The list of social networks available is HUGE. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t know about at least one on them. The most popular is certainly Facebook, which has more than 1 billion users at the moment, and will probably more than 1,5 billion by the end of 2013. But, does Facebook can be a good tool for second language teaching? I think it depends the way you use it with your students.
On one hand, I think it can be an excellent way for me to share information with my students, but also to keep contact with them and learn about their personal interests throughout the year. It is exactly the use we have in our “Computer Applications” course, and I think there are many good advantages to use Facebook with students. Here are some ideas that I would keep as a teacher:
First, I would use Facebook as a sharing location for the homework, and any important announcement. In fact, anything related to class will be welcome from the students as well: questions, comments, ideas, pictures and videos from activities. I could also add some videos related to topics addressed in class. It will be friendly for everyone. But, from the beginning, I would impose two very simple rules to be respected by every student: the respect of each other (when sharing pictures, and when writing on the wall or in personal emails), and the use of English at anytime. Facebook will be easy to use for them as they already know about it, what will accelerate the integration process of the tool.
Second, as they would have access to the classroom material and every important document shared during the day, it will facilitate and accelerate the process of getting informed for students who are absent. At any time, all documents will be available by the network. I think it is a good way to improve students’ independence and sense of responsibility. Student will know that they can ask me questions at any time. With Facebook, students could contact me any time as the network will instantaneously send me a notice to my personal email account. So, there will be only short delays before I receive it. On top of that, I will certainly have a cellphone that will inform me by a sound signal that I have a new email. I believe that through a Facebook account, everything about the group and the class will stay concentrated there, so all information will be easy to give and receive.
Third, Facebook can be very useful to learn about students’ personality and interests. I could put a question on the wall of the group, so all students can see it once connected to it, and they can answer by sending me a private and personal email. From then, I can gather the information, and keep it close for further ideas to consider if I create a new activity or project. Facebook will facilitate the communication between my students and I.
Four, if I feel that a student have problems of any kind, I could introduce my concern and have the first contact by Facebook. I think that it is more discrete than asking them to stay after class, and that some students will be more comfortable to share personal information through private emails than through meetings between classes. I have the idea that Facebook could be a very good intermediate to develop a good and professional relationship with all my students, but also could become a good help when it is time for me to help some students. Like parents could also use it if the direct discussion is impossible or pretty difficult for both parts. “After all, Facebook and other social networking tools are familiar communication vehicles for most U.S. children.” , and I would add: as well as in Canada and many other countries. I think that Facebook is a very safe place for everyone because nobody can be added in the group unless you decide it, what make it a very good tool for communication between the social network related to your class.
Finally, beside all these good points in favor of Facebook, even if I think it could be a very good tool to keep contact with my students, I don’t think I would use it much during class. Students get very distracted while connected to a network like Facebook. It will be more a place where to share discussions, ideas, and documents than an actual way to spend my classes time as elementary and secondary students are certainly not enough disciplined to ignore the presence of a computer in front of them when the teacher speaks in front of the class.
To help the implementation of Facebook in my classroom, I will certainly consider some advices like the one in this article: Beyond Facebook: How to Use Social Networking Productively in Your ESL Classroom (on Busy Teacher website), which are a good starting point when you never had that chance to experiment the using of a software like Facebook for your ESL class.
I would certainly try Facebook in my ESL classroom, but use it gradually more and more, and as long as the students behave like I want them to.