Facebook often provokes mixed opinions from teachers when exploring its educational applications and, as a fellow sceptic myself, I thought I’d take this opportunity to share my own experiences of moderating a Facebook group.
(“Like” by Adam Fagen, available on Flickr under the Creative Commons licence [accessed 21 July 2013]).
First of all, let’s clarify the distinction between Facebook pages and groups. Many organisations have already jumped on the Facebook bandwagon by setting up a Facebook page to promote their organisation with learners. However, these pages often fall under the auspices of the marketing department and have very little (if anything) to do with teaching and learning and are largely a one-way channel of communication.
Facebook groups, however, are a different beast and when employed by teaching staff can encourage discussion around specific subjects and provide opportunities for peer to peer support. I say ‘can’ because such interactions do need a fair degree of planning and facilitation on behalf of the teacher in order to ensure that a good level of engagement is achieved.
After moderating a Facebook group myself recently, here are my own observations on increasing engagement and avoiding some of the pitfalls:-
- Create a focus for the group and be clear in communicating that focus in the group description. For example, is it for a particular topic? Or essay question? If you establish clear guidelines in the description of the group from the start learners are less likely to go off subject.
- Source appropriate content before setting up the group and drip feed it to learners to ensure posts are regular and interest is maintained. For example, you can include basic doc files that could contain suggested reading lists, include links to relevant YouTube clips, Flickr photo streams and so on to make the content more dynamic and engaging.
- Challenge and pose questions to your learners to get them thinking. The poll feature in particular is a great way to carry out either a formative or summative assessment with learners or to simply canvass their views on any given subject.
- Check the group regularly for new posts to ensure that all content posted represents your group in a desirable way. You might want to consider changing the settings so admin have to give approval before posts from learners are published to the group wall. This is a trust issue at the end of the day and may not be strictly necessary, but it could save you from some potentially questionable posts later… (you can remove a post from your group’s Wall by hovering your cursor over the drop down arrow to the right of the post and clicking the “Delete post” from the menu that appears).
- If you want to draw attention to a particular post on the group wall you can pin the post so it stops at the top of the wall, preventing it from getting buried by any subsequent posts (again, same place as the “Delete post” above).
- Unless you want to be glued to Facebook 24/7 (which is not advisable, especially if you have a life…), you might want to consider promoting another person to admin to help field the posts and respond accordingly.
- Acknowledge posts by everyone positively and ask further questions in the comments thread on any posts made to encourage further engagement.
- Think carefully who you grant access to the group in order to prevent any potential e-safety issues down the line. You can limit who can join a group by clicking on the settings cog in the top right of the group and then choosing “Edit Group settings” from the drop down list. You might want to grant admins only the permissions to approve requests to join.
- Make use of the group email address to allow group members to stay connected (again, in the “Edit Group settings found above).
Further Help on managing groups is available on Facebook itself and although this won’t necessarily be for every learner it can, with a little guidance, not only add a social dimension to complement classroom contact time but also be a good way of motivating learners and providing further support, especially on distance learning courses.