I’m trying to start this blog post that I was supposed to write yesterday, yet my fingers inch towards that little blue F—bookmarked, of course.
Facebook gets a rep for being a time vacuum for procrastination, and I don’t disagree. However, what people don’t know is that it can also be a tool that can connect, engage, and improve student educational outcomes.
As a senior in high school, the major contribution Facebook has on my education is through the Facebook group feature, most often used as a community forum for individual classes. Just as a class is a closed community of interaction, so are each of these groups. Many people are unaware of the educationally beneficial interactions that students partake in within these groups guarded by privacy settings.
So here’s a sneak peek behind those closed doors–how students use social media for academics when the only people watching them are their peers.
Why use Facebook?
In general, a Facebook group is a tool of convenience utilized by students because the vast majority of students have profiles (approximately 90%) and spend a considerable amount of time on the site anyway. So when a teacher writes down a lengthy homework assignment on the board, Facebook makes it unnecessary for anyone to write it down. One student can take a picture with their smartphone, post it in the class group and it’s there– immortalized, forever impervious to coffee stains or the abyss of a messy backpack.
Continuing the Discussion Outside the Classroom
Not every class that has a Facebook group is that active; it depends on the subject. In my experience, the trend seems to be that groups based on subjects that are more discussion-based, such as Social Studies and English classes, are more active.
But the groups that are active serve as an excellent place to ask questions. From “When is this due?” to “How long should this essay be?” Asking peers, who respond within a few minutes, is much faster and more casual than emailing a teacher.
Whether it be about character analysis in French satire or strategies for solving a calculus problem, questions can also lead to meaningful discussion. Although there may only be a couple students participating in these discussions, they are visible and can be beneficial to all members of the group, especially students who couldn’t make it to class.
Students want their questions answered, but they also want to help each other. That’s why they use their class Facebook group to answer each other’s questions, exchange essays, and plan discussion meetups.
Four of my classes currently have Facebook groups, and out of the most recent 150 posts in those groups, here’s how the student conversation breaks down:
- 47% of the posts were students asking questions to one another
- 10% were discussions around classroom content
- 19% were for coordinating various activities
- 24% were a random collection of due dates, complaints, and memes that were somewhat relevant to course material
Conversations Aren’t All About ‘Academics’
As the breakdown above indicates, class Facebook groups are also used to discuss topics that are indirectly relevant to academics, but even if the results of those interactions are less tangible, they are still beneficial. What better for students to bond around besides procrastination and funny pictures? We are teenagers after all!
Though it may seem counterintuitive for students to spend time posting and commenting on things not directly relevant to the course, these interactions lighten the stress of a challenging schedule. Stress can often be isolating, but less so when students can stress out collectively. Facebook groups give us that forum. And while high schoolers may seem the most stressed out and spend the most time engaged in social media, nontraditional students have also found similar benefits to these online communities when they go off to college.
In last week’s edition of The Chronicle, Sharan Paul, mother of three, writes of her transition back to college as a non-traditional student and how she “felt completely out of touch with the fast pace of the world” around her, especially regarding technology. However, after creating a Facebook group and setting up a texting reminder system with several peers, she found herself more organized and less stressed out about her new course work.
So even if high school students spend time scrolling through their news feed instead of doing homework, we cannot discount Facebook’s utility as a communication tool and stress reliever.
Are you using social media to improve your educational experience? Share your perspective below!