Last semester I used Facebook in my First Year Seminar (FYS) on a modern history of stereotypes about Asia and “the West.” Generally speaking, the class Facebook page became a community discussion board about campus events that related to the FYS’s broader themes of History, Asia, globalization, cultural studies, Orientalism, race, ethnicity, and social justice. Using the course Facebook page, students and I posted announcements about upcoming events, and then in turn, a good many of the students who attended the events posted their reactions along with a visual image or artifact from their experience.
Why did they use the page? For one, as a requirement in my FYS, each student was expected to attend at least one campus event before the end of the semester. To get credit for attending the event, they had to either a) send me an essay privately by e-mail of 200-300 words in which they reacted to the event, or b) write a short Facebook post in which they briefly described the event and posted a visual artifact. About 2/3 of the students opted to fulfill this requirement by posting on Facebook
How did it work? At the beginning of the semester, all students joined the course “Group Page” that I made. All of my students, except one, already had Facebook accounts, used them regularly, and knew how it worked. I chose to create a Group Facebook page instead of a personal or community page because this format is private; in order to view the page, one has to be invited and then added as a “member.” As the page administrator, I was able to control who joined the “group” and if necessary, edit the posts. Other advantages this format held were that members could not easily see the private posts of other group members (unless they were to “friend” each other on their private personal Facebook pages) and it indicates how many people view the posts (see image above). Based on this format, I learned that the vast majority of students had “seen” each others pictures and comments within no more than a week of their posting. Generally speaking there was a new post roughly once a week from a different student in the class.
Even though I was clear that our class group page was private, I had discussions with the students about digital footprints at the beginning of the semester. I encouraged students to create separate Facebook aliases from the ones they had used in high school (using their new ConnColl e-mail addresses) if they were concerned about protecting their privacy further. None of the students opted to do this.
The success of the page was in its low start-up costs, and in its ability to transmit important news about our first year and college communities. It also allowed me to model that I care about and embrace campus engagement and dialogue. In contrast to Moodle, where students found formal assignments, uploaded homework, and downloaded readings, the Facebook page was used in a more informal way. It usually focused on social and co-curricular events organized outside of class and sometimes operated as a last minute message board if students had questions. Above all, the page became a medium through which students felt more connected with their classmates as well as the rest college community.