More and more professors are finding that Facebook inspires more enthusiasm and interaction than LMSes as a forum for online discussion and class collaboration. Blackboard is difficult to use, and the process of incentivizing students to engage in discussion can be contrived. As opposed to Blackboard, Facebook is part of a university student’s daily routine. Students regularly post comments and thoughts surrounding blog entries, posts, and videos in response to their friends. When professors assign students to interact with each other through class Facebook pages, they merely ask them to channel some of their social media participation towards academic ends.
Dr. Rey Junco, Associate Professor of Library Sciences at Purdue University, advises that beyond stimulating class discussions, Facebook allows students more centralized access to each other’s ideas and course questions than individual emails to professors. Dr. BJ Fogg, the Director of Stanford’s Persuasive Technology Lab, encourages students in his class to post their office hours questions to a Facebook page. He then responds to their questions via videos. For graduate student Alessandro Cesarano, who teaches a Beginning Spanish class at USF, creating discussion boards entirely in Spanish improved the authenticity of his course. According to Cesarano, “There is plenty of authentic cultural material on Facebook about the target language we study throughout the course. Facebook is an interesting way to enhance the students’ cultural exposure to the language they’re learning in ways that the textbook can’t.” Some students in classes with Facebook pages have reported that organizing posts around internet discussions is easier than focusing their ideas in a classroom setting. Students who are too shy to speak up in a classroom have reported that they felt more compelled to actively speak up on Facebook.
Some professors have even been successful at designing activities for Facebook which are downright fun, allowing students to reflect on awkward or atypical social scenarios. Dr. Kevin Dougherty of Baylor University designed an Introduction to Sociology class page which encouraged students to experiment with social norms, rebellion, and restrictions for a research project. On the page, students in the class discussed potential violations, and posted pictures and videos from their projects. According to a research paper written after the class, the Facebook group enhanced the course’s learning objectives through exemplifying sociological concepts, and through enabling students to employ research methods and to practice collaborative critical thinking.
In Dr. Erica Estus’s class on Geriatric Psychotherapy at the Rhode Island School of Pharmacology, Facebook made a positive impact on the research subjects of student study. For each week for the ten weeks of the course, three students posted a blog-entry on healthy aging practices, such as retirees rejoining the workforce, super centenarians, and technology and aging. The course also involved older patient volunteers, who voiced that the pharmacology student’s activities encouraged them to become more connected with their own families and grandchildren.
Class Facebook pages don’t just make class-related conversations more dynamic, centralized, and organic. They can actually reinforce course ideas and objectives, and encourage students to become more experimental in their approaches to researching new ideas and materials.