Over the years since its inception, Facebook (FB) has become the social network site of choice by University students. Selwyn (2007) describes how Facebook has become an integral part of the “behind the scenes” college experience. Singapore has 77.8% internet penetration and a high usage rate for Facebook.
By using Facebook, instructors can take advantage of and use the student space, says Erik Mobrand, an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the National University of Singapore. He teaches on topics including the politics of development, social policy, popular culture and politics, and political finance.
In the session, Dr Mobrand shared his experience with using Facebook in Honours modules over the past years and he suggested some ideas for getting started.
Collaboration in syllabus writing
In the year 2008, Dr Mobrand had the students in his seminar-style Honours module class on “Money and Politics” to prepare syllabus and readings for his class (Class size: 25 students). He gave a list of core readings and illustrative readings that is important for the class to get started.
Every week he got two students to lead the seminar rather than him hijacking the discussion. These students would then assign readings – video clips, images, journal articles, or papers – for the entire class and is shared with their peers. For this sharing and for enabling students to do the class work in their familiar space, he set up a Facebook group for his class. The group was a closed group and invited his students to join the group.
The results? He transformed his students from learners to teachers, which improve outcomes. His students made connections between concepts in class and the real world with in the Facebook environment. The informality helped students to express themselves better and also broke down the boundaries – the academic and social boundaries.
Pedagogical advantages that Facebook offers
Dr Mobrand highlighted the following features that he liked and prompted him to explore using Facebook in his class:
Dr Mobrand assigns two students to lead the discussion. These students post the relevant reading materials and puts down a description on their plan for the discussion. Students engage in the discussion before the face-to-face (F2F) class. Dr Mobrand then takes a few minutes before each seminar to check the discussion on FB and this would enable him to take the discussion easily from FB into the F2F seminars. He also awards marks for student participation with a few percentage points.
Facebook allows for posting and sharing information with the ability to include notes, and upload videos and pictures. He realised that students found materials that they can easily relate to. This fosters student interactivity and creates student-generated content. Dr Mobrand indicated his liking of a clean and simple interface which allows for easy sharing as large percent of students are using it and will get their materials with a click within their space.
Dr Mobrand felt that FB increases accessibility and breaks down false boundaries. He also sees that as he moves from the academic space like the IVLE to the social space, the need for students to move back and forth between academic and social becomes unnecessary. In the examples he showcased, he pointed out that most of his class discussions happened in the middle of the night. Hence breaking down the boundary between academic and social and moving into the social space of students makes it easy for him to capture their interest.
As students are socializing in their space, they come across interesting articles and will immediately post them for the class to read. Students can easily access FB on mobile devices, so using FB in the class allows them to participate in academic activities while on the move. Dr Mobrand felt that this would not happen if they were to post in academic spaces like the LMS. This informality helps students to express themselves better.
Summary of Feedback/Suggestions from the Discussion
Finally, it was acknowledged that students are using FB for academic purposes on their own. Dr Mobrand noticed that students were holding a mock diplomatic meeting in another colleague’s class using FB groups for coordinating within their team. This was something that students had done on their own without any instruction from the lecturer. It goes to show that many students see FB as a natural way of communicating with their peers on academic matters even if instructors do not command them to do so. Hence, it is clear that students are already using FB for learning purposes and so it is important for instructors to exploit it to the benefit of both the teachers and students.
Q & A Session
Following the presentation by Dr Mobrand, a lively discussion ensued and listed below are some questions from the subsequent Q & A session.