I am interested in putting IT in Mathematics teaching to improve student outcomes

Monday, 4 August 2014

Using Facebook in Education

I am one of the seemingly few who resisted for so long the constant pressure to join and be part of the Facebook world. I felt it to be intrusive and quite simply a waste of time I couldn't afford. Still a few years ago I had an idea of how to use Facebook as a means of engagement with my classes and I have never looked back.

So is Facebook really the great evil for educators and deservedly banned in so many of our schools? Can it be a time waster? Absolutely, but there are huge benefits for connection and collaboration as well.

Anyone that has used forums knows that this is a powerful way to connect to people with similar interests and to seek answers to questions. This is why on most school learning management systems there are places for forums. The problem is the students don't use them. Maybe they do at the beginning when they are really keen but the novelty soon wears off, and the forum goes quiet. So the question is how to create a forum that the students themselves will drive and want to use. First the forum must have a clear purpose and fill a need that the student's themselves have. Secondly it should be easy to access from any device, anywhere, anytime. Thirdly it should give updated timely notifications of activity on the forum. Lastly it should be setup, run and maintained by the students themselves.

For me as an educator the time where I see the need for greatest collaboration is when the students are working through problems and get stuck. This typically happens at home when doing homework. This usually meant in the past that the student either had to wait till the next day to get help from the teacher, or to ring one of their classmates in their friendship circle to seek help. This is a 1-1 interaction and is very limited in the ability to truly collaborate. This is where technology has opened new doors. The greatest resource the students in class have is each other, so how to tap into this potential when they go home, not just their friends but the whole class and maybe even their teacher.

Enter Facebook "groups". At the start of every year I ask for a volunteer to set up a Facebook group and get all the students in the class to join. I then emphasize the fact that this group is for the students themselves to ask questions of each other when they are working through problems at home. The first time someone posts, I mention it the next day and if the question went unanswered I will go through it with the class. It does take a bit of effort and encouragement at the beginning but once they realize the power of the group it just takes off. I also have a student take a photo of my class board at the end of every lesson and this is posted to the group. This has made me feel more connected with the students as I now know what they are struggling with in the homework before they come to the next class. If I am online at the the time they post their question, I can also chime in and help as often it is just a minor misconception that is holding them back. I have copied a small sample of students interaction below. They don't have touch enabled computers so they are handwriting their problem and taking a photo with their phone. Check out some of the time stamps, this is when they are working!

When students are really struggling they arrange a "skype" session to increase the amount and ease of collaboration. In the future when all students have devices that have decent stylus support I would see greater use of programs such as Microsoft Lync to collaborate. However the initial point of connection must be where the students are at, and at present, good or bad, they are on Facebook.


  1. So great to see learners looking out for each other. We couldn't have dreamt of students supporting each other in this way 10 years ago at any hour of day or night (11pm? yikes!) True "redefinition" of learning.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Bridget Compton-Moen, ChCh

  2. This is quite similar to how teachers use twitter and the vln