Schools and Facebook: Moving Too Fast, or Not Fast Enough?
Schools can draw a line in the sand, with zero tolerance rules written into school handbooks, or they can shift with the changing sands of social networking and utilize social networking and Facebook to enhance teaching and learning.
by Matt Levinson
New contributor to the Gazette
May 1, 2009
Last year, when I purchased my iPhone, I braced myself for the 4-hour online tutorial to learn how to navigate the device. However, just as I was sitting down to begin the tutorial, my 8 year-old son told me not to waste my time. He could teach me in 20 minutes, he stated boldly. All he needed was a little time to "play" with the phone. Sure enough, he proved to be a better and more entertaining teacher than the online tutorial and I fast learned the basics of iPhone use. He continues to be my iPhone navigator, updating the phone, looking for "cool" apps to add and explaining the phone to me in clear, easy to understand language.
One talented teacher cooked up an entire 20th century China project on Facebook. Students adopted the personalities of Sun Yat-sen, Mao Zedong and Chang Kai-shek and created and updated Facebook pages and profiles, replete with photos and wall postings.
Technology has flipped our roles. It used to be that parents and teachers taught children. Now, the reverse is true and the quicker we can grasp this concept, the better equipped we will all be to live in the 21st century.
President Obama knows this. He has retooled government's approach to communication. Each week, he uploads his weekly address to YouTube, the White House web site invites viewer interaction and he even found a way to hold onto his BlackBerry. And, the President has enlisted a chief technology officer to rewire the government's whole technology apparatus.
Schools need to do the same. Students are fast growing disenchanted with the snail's pace of change going on in classrooms regarding teaching with technology. Thankfully, some teachers have grabbed the mantle and are taking steps to meet students where they are in the online world. One talented teacher cooked up an entire 20th century China project on Facebook. Students adopted the personalities of Sun Yat-sen, Mao Zedong and Chang Kai-shek and created and updated Facebook pages and profiles, replete with photos and wall postings. In the words of the teacher: "This project changed the classroom. Students were so motivated and put far more hours into their research than they would have done with a traditional project.”
For many teachers, letting students "run" the show poses a challenge to the traditional "sage on the stage" model, even in the most progressive of teaching environments.
The best part about this project was the organic way it developed in the hands of a teacher who listens to her students. As the class brainstormed the beginning stages of the unit, one of the students simply suggested that the class create Facebook pages for the three leaders and be required to chat, post and debate online. Instead of balking at this potentially outlandish idea, this teacher jumped at the opportunity. This is exactly the kind of collaborative learning that the 21st century demands, but it does mean surrendering a bit of curricular control to the students. For many teachers, letting students "run" the show poses a challenge to the traditional "sage on the stage" model, even in the most progressive of teaching environments. The time has come to turn the reins over to the students.
What if there was a school where every teacher was required to run their courses on Facebook? Many schools have pushed teachers to have their own websites, with syllabi, unit samples and topical web links. But the missing piece with this type of design is the lack of interaction for the user. Facebook forces interaction and active learning. It has speed and multi-tasking wrapped into one page.
One teacher with whom I have spoken says just this: "Students multi-task and we need to create classrooms that multi-task." This particular teacher has given her classroom a facelift and she teaches the class essentially online. YouTube, Google images, and iTunes songs plaster her Power Point lectures and she daily posts to a class blog and includes interactive features in her homework assignments. Students love her class and they rarely get sidetracked, as they take notes on their laptops and input data during hands-on labs. This teacher's premise is to make the classroom mirror the online lives of the students so that students will not be distracted from educational goals. She has never had a technology related discipline issue in her class. Imagine this teacher with a school sanctioned Facebook page. Her already innovative approach would increase exponentially.
Many schools have pushed teachers to have their own websites, with syllabi, unit samples and topical web links. But the missing piece with this type of design is the lack of interaction for the user.
Another teacher designed a mock trial simulation to facilitate the use of technology and dialogue around the issue of cyberstalking. The topic was timely, given the tragic suicide of Megan Meier, the thirteen-year-old girl who fell prey to an appalling hoax on My Space. Megan’s story acted as a backdrop to the trial. One of the written assessments asked students to compare Megan's story to that of the victim in the cyberstalking mock trial. This activity captivated the students and they soared with a deep, meaningful learning experience and authentic uses of technology. Each legal team created a blog to share legal strategy. Students posted late into the night. Jury members took careful notes on their laptops during trial proceedings. Using the video camera on the laptop, students videotaped opening and closing statements and assessed their performance. Instead of technology as a distraction to learning, in this situation, technology enhanced teaching and learning.
Where earlier in the semester this teacher had battled students over appropriate use of technology in the classroom and staying on task when writing, she now had success in harnessing their collective energy around a genuine learning experience. Again, though, visualize this assignment on Facebook. The number of viewers increases, the potential for collaboration across schools heightens and the power of audience surges.
A graduate of Teachers' College, Columbia University, Matt Levinson is the assistant director and head of the middle school at the Nueva School in Hillsborough, California. Prior to moving into school administration, he taught middle and upper school history for fourteen years at Princeton Day School in Princeton, New Jersey.