Thursday, July 26, 2012

Using Facebook Groups for Class Communication

Academic use of Facebook at UWEC is not very common, but it can be a good way to connect with students where they are. I wouldn't recommend it as the main place where the class is conducted, but it can be an effective way to share updates, news, due dates, reminders, etc. and allow the students to ask questions or communicate informally as a group.

I recently met with a faculty member who seems genuinely concerned about communicating with students. He observed they do not respond to email and do not check D2L. He took an additional step to text students from email if they gave him their phone number and provider, which I didn't know about. Here's some info on that. I just emailed myself a text and it was truncated to 140 characters, but it was something at least. We discussed the option of Broadtexter, which allows students to sign up for text notifications and would probably turn out more elegantly, but he was really interested in Facebook for interactive communication. Since it's a field seminar class in which they all would be traveling, the use of Facebook made even more sense to me.

I recommend that educational Facebook use occur in a Group. The instructor and students do not need to be friends to interact in a Group. I do not recommend being friends with current students. If you are friends, this means you can see each others' updates, photos, etc: you will probably get more information than you want. When I taught, I told students I would be happy to connect with them on LinkedIn since that is a professional network, but Facebook is for my personal life.
Most students don't want to be friends with their professors anyway. If you decide to create a Group for a class, start out by saying your policy is to not be friends with students (at least current students).
Here are the group options (from Facebook's help site): 

  •  Open: Anyone on Facebook can see and join the group. Open groups will appear in search results and all content that members post (ex: photos, videos and files) is visible to anyone viewing the group. Friends can see that you've joined an open group in their news feed.
  •  Closed: Anyone on Facebook can see the group name, its members and people invited to join the group, but only members can see posts in the group. To join a closed group, a friend needs to add you, or you can ask to join. Your friends can see that you've been invited or added to a closed group in their news feed.
  •  Secret: These groups cannot be found in searches, and non-members can’t see anything about the group, including its name and member list. The name of the group will not display on the profiles (timelines) of members. To join a secret group, you need to be added by a member of the group.
We set up a Closed group in which the admin (the instructor) can only approve requests to join and add new members. Note that this is a setting that has to be changed; by default any member can approve requests to join and invite others. A Secret group would be fine too, however, I find the use of the word "Secret" to describe it kind of strange. 

Note that in order to create a group, you need to add at least one person you are friends with. However, you can remove that person after the group is created. I use my husband in this situation and just let him know what happened. 

To invite students to join the group, you can copy the URL in the address bar when you are on the group's page and distribute it to students however you prefer (email, D2L, etc). 

FERPA concerns? Here are a few things you can do: 
  • Avoid using UWEC or UW-Eau Claire in the name of the group. 
  • Use a Secret group to maximize privacy; you may just want to explain to the students that the group isn't really a secret and that it's just a strange Facebook term. 
  • Let students know you are willing to set up a different communication method if they do not have Facebook or do not feel comfortable joining the group. 
  • Assist students in securing their privacy settings. Share this blog post I wrote and encourage them to look each other up and verify the settings. Students are not as tech savvy as they may seem and may not realize how much of their information is public. 
This professor explained to the students that his use of Facebook for their class is experimental and he encouraged feedback about how it was going. I look forward to hearing about it. He reported a few days later that the students were already joining the Facebook group, but they weren't responding to his emails, so it seemed to be already working. 

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