F is for Facebook — Shirley Hall, CTE Research Associate

Recently on a snowy “work from home” day, my 15-year-old son received an assignment from his high school teacher via Facebook.  I was immediately envious that his teacher was able to communicate with him in this way. (My attempts at communicating with my son using ‘old school’ methods, such as talking to him face to face — or should I say f2f? — are typically met with blank stares). My only recent successes have come from updating my cell phone to a model that I can ‘text’ from, so now he will text me back, so I now have a slightly better handle on the everyday happenings in his life. That his teacher was communicating through Facebook seemed ‘cool’ (or should I say ‘sick’?) and I must confess that I was a little miffed that his teacher could enjoy the casual banter of a Facebook post, whereas I had to be satisfied with my rather stilted and formal texting. At least there was a connection of sorts through our phones.

I started to wonder if it might be viable for me to make use of this form of social media for connecting with my own students. I would like to connect like this, quite frankly, because I get that it is, as Wakefield suggests, “where students are”.  (see below for Kirk Wakefield’s February 27 article in Faculty Focus, the oniine version of The Teaching Professor, where he discusses aspects of the use of Facebook with his students.) Although my intentions are good, when contemplating this idea further, I instantly feel at a disadvantage. A large part of the reason that I feel this way is because I do not know the language of Facebook. For me it would be like wandering around in a foreign country without my Fodor’s. (There I go dating myself again, as I realize there are now ‘apps’ one can have on their cellphone that will instantly tell you your location via GPS as well as translating any language for you). Although I like the idea of connecting with my students within their realm, I fear there are likely protocols that need to be followed. For instance, are there Facebook “faux pas” ? I realize that the accepted communication style of Facebookers is not within my current vocabulary. (I might get an “F” in Facebooking). So, as unfounded as my fears might seem (phobias?) I hesitate to venture into this uncharted territory for fear of being chastised.

I also wondered if other instructors might feel the same way as I do, and thought how nice it would be to be able to ‘connect’ with one another and perhaps even have one of my peers walk me gingerly through the Fundamentals of Facebooking. I have yet to find a Facebook 101 offering, but would be happy to attend if one materializes. Let me know if you “like” this idea, and perhaps we can start a discussion of our own regarding the merits of using Facebook in the classroom. Of course, I would prefer to meet you f2f, preferably over a cup of coffee.

1. Should Professors use Facebook to Communicate with Students? Faculty Focus, www.facultyfocus.com by Kirk Wakefield, Edwin W. Streetman, Hankamer School of Business, Baylor University.

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Shirley Hall is a research associate at the Centre for Teaching Excellence at the University of Waterloo. When not learning about learning, she spends time with her teenage son and with her dog, learning about life.

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