Intersting piece on using Facebook staff/ student considerations

A really well thought through piece on how to use Facebook as a tool in an educational context. Lots of good advice on respecting the student privacy, while connecting to an important social networking environment. Sadly it did  not give me the specific information I seek on how to get my Facebook content as an RSS OR how to use an RSS in Facebook 😦
Quoted with permission:
"I often receive questions from educators about how to effectively use Facebook as a learning tool. With Facebook use rates hovering around 95 percent, it only makes sense that forward-thinking educators will use this tool as a method of engagement with students. However, with the intersection of privacy concerns and instructor non-familiarity with social networking sites, it takes a little effort to use Facebook properly. I’ve written the following post with the goal of providing instructors a roadmap for leveraging Facebook effectively as a learning tool. Some of this may be a little general and obvious to experienced FB users, so feel free to skip around.

Part I: Caveats

What Facebook is and isn’t. The most important thing to know about Facebook as a learning tool is what it isn’t. Facebook isn’t Blackboard or any other course management system. It isn’t a wiki, or a blog, or any sort of silver bullet tool. Facebook is the digital social center of the college campus. It is a social tool; its use is primarily the management of the social life at college. Of course, college life is geared around academics, so inherently the social worlds of college students intersect with academics – but only to a certain extent. Knowing Facebook’s limitations and target uses – they are primarily social – will help you contextualize your use of Facebook as a learning tool.

The expectation of privacy. Facebook has unique boundaries when it comes to privacy. Students know that staff and instructors are on the Facebook, but they primarily expect that their profiles will be viewed by their peers. Therefore, you must respect (at least in name) student privacy in Facebook. What does this mean? You must let your students friend you. You must not cross privacy contexts first. You must reciprocate disclosure and be an equal player. I will explore all of these in greater depth.

Non-participants. A good deal of Facebook users do not allow faculty, staff or other persons of power to be part of their social life. Therefore, there should be no expectation that Facebook will allow engagement with all students. We can only respect the student’s decision in this matter.

Part II: Profiles and social behavior

Your profile. If you want to effectively leverage Facebook as a learning tool, you need a profile. Creating a profile can seem somewhat awkward, because at heart a site like Facebook will feel a little like a dating site. It is important to know that you only need to share as much as you feel comfortable, and that it is often useful to express restraint. What do students like in a faculty profile? First, they want to know a little about you. They want to know some of your favorite books, movies and TV shows. You get no points for loading your profile with pretentious interests – students want to feel connected to you. If you like the Family Guy or Curb Your Enthusaism, share it. Second, students like pictures. If you’ve got some pictures from conferences, or from when you met famous people, or pictures of your family, share them. You don’t need to upload hundreds, but a few pictures will really add a humanizing aspect to your identity. The key in creating a profile is sharing a little bit of the real you – when you can make these connections with your students, you will engage them.

Friending. I strictly believe that unless a prior relationship exists, faculty friending goes only one way – student to faculty. However, this actually works out – students like counting faculty as their friends. If you’ve created a rich profile, it shows students that you care about FB, and use it somewhat regularly. With the advent of news feeds, students will broadcast the fact they’ve friended you, and this will start the friend requests coming in.

Crossing contexts. You know that weird thing that happens when you see someone who owes you an email before they’ve had a chance to respond? And you do that "Hey, so did you get my email?" dance and it feels weird? Well, that is crossing contexts. Students post lots of information in Facebook. Even if you’re their friend, that doesn’t mean you get to bring up the fact Sue changed her favorite TV shows next time you see her. Unless a student initiates a context-crossing decision, I feel that it is better for persons of power to respect the boundaries of the Facebook. Of course, if someone posts something awesome like "I just got a Rhodes Scholarship" to their Facebook, feel free to congratulate them next time you see them. Yes, respecting contexts is a strange dance, but you’ve got to do it if you want to play nice.

Part III: Engagement tools

Where to begin. As Facebook is a social place, having a profile and friends are pretty much prerequisites to effectively using the service. You need not have hundreds of friends, or share every life detail, but it is wise to bulk up on these basic areas before you move into more advanced areas of engagement. Once you’ve done this, it is essential to remember that Facebook is a social place, so you can structure your goals accordingly.

Profile-based Engagement. Through your news feed you can directly engage with your entire friend group. Your friends will be notified each time you post a link (a share), a blog post (if you’ve integrated or use the "notes" function), join a group, attend an event, and so on. The power of news feeds are actually quite impressive – a large group of people will see everything you’ve done each time they log in. In this sense, you can actively use your profile and actions to keep students aware of things you think are interesting. Since you are a person of power, what you do actually matters to students, so they will pay attention to your profile changes.

Action-based Engagement. Once you get your head around the fact that profile activities are actually engagement, it is time to move onto more direct means. In the Facebook, this means things like creating and sharing events, inviting people to events, posting and sharing links, tagging people in photos, creating groups or sending messages. The Facebook has a number of services that directly support engagement – photos, shares, notes, groups, events – utilizing these will register directly on your students.

Part IV: Engagement Strategies and Ideas

So far, we’ve explored the social and privacy contexts, as well as the tools of student engagement in Facebook. But what are effective strategies for engagement?

  • The creation of groups for dissemination of information about pretty much anything. You can create groups for your library, your clubs and committees, teams – whatever you’d like. Groups are a way for students to say they are part of something ("I support Net Neutrality", "Library Fans") as well as get information ("The Library will be closing at 6PM this week"). Make sure to create open groups so that students can invite other students to join the groups.
  • Events – Facebook is a great place to promote events. Simply create the event, add pictures and invite people. Open events will allow students to pass along the invitation.
  • Notes – You can integrate a RSS feed into your blog with notes. If you have a RSS feed you’d like to share, you can use notes to share that within the Facebook. For example, if the library has an events RSS feed (from a calendar or blog) you could integrate this directly, giving all of your friends access to this information.

So these are fairly direct means – what are some other ways to keep up with students via the Facebook?

  • Campus ads. Facebook makes it very easy to purchase ads that will appear on profiles. The ads are cheap, and they are cheap for a reason (click through rates on SNS sites are extremely low). If you can create a group or event instead of purchasing an ad, do it. The social/viral forces of groups and events make them much more effective than ads.
  • Developing a better understanding of your students perspectives. This may be the most underappreciated aspect of Facebook. Using the Facebook you can get a glimpse into the interests and insight of your students, hopefully reducing some of the generation gap between you two.
  • Keeping tabs. I don’t encourage spying on students, but Facebook can be used by faculty and staff to get background information on students who are having problems. This is an extremely touchy area, but if a student has serious drug/alcohol problems, is suicidal – the Facebook is a good place to develop background information (and friend contacts) if intervention is necessary. It is also a good place to check up on students who have gone off the radar – if a student disappears, check their Facebook first. Using Facebook for these purposes requires careful handling, but we’d be silly to not admit it is a valuable tool for the people whose job it is to protect students.
  • The creation of place. The Facebook is a place through which students can engage with you. Perhaps that is the most important take away from this – Facebook is an opt-in information economy. By creating a profile and undertaking these engagement strategies, you’ve reduced the barriers for students to opt-in to the messages that engage them. You are essentially sharing information at their level, on their terms.

Following on that last point, by being on students terms it doesn’t mean you’re radically changing anything. You may get two extra students to show up at your event after posting it on the Facebook. Facebook isn’t a silver bullet, but it is a place for the sharing of information. Being realistic about goals, and understanding that students will selectively opt-in to messages, you’ll have a reasonable perspective on how to use this tool to engage with students. By approaching students on their terms, you’ve taken a very important step in increasing engagement. To that extent, I hope this information has been useful. "


8 Responses to “Intersting piece on using Facebook staff/ student considerations”

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