Facebook and the Art of Teaching in 2008

Facebook or the Art of teaching in the Social Networking Era

I first learned about Facebook from my very cool niece who showed us all at a family gathering at my house last summer exactly what Facebook was. At first, I wasn’t the least bit intrigued.

But last fall, when my journalism students started pitching story ideas to me that they’d found on Facebook, I decided I needed to check out this place where young people felt they could use the site instead of the old fashioned ways of finding out about story ideas: such as reading fliers on billboards, perusing a “What’s On” column in the newspaper, meeting friends in a café, or seeing an impromptu rally in the local piazza!

So I signed up, opened an account, and found that not only were there events listed for cities all over the country, but also, that folks were organizing groups like “If you Raise Your Hand in Class you are an @$$%^^”, or “Find 1,000,000 people who hate George Bush”.

There were also actual story ideas, too. Like “National Skip School Day” and other events, such as on-line tributes to young people who had been murdered or died in other tragic ways.

In fact, the shooter from Virginia Tech had been identified through Facebook by researchers, faster then police were letting out information through official channels.

At first, it was fun asking my mother and other family members to be my friend. I didn’t ask any students to be my friends, because that would be like stalking, but some eventually found me, and that’s actually cool.

It worked to the detriment of one student though. She was supposed to be in my class, advised me by telephone an hour before that she had to make an emergency trip to the hospital instead, but when I signed on to Facebook that night, I saw this student had had time, while she was supposed to be at the hospital, to go onto Facebook and post a quiz about herself, and also posted that she was sick of school. BUSTED.

But now the issue of Facebook in classroom management has become something that many teachers including myself have to confront on a daily basis. Not as a research tool, but as my competition for a student’s attention.

Many of the labs I teach in are computer labs. If for 20 seconds, the lesson isn’t as interesting as what a student might find on Facebook, then they are clicking away, the classroom rules forgotten.

I have to admit that if I was a student, and had a desk with a computer in front of me, I too would be hard pressed to stop myself from ignoring the teacher, and clicking on my e-mail and checking out the latest news from CBC.ca or CTV.ca when the mood struck me. In fact, I probably would be a Blackberry Crackberry addict if I had one of them. You know, they are the kind of person who checks their e-mail during their child’s holiday pageant at school! I was a student too, and get bored easily myself.

All this to say that I very much understand the siren call of Facebook: if I wanted to, I could find out which of my students has a new boyfriend, which of my cousins is now single, and what my niece wore to her play rehearsal or a cast party. But it’s a whole different perspective when I am on the receiving end of the click-click-click, while I am giving my all up there, teaching. And so, I’ve discovered the Facebook generation requires a whole new set of classroom management skills, and some old ones too.

First of all, we have to set ground rules from Day 1. No Facebook or MSN or E-Mail during class. (except when they are on breaks).

This is tough to forbid when students are waiting for answers from sources, or callbacks or email backs from interview sources. But this is not real life: it’s a simulated newsroom environment in university/college. So they have to learn to juggle assignments, and deal with missed calls. In the real world, they will be able to be on standby for a source to call back.

I do allow laptop students to use their laptops to take notes. But even those students have multiple screens going on. I’ve seen it.

So, second, a teacher needs to be mobile. Walking around the class. In their faces. I’ve seen students click off their Facebook page and toggle to a page of their lecture notes as I walk by. They know they aren’t supposed to be on Facebook and at least when you walk by and stare at their screens, they cut if out for a moment or two. You can’t stay at the front of the classroom anymore and blather on. It just invites students to ignore you. I’ve climbed up on a chair and opened and closed the room lights sometimes, to get their attention. Yelling is one option, but after a while, it doesn’t work. They ignore that, too.

Third, I make students move their chairs away from their desks towards the front of the classroom, especially when we have guest speakers in class. It works for some, especially those students who are also doing critiques or otherwise have to pay attention to what the speaker is saying. But the layout of the room does allow at least some of the hangers-back to access their screens and mouse, when no one is looking.

Fourth, I’ve actually used Facebook in class myself, as part of the show. I screened with them a whole 60 Minutes story about the founder of Facebook this semester, during Advanced Interviewing class. They were riveted to that, as they learned stuff about the young CEO they didn’t know before. And it was part of the course materiel on how well Leslie Stahl asked questions. That was a successful class.
My husband who is a professor at another institution, wisely suggested calmly asking students who are on Facebook to leave the room. I did try that once, saying to the student to go work in another lab.

But, the Facebook/Internet/Social Networking addiction isn’t going away. And not even peer-to-peer pressure from other students seems to be able to cure the behaviour.

And it’s not just Facebook that they are looking at. It’s other course work, e-mails to sources and friends, You Tube clips.

I’ve had a student watch a clip of a dancing monkey while I am trying to teach! Hard to feel you are getting through to the students when that happens!

So now, I’ve decided if you can’t beat ‘em, move them. I should have figured this out a long time ago, and prevented the aggravation. I have asked the administration to find me a new classroom where there are no computers. (Just one for me at the teaching station.)

We shall see how the students react. It might backfire, and they may all fall asleep, or skip the class entirely, (although they lose 10% if they do that during a guest speaker visit).

But it all comes down to this: I shall do my best to make class entertaining, fun, and content full, so the students are getting the best I can give.

BTW, I sometimes give out cookies! And prizes. And we play games like Who Wants to Be A Millionaire, or Hangman. I’ve read them children’s stories, I’ve had them work in groups to make presentations, I’ve had them perform skits, and I’ve had them do treasure hunts around the building to find clues.

But the only Face I want the students to be searching for during my class is mine.

I’ll keep you posted on how it works.

4 thoughts on “Facebook and the Art of Teaching in 2008”

  1. This is cool Ellin. Some people I know call it “baitbook” and that should go for the student you busted too! LOL That’s dope.

    I, of course, never fell victim to such an activity while attending class… 😉


  2. I agree Ellin,

    I hate seeing people ignoring a class while they search the net or play scrabble via Facebook… so disrespectful to someone trying to teach or give a lecture… Why do you pay all that money for school, go to class and then go online and do something you could be doing the other 22 hours of the day? And for god sakes, what is so interesting about facebook that you have to be on it every second of the day??? I don’t get it…

    I feel lucky and privilege that I’m a little older then most of my classmates and know what it was like before there were a million channels on TV, XBox, PlayStation 3 and, of course, the wonders of the Internet.

    I actually enjoy not being on the computer during class and reading books or playing sports in my free time.

    Therefore, I may have a little more willpower…

  3. Ellin,
    I read this with a smile. As teachers we compete in the classroom with the technology that allows online access.

    My solution is to be prepared before entering the classroom. When an “offender” is caught surfing the internet during a lecture, I pause and allow my silence to take over.

    That usually gets the student’s attention and I provide the option, without penalty, of continuing online surfing somewhere else, or show respect to their classmates who may be interested in what I – or a guest speaker -have to say.

  4. Hi Ellin —

    isn’t there some way that WiFi can be excluded from classrooms? IE, just have WiFi access in lounges, etc?

    Ruth G.

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