How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Facebook: The Unlikely Union of Teachers and Social Media

Oh, that loathsome Facebook, the great distractor of students.  It is difficult for teachers to facilitate a classroom when the students are preoccupied with liking status updates or looking at pictures of their friends from last weekend.  Whether in the computer lab or on smartphones, Facebook continues to be a technological threat.  It is a sworn enemy to  educators.

But what if Facebook and teachers were able come to some form of truce?  What if they could join forces and somehow learn to love each other?  For tech-savvy history teachers this notion can easily become a reality.  Signs of this lesson could be seen in College Humor’s Facebook History.

The idea is simple; maybe even a little too simple.  What if students were not just allowed but encouraged to use Facebook to chat with classmates?  Their response would be predictable although it is not clear how teachers would benefit from this allowance.  And this is where we see the catch…students would not be allowed to chat on their personal profiles, but rather a fictional profile of the historical figure they were assigned!

To put it more clearly, students would all be using Facebook under their fictional historical profiles.  For those who ever wondered how King George III would have reacted to Thomas Jefferson’s status update stating, “My draft of the Declaration of Independence has been ratified by the Continental Congress.  America is now free and independent from Great Britain!”  Or what about Pope Leo X’s reaction after looking at his news feed and seeing that Martin Luther had posted the Ninety-Five Theses and already has thousands of likes?

Along with Facebook (which most responsible schools have banned), a more responsible and adequate resource is blogging websites.  I can imagine WordPress or Blogger would make ideal substitutes.

HOW IT WORKS

I see this type of lesson working great with history teachers who are entering a unit which has a wealth of important figures (i.e. American Revolution, World War II, The Protestant Reformation, The Fall of the Roman Republic, etc.) for the students to be assigned.  Throughout the unit as the class learns the material in whichever fashion the teacher deems fit, the students will continue to chat and possibly battle on Facebook.

My preferred method of implementing this strategy is using it as a complementary piece to the core unit and instruction.  Students (either assigned or having signed up for a figure) are then to make a Facebook page about them.  Initially, the students fill out the information on their figure for a grade.

Students explain their figure’s biography, quotes, location, and time period.

As the unit progresses, students are required to comment on classmate’s status updates or photo albums.  This requires them to understand their character, what their motives/objectives are, and who they see as a friend or foe.  Communication is based on what their figure would say in a situation, not them.

Of course, the instructor will have his/her hands full with this assignment.  Along with proctoring the language/ content between students and ensuring they have met the requirements, teachers must instigate conflict.  This is where (for some – hopefully all) teachers get to have their own personal fun and be creative.

Say you are teaching a unit on the American Revolution and the class is at the Declaration of Independence.  The teacher can create their own page (or have a student assigned to it) called “The Second Continental Congress” and assign the class to chat on this page as their characters, asking “What would John Adams say about loyalty to the British?” or “What would George Washington say?” then abruptly scold the student who spoke on the page as him since Washington did not participate in the Second Continental Congress.

That latter part of those questions holds weight.  Playing off the theme of Assessment for Learning (this will be highlighted in my next post) for any student who mistakenly appears in a location they were not meant to or an uncharacteristic comment is provided by a figure, the class (and most importantly the student who committed the error) must understand WHY this was wrong and understand what could have been used in its place.

Teachers can make pages concerning battles, events, conferences, treaties, or any other important element related to the unit.  The Facebook discussion can continue throughout the unit through time allotted during class and (if possible) for homework.  I understand that there are multiple ways in which this lesson would be prohibited in schools, so an alternative is detailed later.

GRADING THIS PROJECT

This project-based assessment (or assignment if you wish) involves a great deal of time and energy from the teacher for the assessment/assignment to be productive, but the benefits which it could produce are well worth the effort.  “Historical Facebook” is an ongoing portfolio-based body of work which evolves during the unit.  The student can be graded on multiple levels and at various times for their work on their figure.

The initial grade comes from a completion of their page and its info section.  Each character’s url address is sent and monitored by the teacher.  Weekly marks can be made by evaluating student effort and performance.  Perhaps a minimum of two posts and four comments each week based on their character’s involvement and portrayal would suffice, depending on the class.

The students’ overall performance can be evaluated by the teacher in accordance to the rubric.  Hopefully by the end of the unit, a vast collection of exchanges and events will allow the class to look over their fictional Facebook universe and see which characters said or did what.

IF FACEBOOK CANNOT BE USED

For many schools or even teachers, the prospect of using Facebook within the classroom is heavily frowned upon.  I respect this viewpoint and suggest an alternative.  Instead of using online media to facilitate discussion, teachers could have students create physical forms of their status updates through poster boards or large sheets of paper from the art room.

Classmates can walk around and look at other poster boards commenting on status updates in their character.  Although this prohibits multimedia and centrality of content, the use of physical displays of content over using social networking has many benefits.

Students are not tempted at the chance to surf the internet or go on their personal Facebook profile, is the most obvious advantage.  The class is less tempted to say something crude or insulting if they must write their words in the middle of the class instead of behind a computer screen.

CONCLUSION

This lesson strategy is an acquired taste.  Not all history teachers will be persuaded to participate in this time and energy draining exercise.  But nonetheless, the incorporation of Facebook and education is not just a reality, but an outlet for creativity and fun.

Students are required to think critically, engage in historical dialogues, and embrace the mentality of their figure, all while using social networking media.  But the ultimate question which needs to be answered before any of this happens Is if this a strategy teachers should invest in or is it asking for trouble.

Differentiated Instruction

Since this is my introductory post on “The Art of Education” blog, I feel some specification is in order.  The main writer of this blog focuses primarily on the benefits of technology within the classroom which can prove to be incredibly useful, but I plan on discussing topics directed more towards teaching theory and philosophy.

With that being said, I wish to look into differentiated instruction (DI) first.  For me, DI is dichotomized by the ever-growing emphasis on high-stakes testing and its effect on the curriculum.  The problem with today’s measure of academic success is that achievement is rooted in the quality of test scores leading many teachers to alter their pedagogical approach towards “teaching to the test.”

Of course educators are well-accustomed to this trend so no explanation or insight is necessary, but a discussion of alternatives should be conducted.  I found myself among the many disenchanted teachers who converted a once diverse lesson into a rudimentary mechanism to produce bare fact-regurgitating student robots; all to produce better scores.  At the end of the day, students may be able to shout out arbitrary names but it is without a narrative or the least context.  This is where DI and its ability to enhance a diversity of students comes in.

Unfortunately, the United States pressures both teachers and students to understand a wide array of facts spreading both groups thin in ability to elaborate in minute facts and anecdotal details to give the content the much needed context.  A simple lesson (geared towards topical over procedural units) is to implement a simple DI strategy.  Here are the steps:

  1. Depending on how you approach the content (i.e. chapter, performance standard, and bench marks) set aside the next full unit of study.
  2. Break it down into sections, preferably four to six, which will be incorporated into the upcoming lesson(s).
  3. Once the class has reached this unit, break the class into the number of groups equal to how many unit sections you have created.
  4. With the class dispersed in their groups you assign them a certain section for them to be responsible for.  This is where things get more complicated with the introduction of multiple variables.  Each student must be able to display their mastery of the section you gave them but it is up to them on how they wish to show it.  It is best to have the students base their evidence on Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences to ground them and give them ideas.
  5. Within their groups, students should be given the luxury of choosing how they are to acquire the knowledge in their assigned section.  For example, a student may just wish to read their textbook while a pair could read it to each other.  Ultimately the students are to be on task and using whichever way (intrapersonal or interpersonal) to accomplish this assignment.
  6. Once the students understand what they are assigned to learn, they must demonstrate their understanding to the class.  Each student can do this through whichever way they feel the most confident (i.e. poster board presentation, written essay, performance either alone or with partners within the same section).
  7. Once everyone is completed, you now begin the unit starting from the beginning with the students coming up and presenting their content to the class.  The benefits derived from this part are where the strengths of DI can be found.  Say you have 4 students in each section and each one takes a different approach towards presenting to the class.  You have one student teaching the class through a dramatization of events, another reading their essay, one with a picture-laced PowerPoint presentation, and another presenting musically through a song from the time period or one of their own.  Of course there are a myriad of different ways for these students to demonstrate their knowledge but the emphasis should be on them picking the form they feel the most comfortable with.
  8. Now by the time every student has presented to the class, the rest of the students will have experienced the section through their classmates’ differentiated approach.  And as the teacher, you are more of a mediator and coach during this time instead of tirelessly lecturing.  But after each section, you should ensure the students understand what was just presented to them and fill in the holes which may have been left by the student presenters.

Naturally, this lesson format is not suitable for every subject or grade level.  It is also just one approach among many in which teachers can incorporate DI to the class.  Teachers still need to monitor the class and make sure time is not being spent socializing or being off task, but I strongly believe the pros outweigh the cons in this scenario with factors such as motivation, variation, and stimulation being involved.

They are motivated by feeling that they are in control of their learning by deciding how they will present to the class.  The variation in ways their classmates present the material allows students to be introduced to the content in new and different styles.  Students experience a wealth of stimulation through the diverse experiences of group work, multiple presentations, and a new approach towards learning the material over the redundant teacher-centered lecture format.

Like I previously stated, this is just one form of DI among many.  Rob Baker’s posts provide another great alternative which can create similar results.  Technology is an essential tool for DI but that is for another post.

The New Age of Education and Technology

I am constantly amazed at the increase in use of technology that has taken place just over the course of my school years. Education has transitioned from the chalkboard, the overhead projector, to the projector and whiteboard, and on to the smart board. Students have gone from a pencil and paper to the laptop, smartphone and tablet. Or education has opened up to the new, broad  online world.

Michael Wesch, a professor of Cultural Anthropology created a video in 2007 that highlights our transition not only into technology, but also how that technology has improved over time.

 

“We need to Rethink ourselves.” Quite an interesting statement to say the least. What do we as teachers need to rethink exactly? Let’s look at this next video by Michael Welsch. In Mr. Welsch’s on words this is,

a short video summarizing some of the most important characteristics of students today – how they learn, what they need to learn, their goals, hopes, dreams, what their lives will be like, and what kinds of changes they will experience in their lifetime.

So I ask you: What is missing?