I have written rather scathingly in the past about the potential of Facebook game applications such as Farmville, but clearly it would be lunacy to dismiss Facebook itself as a learning tool. Especially as one who believes that the future lies with social learning!
I went to a presentation of Obami a few days ago and it looked very interesting – a secure, school-based social networking with assignment submission apps in place. As someone who has been searching for a VLE which combines the functionality of Moodle with the advantages of Facebook, Obami looks very interesting, and I will be trying it out soon.
The main argument for using Facebook, rather than a school-based network, however, remains that students are on Facebook, and it is important to engage with them where they are. I have only just begun experimenting with setting up a teacher account, partly because the issues of privacy were concerning to me. There has been quite a lot of debate around what is appropriate and what is not, but I don’t think it is in any way acceptable for a teacher to “befriend” a current student. As much as no teacher would want to see their private updates, or photos shared by students, students would not wish to have their lives laid bare to their teacher! The best way round this is to set up a Fan Page rather than a profile. You can use your profile to create a Page, but only what is visible on the wall of the Page itself will be visible to students. Students need to Like the Page, and visit it to participate in discussions and so on. The teacher’s personal profile is therefore not used, and personal updates will not reflect on the Page.
Some people use Groups for a class, and this has advantages. You will probably want, as I am, to experiment with both to see what suits your own needs best. The main disadvantage of using a group is that you then need a teacher profile which is separate from your personal profile.
Perhaps one of the most promising applications on Facebook pages is the ability to link to a Youtube Channel, allowing you to upload videos to Youtube, which will then display on your Facebook page. This allows you to run your own Khan Academy if you so wish! SlideShare presentations can also be uploaded. In this way, and sharing links, content can be brought into the page.
But it is probably in the ability to create discussions on your page that the real value lies. Facebook is a clumsy interface for storing content – a class Moodle does this so much better. Facebook, however, is superb at getting people to engage with each other in relatively superficial, but potentially probing discussions around links to content online, for example. The ability to view a link, and fire off a quick reaction is what characterises Facebook, and it should be used for this. I wouldn’t attempt to hold profound discussions around a topic. Blogs and class assignments are so much better at this. But for quick snippets relating to the course content, and quick reactions and interactions around it, it seems to work well.
As I say, I have only just begun experimenting with Facebook, but I think it is always important to explore for yourself. What works for one teacher, and one class, might not work in another context. There’s only one way to know if it works for you, and that is to jump in and give it a run.