Facebook Groups: The Real-Time Discussion Board with Notifications

Fellow teachers often find it “unusual” that I would recommend Facebook as a teaching tool.  However, the factors which make Facebook such a popular (and powerful) tool for social media can also make it a highly effective means of fostering interaction among your students – so long as you mind your privacy settings.  Or, for a step-by-step guide to setting up a group, go straight to the WikiHow.com guide: Creating Your Facebook Group.

by Ryan Edel

Fun (Classroom) Stuff You Can Do With Facebook

  • Have students save their PowerPoint slides as images, and then upload them to your Facebook group.
  • Have students conduct their research ethnographies here.  As they find links, they can post them to the discussion.
  • Students can create Facebook Documents inside the group (e.g. with a rough draft from a paper) and then other students can post workshop-style comments.
  • For group projects, students can use the Facebook group to collaborate on their research, drafting, and meeting times.

First, About Those Privacy Settings…

There are many misperceptions regarding Facebook privacy settings.  Many people believe that “everything you post is public,” but this is not at all the case.  It is, however, true that many people who don’t monitor their Facebook settings do post everything publicly.  By correctly using Facebook as part of your course, you can help your students become more aware of their own privacy settings and the rhetorical effects of their social media usage.

In general, I don’t recommend actively friending all your current students.  My own policy is that I will never friend request my own students, but I will accept any request sent by a student – I make sure that anything I post to Facebook would be okay for my students to see, but I don’t want my students to feel pressured into letting me see what they post.  (Yes, I have heard of instructors who check out the Facebook profiles of their students, but I don’t like doing this.  It’s not just that I don’t have time – it’s also that our students do deserve their own space, and my checking out their personal statuses is not going to help me grade their classwork.)

You don’t need to friend your students in order to build some good discussions with them on Facebook.  Instead, set up a Facebook group for your course, and use that as your main discussion board.  From there, students will be able to post questions and message your directly – all without friending you or their classmates.  (Though one hopes that your students will enjoy your class so much that they’ll want to stay friends afterward – that, I think, is a sign that it was a good course.)


Creating Your Group

Setting up a Facebook group is fairly straightforward once you’ve done it, but it can be tricky if you’ve never done it before.  WikiHow.com provides an excellent step-by-step guide with pictures to help you Create Your Facebook Group.

With the group itself, you’ll need to watch the privacy settings.  When you set up your group, make it a Closed group.  Then, copy the URL to the group and share that URL with your students (I recommend sending them an e-mail).  That way, students can request to join, and you’ll only approve those individuals who are actually students in your class.  Once you’ve accepted everyone, then change the settings to a Secret group.  This way, no one except you and your students will be able to see that the group exists.


Implementing Facebook Activities

As with any technology, Facebook works best if it is introduced gradually and used regularly.  To get my own students accustomed to posting the group group, I’ll usually assign an in-class discussion activity which requires posts to the Facebook group, and then follow that up with weekly discussion posts to the group.  This way, students become accustomed to interacting there.

Next, I always encourage students to post their general course questions to the Facebook group.  If there’s a question about a deadline or about the assignment, posts to the Facebook group tend to draw answers from classmates before I have a chance to log in.  Even though I specifically check the group at least once day, there are almost always a few of my students logged in to Facebook at any given time.

Finally, I always thank my students for their questions and for their responses.  When someone posts an answer for another student, I like that response.  I also like to tag students in my responses – it lets them know that I’ve read and responded to what they’ve posted, which encourages more interaction down the road.

Potential Pitfalls of Facebook…

Yes, I use Facebook every semester.  But it hasn’t been without some shortcomings.  Here are things to watch for:

  • Students are accustomed to being informal on Facebook.  You may need to remind them that the Facebook group is a still a classroom space.
  • It’s natural for students to gripe about their courses to each other.  On the Facebook group, though, they might gripe about it where you can see it…and other students might like their comments.  If this happens, make sure to accept that these are natural social phenomena that you’re seeing…and then do your best to play it cool.
  • You should figure out your assessment strategy for Facebook and then be clear about it to students.  Students will adjust their Facebook usage based on your grading, so be sure that you’re upfront about your expectations.