Let There Be Facebook! Our plunge into using FB for summer reading and other learning adventures
If there has been one supreme divisive factor among our otherwise united classroom forces, Facebook is it. Block it! Ban it! Take their computers! Oh, the drama you have brought to us, dear Facebook, and yet I do believe we have given you too much credit for our frustrations and perhaps not enough for your potential.
As school administrators, my Head of School and I use Facebook to keep up with our many learning communities beyond our school walls. What better way to tap into the latest release from ASCD, FCIS, NAIS, and a slew of other rich resources? Last year, because we wanted to access Facebook ourselves and to build a school presence within the FB network, we opened access to it on our network...gasp! I do not think we anticipated the level of outcry we would get from a large part of our teacher base who felt frustrated with student disengagement, and for whom Facebook became the scapegoat for a number of class environment issues. It was, in fact, the one resounding request from teachers in the midyear survey--Block Facebook Please! Students need to pay attention. They need to concentrate on learning.
So began our experiment...how long will it take for students to navigate around the firewalls we put up? (a nanosecond) How many creative ways will they invent to do so? (multitudinous) How many firewalls are necessary to ensure complete FB blackout? (too many to put up) Who will become more frustrated in the process, the students or the teachers/administrators? (the teachers) Will even effective blockage of FB lead to higher student engagement? (hardly, um...hello Google Chat, Skype, AIM, and the multitudinous other computer-related distractions; besides, we all know technology isn't really the issue with student engagement, at least not the only culprit) What is a teacher to do?
One answer, and certainly not an original one...take what they are obsessed with and use it as a way to engage them. Some would call this an “if you can’t beat em, join em” answer, and I guess in some ways it is, but that is only if one chooses to see the tool, whether it be Facebook or another disruptive element, as the adversary rather than the ally. This summer, we are embracing Facebook as a learning tool. We’ve created a private group for summer reading discussions, and only two weeks in we are seeing positive results. After many years of frustrating summer reading outcomes during which we struggled to find the balance between enjoyment and accountability, we are seeing not only a higher level of student engagement but also an increased excitement about reading in general. The discussions of paired titles on family addiction have led students and teachers to share other suggested reading, and students are jumping in. One rising senior who planned to read an additional title based on another member’s suggestion posted yesterday, “A senior reading a book for fun over the summer...what?” We are equally (and pleasantly) surprised. We are starting to see similar interaction and shared enjoyment of our suggested (okay, required) teacher reading within our FB Faculty Beach Reads group where our teachers are not only sharing fun stories from their summer adventures but also discussing titles such as Chen’s Education Nation, Vatterott’s Rethinking Homework, and Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion.
“But Facebook can be so dangerous,” say some. No, not really, at least not any more dangerous than a field trip, and even more important, teaching students to safely navigate the risks of social networking must comprise part of our redefined role as 21st Century educators. But what about personal boundaries...should teachers and students really be interacting with each other in this way? With proper adherence to respectful and professional interaction, and with the understanding that our personal and professional cyber presence cannot really be altogether separate and based on different standards...yes! Yes, we should! Who better to teach students how to develop online identities aligned with the same character education standards modeled in “real” life? Who better to guide them on what is acceptable interaction? I believe this is a wonderful opportunity for mentoring young students, and for the most part, we are currently opting out.