Generally, Facebook relates to school only when students sit in the back of the classroom, smoothly transitioning from laptop note-taking to an in-depth look at friends’ latest updates. But as faculty have learned of social media’s possibilities, a growing number of instructors are asking students to log on for class purposes.
Some professors still see Facebook as strictly a student space, while others say that using Facebook for assignments adds an extra something to the classroom dynamic.
Daniel Porterfield, senior vice president for strategic development and a professor in the English department, has used Facebook regularly since he first registered this summer.
“In the first years I viewed Facebook as a student play-space that professors might visit from time to time but should respectfully leave to those for whom it was designed,” Porterfield said.
Nonetheless, 10 years after it was founded, over 500 million users and a blockbuster film later, Facebook’s versatility has evolved.
“I made the decision to join with the primary purpose of using some of its function as an extension of my teaching and mentoring ” Porterfield says.
Porterfield posts about two or threeitems per week and checks his news feed to keep in touch with young alumni. “It helps me as an educator to be better informed about the ways 18-to-30 year-olds are using social networks,” Porterfield said.
Other professors have experimented with the site to increase student engagement.
Students who have interacted with instructors on Facebook said they benefit from the experience. Last year, Matt Bakios (SFS ’12) took a Chinese course in which his teacher, Juei-Chen Hsiao, asked students to post on her Facebook wall for assignments.
“I was originally a little worried that she had access to my Facebook profile, but it was never a problem. I actually really liked using Facebook and found it not only beneficial but also easier and less confusing than posting on Blackboard,” Bakios said.
While Bakios has never had teachers use Facebook to announce assignments, he said that Facebook’s organizational features would help students track coursework.
“I use Facebook so frequently, and it automatically sends updates to my phone. It would definitely help me stay organized,” Bakios said.
Many others see the potential in Facebook and other social media sites to bridge the student-faculty gap beyond the confines of an academic building.
Andrea Rahardja (COL ’13) said Facebook would be a more efficient classroom supplement than Blackboard.
“While I’ve had teachers use Blackboard as an avenue to generate
discussion outside of class, you only have to take one look at the [numbers] of
students using Facebook to know how much easier it would be for engaging in conversations,” she said.
Yet even with all of the potential for touching base and easing communication flow, many professors feel that it is only appropriate to keep their distance.
Until last year, Bettye Chambers, a professor in the Italian department, used Facebook for class discussion, but she made the switch to Blackboard for pragmatic reasons. Whereas all Georgetown students are registered to use the virtual learning tool, not all of her pupils had Facebook accounts.
Chambers said she regrets becoming “friends” with her students through Facebook.
“I was such a novice to Facebook. Once I was `friends’ with my students, I got all of this garbage from the news feed, and little by little I was blocking everybody,” she said. “I was inundated with all of this stuff.”
University Provost James O’Donnell says that he does not direct faculty on whether or not to integrate social media in curricula.
“I’m all in favor of using all available tools wisely, but I don’t want to dictate particular things,” O’Donnell said in an email. “The same tool can be wonderfully empowering in one class and an annoying distraction in another.”
Professors like Sharon Leon, professor in the American Studies Program, have opted for a third way. Leon began using a blog in her classes in the late ’90s, rather than resort to Blackboard.
“A significant component of
writing for every student for the semester takes place on the blog,” she said.
Although she uses blogs in all her courses, she said that she is conscious of the distinction between Facebook’s social and academic functions.
Leon said she does not connect with her students on Facebook in order to avoid what she calls “the creepy tree-house effect,” a term that describes the feeling in students when they know professors are virtually looking over their shoulders online.
“One of the bonuses of Facebook for undergrads is that it is a space where they can all be safely among themselves,” Leon said.
With the proliferation of professor and administrator accounts, however, Leon’s conception of a students-only Facebook may be a fading