This is the third post in a continuing series of my reflections on teaching this past semester, Spring 2011.
One of the biggest surprises of the semester for me was that Facebook could serve a constructive purpose in teaching.
Each semester I try to leave one component of the final grade up to the students to determine how that component will be fulfilled, and I give them one rule: I must be able to responsibly defend whatever is decided to an academic colleague. This semester, I let the students decide the part of their final grade that would measure their reading comprehension. After short discussions in groups, the students presented their ideas and then voted on an idea, and whatever idea got a majority would win. This semester, one class voted to do a Facebook group and the other voted to do blogs. (The class had requested that the Facebook group be made private, so posting the link would not help you.)
I had never used blogs or Facebook in class, and as Baylor has a policy that discourages instructors from being Facebook friends with students, I was initially unsure how Facebook would work in class. However, I found that Facebook groups were easy to set up and did not require that the members of the group be friends with each other. I set up a Facebook group and the class members joined the group, with the agreement that they had to do an average of one post on a reading before we discussed it in class each week along with one comment (something with some substance beyond “I really liked what you said.”) each week on another student’s post. Each post was to give a brief summary of the reading or focus in on one particular argument in the reading. Then the students were to give reflection or criticism on something in their summary.
I was honestly surprised at how well this worked. When the students would comment on each other’s posts, the conversation about the material would start before class on the Facebook group or blog. I would then pick up the conversation in class, clarifying misconceptions and answering questions raised, and try to leave some questions, which would sometimes be picked back up by the students in the comments. I don’t think they realized it, but I was extending class beyond that 50 minutes every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, allowing for us to take time for things like the Friday Fun Fact in class, which created more familiarity with one another. This familiarity encouraged students to interact with one another more genuinely through the comments. While some professors might consider the Friday Fun Fact to be a waste of time, I found that it enhanced the discussions we had during class and in the blogs and Facebook group.
As far as grading was concerned, I ended up giving them full credit for completion. On the whole, the quality of the posts were not influenced by this, although with some students, the quality of posts diminished throughout the semester. I don’t think that grading each post would have allowed for the discussion that grading on completion allowed. Students were more willing to ask questions as opposed to trying to act like they knew more than they did, which promoted better posts and better discussions.
The points were set up that you didn’t have to fulfill the one post and one comment each week. However, you received fewer points for your additional posts and comments each week, encouraging them to do their work each week, as I didn’t want them not to comment on an entire reading. Some students were diligent on posting each week, even getting ahead. Others tried to put it off as long as they could, and found that they couldn’t make up the points.
On the whole, I received very positive feedback on this part of the class. The class was torn on the use of Facebook, as on one hand, they could check on the class in the midst of their fun on Facebook, but they also could hop on to do a post and end up spending an hour on Facebook that they had not intended. (This latter circumstance may or may not have been experienced by the professor.) I found I actually really liked the Facebook interface for this assignment, but given my reluctant enjoyment of Facebook, I’m wondering if there’s a better way to do it. The students that did the blogs had a more difficult time tracking comments as there were fewer students, but the discussions were not clearly connected to each other as each student had his/her own blog.
I would do this assignment again in a heartbeat. I think there are positives and negatives of using Facebook or blogs, and until I find something that has the strengths of both with fewer negativevs, I’ll probably give both as an option for future students when determining this portion of their grade.
If you’ve never done a Facebook group or a blog, it is much easier than I thought it’d be. I did a post on setting up the blog page for one of the classes if you’re interested in more information.