I read an amazing fact in Time Magazine on May 23, 2011. According to Consumer Reports there are 7.5 million Facebook users under the age of 13. This is the minumum age users can register on the site. The report also goes on to suggest that some 5 million of that number are under the age of 10.
Now this presents both an opportunity and a challenge for educators. Facebook has huge potential in our classroooms. However it can also cause a lot of problems (bullying, addiction to name but two) and present a huge barrier to learning.
Almost two years ago I sat with the Advanced Higher History class and asked them about study patterns. I was keen to learn more about how they were studying and to gauge if they were ready to embark on AH study and potential university applications. The students concerned gave frank and honest answers. One of the points they raised was that prolonged study and concentration was often broken by the ‘ping’ of facebook messages and chat coming up on the computers screens they left open when studying.
On one hand this was a distraction, but on the other this shows the ability of our young people to multi task and deal with multi media messages more than ever before.
The conversation got me thinking and I made a bold and brave decision. That night I set up a facebook page called Robert E(educatino) Lee after the great American Civil War Confederate commander who the class were studying. I intended to place essay questions and updates, use the picture section for tasks and drop facts, information and questions on the site throghout the year.
If you cannot beat them, join them was part of my philosophy! Whilst many would fear such a step it was a risk worth taking and one which paid dividends. The students engaged in a number of tasks including:
1. Using the picture section to identify key politicians, military figures and agitaors. they then wrote something about each of the figures and then had to place them into an order of importance. This helped them gain key knowledge but also assess and analyse the importance of each figure.
2. The students had to answer essay questions which were posed on the wall.
3. The students had to pose their own essay questions or discussion points on the wall.
Now, you might say these are all things that I could have done in the classroom anyway. However, here is the real potential of facebook and other web based learning tools. It is possible for students between schools to share knowledge, debate and enagage. It is also possible for students from other sectors to engage. Students completing undergraduate studies at the university of Edinburgh, or indeed any American university, could also engage. This has the potential for opening up lots of different opinions and perspectives…. all the more so if students from overseas can engage.
Thus, my point is this. Do not kick out facebook at face value as hindering students learning. Think out the box to ways in which this can be used as a tool to enhance their knowledge and at the same time boost learning and IT skills. A neat mix of both leaves everyone clicking on “like”.