Why the Facebook Group My Students Created for Themselves is Better than the Discussion Forum I Created for Them.

Since 2004 I’ve created a website of some kind for each class, with a discussion board – a place where students can ask questions or make comments on our class any time of day or night and get a response.  I think it’s an essential component of any modern class.

This semester something new happened, though.  My students created a Facebook group for my class (and then invited me to join it!).  Slowly I’ve watched and noticed more and more, that students are posting on that Facebook group instead of the discussion forum I’d created for them!

While at first, the control-freak in me wanted to send them all back to the “official class discussion forum”,  The advantages of the Facebook group have become increasingly compelling and I’m wondering whether it’s time to let the forum I created go the way of cassette tapes and typewriters.  Why is a Facebook group better? For one thing, Facebook is a digital home for many students.  So a group based there is comfortable to them – it’s on their virtual turf. Because of this, the Facebook group is even more of a desire path than my discussion forum is.

Some other advantages of the Facebook group over the discussion board I created are:

  • When students (or I) find a youtube video that we want to share with the group, this can be simply done directly from Youtube by clicking the “share” button under the video as it plays.
  • The group can be accessed easily using a mobile device… for example from the iPhone Facebook app (see picture).  On the other hand checking my discussion forum in Safari on an iPhone is nowhere near as elegant.
  • Videos and Podcasts on the Facebook group wall play right there in the wall… rather than simply being a link that leads you to another page.  It’s a better user experience.
  • When someone posts on the Facebook group wall, all the members of the group get a notification, and since many of them are in Facebook at the time anyway, they get it immediately!  (In contrast, my discussion forum can be set up to send email notifications… but many students don’t check their email very often.)
Frankly I’ve been delighted to see the level of interaction between my students in that group.  It’s increased.  Look at the screen grab below for example.  Via this Facebook group, my students (independently of me) have been organising to buy some rabbits and breed them to test the genetic theory they are learning in class!  All the planning has taken place via the Facebook group.   In the last week there have been more than 50 comments posted just on this rabbit discussion alone!  And in addition, there have been posts on other topics, videos shared, etc.

It bears mentioning, too, that it’s not necessary to “friend” students in order to interact with them in a group.  Furthermore, if the group is set up as a “closed” group, as ours is, then access is restricted to people who are invited by the group to join, as I was.

See also “More Reasons Our Class Facebook Group Is Better than My School Discussion Board”  and “Facebook Killed the Discussion Board

30 thoughts on “Why the Facebook Group My Students Created for Themselves is Better than the Discussion Forum I Created for Them.

  1. My students did a similar activity while studying Romeo & Juliet, each student chose a character & set up a profile page. Very clever and showed how well they knew the characters with their hobbies, ‘friends’, likes & dislikes. Some chose to put on line while others chose just to turn it into a Word doc.

  2. That’s a neat Idea. Another thing I like about the fb group compared to any discussion forum I’ve ever created is that threaded discussions work much more intuitively.

  3. Awesome to see others doing this as well!
    I have eight Facebook groups running across the different classes that I teach (as well as some that I don’t, but hey!?) I have found them to be incredibly powerful and greatly appreciated and accepted by the students. It never ceases to amaze me how easy it can be to engage students if you simply ask them how they’d like to do it.
    As of last count (about 2 months ago) I had group contact with 10% of the student cohort through FB. In a school of 1500+, that makes for an easy way to get a message out to the student body.
    Keep your experiences coming!

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  6. Great post! I struggle with our school trying to insist which tools we can use to get students interacting. The latest incarnation is moodle which the students hate. Teachers end up having to think of ways to “entice” students (force might be a better word) to even use it! I love this model where students own the group. Im all inspired to talk to my class about it on monday! Thanks.

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  8. This is a great way to do things. Unfortunately many schools prohibit the use of Facebook. I have used Ning as a way around this but now they charge us. You are right about moodle, many schools like it but students don’t. I guess the key here is that kids created it themselves. This means an investment in their learning. It definitely creates impetus for opening discussions with school administrators. Thanks.

  9. Great post, this is something I have been saying for years. The point is that they are already login to facebook and are in the space and love it so you don’t need to force them into another platform that they do not like and have no interest in. It is almost seemless getting them into a group or page.

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  13. Glad to hear fb is working in your class — my students used it last year as their choice in my “roll-your-own CMS” assignment (in a freshmen seminar), and had mixed feelings about it.

    Many in the class really liked it, for exactly the reasons you mention, but many also had problems with it as the primary means of class interaction outside of class. Their main beef was that they had cognitive difficulties staying on task when their work was blended so fully into their social media. Some found it hard to concentrate on work when their friends new statuses, photos, and links were right there next to their class discussion forum.

    This actually surprised me, since we hear so much chatter these days about students trying to multitask; instead, several of my students were saying they like to keep work and leisure separate (or try to).

    But as I said, many others really liked the ease of access to course materials, as you’re suggesting.

    Also, if you do friend your students, then fb chat becomes a “live support” line: students can shoot you a quick question about an assignment or reading as it occurs to them. Again, mixed feelings, this time from them and from me, about the value of this. But it gave all of us a chance to practice another way to solve the outside-of-class problem, and was the cause of much reflective thinking, which I appreciated.

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  15. well done douchy. i’m just wondering, in this case your students had created the fb group on their own accord, would it work just as well, if the teacher were to create the group, or appoint a student to create the group? i’m looking at the motivation factor. once again, thanks for the sharing (:

    • Thanks for your question Tan.

      That’s a good question and one that I am testing at the moment as we have just started orientation for the class of 2012. I do think that the very fact that the students felt like the Facebook group belonged to them – and that it was a good thing (Ie. they had shown their teacher how to do something better) gave them a sense of pride in it. But whether that is the reason for their attachment to the site is hard to know.

      Another thing I have wondered is whether the timing was ideal – The Facebook group was created mid-year when the group already had a strong sense of unity. It will be interesting to see if it is taken to with such ardour when the students in the class have not yet had as much time to ‘bond’.

      As with most things in a class – when there is a success – it’s hard to know exactly what things were responsible for that success. Was it that the Facebook group created a deep sense of class unity, or was it that the sense of class unity made the Facebook group successful?

      All I can say for sure is that this class Facebook group was amazing – and much more effective than any discussion forum I’ve created over eight years and using four different platforms.

      As an aside, this week when I created a Facebook group for the class of 2012 – the 2011 class were quite jealous! It was very interesting to read their discussion about it on their own group wall (which still exists), comments from four of the students were:

      “this breaks my heart!”,
      “Nooooooooo! :(”
      “WE’VE BEEN REPLACED!” and
      “I miss biology! :(“

  16. thanks for taking time to reply. i love the jealous comments of the 2010 *LOL* all the best for your current exploration and looking forward to share further insights at the end of the year/term. cheers (:

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  18. Great points! The students taking ownership of their learning is so powerful!

    Just an add on–we use Edmodo in our district for social media–VERY similiar to facebook but designed for education. Both our teachers and students LOVE it! It has additional security features and is simply a great service. Good alternative to Facebook if you’re looking for a solution that does the same thing but is designed specifically with us in mind!

    • Thanks for your contribution Kiffany. Yes Edmodo is very good. Especially if you are a primary school teacher, because students under 13 would need to lie about their age to get a Facebook account. I don’t think schools should be seen to endorse dishonesty.
      For secondary schools however, where students typically already spend a lot of time on Facebook, using Edmodo means logging into a separate site. I think much of the success I’ve experienced with the Facebook group has been precisely because it integrates so nicely with the rest of Facebook. Their learning is not cordoned off from the rest of their life. Also … some of the advantages of using a Facebook Group that I highlighted in my later post http://andrewdouch.wordpress.com/2011/10/18/more-reasons-our-class-facebook-group-is-better-than-my-school-discussion-board/ are specific to Facebook, and would not apply to other education-specific sites like Edmodo.

      But I agree completely that if a teacher had objections to using Facebook (perhaps because of the advertising, or because there is a lot of negative press surrounding Facebook), Edmodo has the advantage at least, of having a Facebook-like look and feel.

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  24. My class had a web page and they stopped using it and started a Facebook page instead trouble is its a closed group and I have not had an invitation I think I am the only one in my class that’s excluded and feel bullied silently mmm

    • Thanks for sharing that Tina – I appreciate your candour. I think we are starting to see examples everywhere of students wresting control of online learning from their schools. Previously most students didn’t know how to make a website or discussion forum… so they relied on schools setting them up – Facebook makes it a cinch for any student to create a highly functional online group.

      I suspect you are more in tune with your students than many teachers are who don’t even realise that their students are collaborating online outside the school-sanctioned sites. If nothing else you should be excited that your students are so engaged in what they are learning in your class that they would want to create a group like this. I doubt they are using Facebook to keep you out of the discussion. I bet they are using it because it’s so much better and more natural to use than the website you created. I would also wager a bet that they didn’t invite you merely because they didn’t think you would want to be involved – especially if Facebook is frowned upon by your school administration.

      If I were in your position, I would talk to them about it. They obviously love your class if they have created a Facebook group to discuss it! I think you’ll find that they are delighted to discover you want to join in with them! (see my most recent post “The Upside…”)

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