I’ve been using Facebook for a while, primarily as a way to share news and photos from our program with students. We had tried doing this with a Moodle, but could never get enough momentum behind it for it to become popular enough to work. Many, if not most, of our students are on Facebook, however, which has made it easier to build an online community.
But should we connect with our students in their space? I have a colleague who uses Facebook in place of our institutional course management system. This is not unprecedented. On the other hand, the argument has been made that teachers should not invade students’ personal spaces online because they would prefer to separate their personal interactions from academic ones. I agree to the extent that I have trouble with requiring students to use their personal Facebook accounts to interact with teachers, but I think these new technologies inherently bring interactions of all kinds together — personal, academic, professional — for better and worse.
So what else can be done with Facebook? I like what we’re doing in our program, but I’m always looking for opportunities to try out technologies in other ways. I recently happened upon the perfect opportunity to deploy Facebook: The Buckeye Book Community (BBC). Every year, first year students at Ohio State are given a book during orientation and asked to read it before they return for classes in the fall. The book is then used first-year orientation seminar courses and across campus via different programs and activities. This common reading experience is not unique to Ohio State (Google it to see others), but what got my attention was the opportunity to have our ESL students read the book and then interact with the native speakers in the community (by hosting a discussion between one of our classes and one of the first-year seminar classes, for example.)
This year’s book is No Impact Man by Colin Beavan in which the author, a self described guilty liberal, tries to live with self-imposed rules that reduce his environmental impact to zero. Clearly this is not the easiest thing to do in New York City, though urban life does offer some advantages. After reading it, I was struck by his transition (and his family’s transition) to the culture of environmentalism and, even more so, his transition back to his native culture after his experiment is finished — an experience ESL students can surely relate to when they travel to an English-speaking country to study and then return home.
So where does Facebook come in? Well, I’ve become involved in the activities planning committee and come to the conclusion that a Facebook page would be the perfect supplement to this community. Participants can post comments, feedback, photos, videos, etc., etc. as they read the book and participate in the programs. If / when they participate in No Impact Week (a challenge which condenses the author’s experience into seven days) they can discuss what challenges they faced. I’m hoping our ESL students will be able to participate in this community as well as a meaningful and engaging way to practice English.
This isn’t exactly a revolutionary use of Facebook. In fact, it was designed around facilitating these kinds of experiences. But, I’m looking forward to being a part of this community to see how it works on a much larger, campus-wide scale, as opposed to just within our own program. If you have thoughts, suggestions, and ideas for facilitating online communities, I’d love to hear them.