Thursday, 25 September 2014

A teacher's guide to Facebook in the classroom

Since its launch ten years ago, Facebook’s potential for use in the classroom has become undeniable. But how can teachers keep their private life private, while still making use of Facebook as a collaborative learning tool? 

Many people will rightly advise you that to expose your private life to students is to risk public humiliation. It could happen to anyone, anytime. A photo is put up on Facebook, it’s tagged with your name, the privacy settings aren’t as strict as they could be and there you are: on a lively night out, in provocative fancy dress, a bit worse for drink, and for all the world to see.

The teaching profession, in particular, is in the public eye and many teachers are finding that Facebook – and their pupils – are revealing much more about them than they’d expected.

But Facebook has the potential to create an open and supportive environment for the pupils, and allow you to get to know them in a whole different light, and to revolutionise the way homework is planned, completed and reported on.

It can also be a great tool for teachers’ professional development, providing a safe space for teachers to share their expertise and professional practice within and beyond the walls of the classroom.

But how can you make the most of Facebook in your classroom without falling into its traps? Our guide below will take you through the process, and hopefully give you a few exciting ideas to try in your own school.

Creating a profile
The first thing to do is create a new Facebook profile that you only use for school. Only include the information you want your pupils and colleagues to see. Set all your security levels to high.

Next, set up a fan page for your school. Fan pages allow you to distribute announcements, blog posts, events, assignments and more right into the live streams or 'News Feeds' of those that ‘like’ your page. This is better than using a personal profile because there is no need for parents or students to be your friends to get the updates, and it can really be used to develop an online community around your class or school.

Setting up groups and pages
For most teachers, pages and groups will be the two key tools of your communication hub.

A page is public, which means that anyone can view it. Anyone can like a page on Facebook, and students who do will see updates in their News Feed.
Groups enable you to communicate to a smaller audience and allow you to limit membership to only those you approve. Using a page or a group is a great way to use social media with your students without blurring the line between your professional and personal lives.

Facebook groups can be quickly created, with their access easily limited only to a form or year group. Pupils can be invited by email. Files can be uploaded by the group administrator, who can also begin debates using an inbuilt polling feature. Pupils can be directed to the group where they can easily access a set of resources for a specific subject, share links to resources and discuss revision assignments. 

Plus, when a teacher adds a new file, question or post, they are able to see how many group members have seen and read the item.

How to introduce Facebook to your school
  • Get leaders on board – get your headteacher, senior leaders and governors to understand the benefits for learning, engagement and communication.
  • Talk to ICT – identify and unblock Facebook access restrictions for teachers first so you can test ideas and projects with colleagues. Start simple – experiment with the use of a Facebook page or group where you can test the tools and technology.
  • Privacy – if you are working directly with students, adjust your own privacy and security settings on Facebook and get them to do the same.
  • Start outside the classroom – consider starting to use Facebook in an out of school hours learning activity like a sports team or drama group.
  • Test ideas – use fellow staff members and pupils to explore what works and doesn’t work to develop and test your ideas across subjects to extend the reach of the initial project. Informally test and evaluate its impact.

  • Use polling tools to set up a series of questions or debates for a group of pupils.
  • Set up a Facebook page for each project you do with your students. You can post news, photos, videos, comments, competitions and information relevant to the project. The page’s Timeline will keep a record of it all, allowing you and your students to track back and access older content.
  • Just in time for remembrance day… why not have your students create a comprehensive and interactive history of WW1, or indeed any other time period? Split your class into groups, have each group create a Facebook page, and then ask them to post relevant images, information, articles and other media to the page’s Timeline, pinned to the dates these major events occurred.
  • Ask outside experts to chime in on your Facebook page – easier, quicker and cheaper than booking a school visit!
  • Use Facebook for foreign language learning and partner your students up with pupils who speak different languages, from Spanish to Japanese. It’s easier than writing and sending letters and allows students to engage with their pen pals frequently and instantaneously outside of the classroom.
  • Set up a Facebook group for your students' parents. The group acts as a central hub for information – so using the example of a school trip, you can use it to share relevant staff contact details, itineraries and maps. You can even use it to keep parents updated during the trip itself, for example by posting photos.
  • Set up an event on Facebook to ensure your students never miss an upcoming exam or essay deadline. Invite all the relevant students to that event – they’ll receive a notification of the invitation and then when they accept or join the event, they’ll receive alerts when you or other members post information or update the event details. 
  • Not really a Facebook tool, but inspired by it... Fakebook allows you to create a fake Facebook account for a book/film character or historical figure (it doesn't create an actual Facebook account). This is a much more inventive alternative to writing a standard biographical piece. There are lots of other tools/templates like Fakebook if it doesn't work for your particular needs. Students could even create their own in powerpoints and word documents.

More advice and an even greater range of exciting ideas and inspiration can be found in our article, Facebook in the classroom, available to purchase from our website.

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