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 (picture right). 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.

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