The Reconciliation of Two Enemies: Education and Facebook

‘‘Net Geners’’ and ‘‘Digital Natives’’, the new generation of students embedded in technology, have completely modified the old standards of traditional education. The rapid rise of technology forced teachers to reflect about how they must change their approach if they want to reach their students effectively.

Facebook reinforces the maintained social capital theory, which encourages the capacity of being connected to a community. People register in web communities from shared interests and they benefit from this symbolic interaction because of social support, which increases their sense of belonging. ‘‘After all, these methods of community building (online social networks) are the ways in which students today are meeting, communicating, and building community. Indeed, Facebook may be just the tool we need to stimulate collaborative student-led learning.’’(http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/02500160903250648)

For instance, Facebook represents students’ virtual communities and is the best method to reach them. Building an academic Facebook portal certainly increases students’ relationship to the course, because they are virtually connected in an academic context with their peers, who act as significant others. This positive atmosphere fosters collaborative learning through the community, in a social media which is not often associated with the school context. In fact, students tend to automatically separate entertainment from school work. Facebook is therefore an effective means to make students accept the intrusion of academic purposes in their powerful virtual world, supported by symbolic interactions between students and the instructor.

Interestingly, a study conducted at Queensland’s University of Technology explored how social networks such as Facebook supported students undertaking teaching practicums. Even if students were distant because of the different locations of their practicums, they were able to share their excitement, problems or solutions with regard to their personal experiences. ‘‘These posts were typically positive and encouraging in nature indicating that the group sense of community was strong among participants […] Hence motivation and engagement would appear to be quite high’’ (http://eprints.qut.edu.au/15706/2/Facebook_goes_to_college_Jennifer_Duncan_Howell.pdf). In this case, Facebook is a tool to reinforce students’ motivation and engagement in a virtual group. In addition, Facebook is the means to share an experience or to achieve a common goal collaboratively. This is very positive, considering that motivation is a crucial component for any type of learning.

How about teacher’s self-disclosure on Facebook? The teacher’s level of self-disclosure has a direct impact on students’ motivation, affective climate and motivation. According to a research made with 133 undergraduate students at Midwestern University, the teacher’s level of accessibility as a virtual person enhances motivation, affective climate and motivation inside and outside the classroom. In fact, students appreciate to affiliate with someone who has a significant level of mediated immediacy, because students feel that their instructor is more accessible and they get involved more easily in their course. However, there are also risks of decreasing the instructor’s credibility as a professional by violating the typical students’ expectations of a teacher. This is why teachers must be aware of what image they want to project to their students : ‘‘Student perceptions of a teacher’s credibility and their reports of motivation and affective learning may also be affected by what the teacher discloses on Facebook. The number of photographs and the amount of information provided on the virtual social network may positively or negatively alter student perceptions.’’ (http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/03634520601009710)

Facebook is a very useful tool when it comes to communicative purposes, but people often underestimate the impact that their virtual identity has on their credibility as an individual. It also concerns students, because the perception of their teacher can be negatively biased based on what students  decided to show on their Facebook page. This may be playing the devil’s advocate, but what influences public perception should never be ignored.

Moreover, free access to Facebook in class involves the possibility of distraction. Even if it is aimed towards educational purposes, students will inevitably get distracted. This is logical considering the fact that the main purpose of a social network is to promote socialization between individuals. The game mentality stipulates that ‘‘many students associate computers and technology with game playing. Though some teachers can use this to their advantage, if this issue is not addressed, some students may get distracted and off task quickly.’’ (http://classroom.synonym.com/negative-effects-using-technology-todays-classroom-4130.html).

Building teaching activities around social networks gives a lot of freedom to students. Consequently, supervision from the teacher is required because he has the obligation to create an environment that promotes learning, and with Facebook, it can be easy to diverge from this learning goal. The contrast with traditional seminar lectures is striking. In a seminar, the teacher controls the rhythm of the class and students fulfill the limited role of asking questions. With the intrusion of Facebook, students now have much more control over the content of reflections or topics addressed on the wall.

The strength of Facebook is that it attracts the eyes of the onlooker. However, is being captivated enough to promote learning? ‘‘The nature of multimedia can captivate students easily, but this visual engagement does not necessarily represent intellectual engagement’’ (http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ972449.pdf). Facebook is appropriate for collaborative learning, but it is not extremely effective for individual intellectual engagement. For instance, it is not Facebook’s main purpose to encourage studying or personal intellectual development. This must not be forgotten, because Facebook is primarily a social network, not an educational network. Since students have identified Facebook as a distraction detached from any school work, it may be difficult to adapt this social network for educational purposes.

All in all, teachers must be aware that if they use Facebook as a tool for learning, they follow the social capital theory, which reinforces the idea of being symbolically connected to a community. This is positive considering that students’ general motivation increases because of this psychological closeness between the instructor and students of the same classroom. However, the level of self-disclosure from the teacher can influence students negatively and positively, depending on what is a made accessible and if it alters professional credibility. This is also true for students. Using Facebook as a tool for educational purposes increases the risks of distraction and the lack of real intellectual engagement. ‘‘Net Geners’’ and ‘‘Digital Natives’’ are used to access information or to navigate on the web independently. For this reason, teachers must be ready and prepared to give a part of control and independence to their students in using a social network like Facebook.