page, and I especially (selfishly) love this because it's enabling me to gather lots and lots of supplemental resources to use for years to come. I mean really, how cool is it when a kid posts a link to a web comic about Pride and Prejudice at 2am on a Saturday night? If that's not taking learning beyond the classroom walls, I don't know what is.

I know that social media in the classroom can be scary. I'm a huge techie, and it even took me a couple of years to feel comfortable communicating with my kids in this way. However, this is their world, and even if Facebook goes to the wayside like MySpace did (hello, G+), social media is here to stay. If we don't teach our students appropriate, professional, and educational ways to use the media, who will?

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