Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Facebook in the classroom

Facebook has become the leading social network platform in the world. This media is now used for information sharing, marketing, business, identity platforms, social connections, dating and much more. As with anything that is used too much or too often, and just like many places in the world or in society, negative aspects do arise. The truth is, social networking is not going to disappear any time soon. So how do we as teachers channel positive energy into a medium that holds negative aspects, and how do we use this popular social network in our own teaching? Facebook, or social networking as a whole, has become one of the most controversial subjects surrounding adolescents. Because of the strong focus on the negative aspects of a platform like Facebook, the potential positive uses and learning potential has been greatly overlooked.
    As a future ESL teacher I can see this medium used in many ways. In the classroom, Facebook can be used as an information hub for the class and parents, where information on the class, assignments, resources and discussions can be held collectively to further provide educational tools inside and outside the classroom. Facebook use encourages, reading and writing in both a native or second language,  sharing of ideas across the globe, and cultural awareness i.e. language, customs, beliefs. I see using social network platforms, that some adolescents are already so familiar with, as a way to engage them in writing, reading and using the language in meaningful ways that help them to learn. Using these resources in the classroom also teaches valuable technology skills to students who may not have prior access. For bilingual students or recent immigrants, Facebook can be used to stay connected with the home country while also providing continued use of their first language.
    The most obvious dangers surrounding Facebook evolve from denial and restriction of use by parents, which can lead to an uninformed entrance to the world of Facebook by adolescents. Since so many schools and businesses today use Facebook as a filtering system, by highlighting strengths, we can help students build strong and positive Facebook platforms of themselves, and use Facebook like an extended media resume or portfolio of the self. By teaching children the dangers and consequences that result from poor choices made on the internet, we can begin to use these valuable resources as tools in the classroom and in society as a whole.
     As an introduction,  the class could create a page together, where the students learn of the various settings and rules, functions and components, and become familiar with the valuable amenities that the medium has to offer. With the knowledge we hold of how popular social networking cites like Facebook are, and the notion that they will be used by adolescents, we need to address the social fears and problems that are intertwined in the medium to teach our children how to safely and tactfully use these available resources, by discussing current events on the subject, and addressing students concerns and questions. By setting examples for effective and productive use of social networking, we can prevent many of the problems that cause so much of the negative critiques toward it. Therefore, the job and duty of parents and teachers is to bring the positives and the negatives to the forefront of a child's attention and channel energies into the more positive aspects. In the twenty first century technology and media are becoming more important in the daily lives of people. As teachers, it is our job to not only teach academic subject matter to our students, but also to teach life skills. With this ever growing dependency on technology to perform tasks and skills in the world, addressing these platform’s uses is a crucial life skill in today's day and age. The pros outweigh the cons when it comes to social networking platforms used by adolescents. Once we have effectively taught students how the media works and how they can use it productively in their lives, the education process can begin.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Twitter: Extension of Learning

Twitter: the micro-blogging platform that limits user posts to 140 characters or less. But it is more than just a micro-blog or a Web 2.0 platform. Twitter has evolved into a community—one that consists of countless subcultures—that connects users both locally and globally. These sub-cultures and sub-communities are often contextualized and differentiated using hashtags, which are denoted by using a preceding # sign. As a micro-blog, Twitter differs from other blogging platforms in that it is more fast-paced and conversational—one might even say that it combines blogging with instant messaging. This set-up makes interacting feel more genuine and less contrived than posting to a discussion board, or even a class blog. Twitter-users are constantly engaged in sharing, filtering, sorting, cataloging and archiving information.

How are adolescents using Twitter and how can Twitter be used in a class-setting? Not only are adolescents using Twitter to express and share their own ideas, but they also comment on local and global events and issues. They are building and shaping their identities through tweeting original content, retweeting (sharing something someone previously tweeted), and selecting tweets as favorites. In a class-setting, Twitter is ideal for encouraging participation and extension of learning. For example, using Twitter, a student who is generally quiet in class has the ability to transfer his or her internal thoughts and externalize them. Twitter encourages participation beyond just providing an alternative to raising one’s hand or offering verbal responses in class; it opens up opportunities for students to connect with other students, academics and professionals. They experience exposure to and participation in learning communities, in which the very things they are learning in class are tangible and relevant to real-life.

Teachers can create Twitter accounts specifically for certain classes they teach and use the account to post announcements or questions for students to think about and answer, expand upon class conversations, share relevant resources and other media—including websites, videos, pictures—that relates to the class. Students can also pose questions, share information and resources, and engage in collaborative learning. They are just as involved in exploring as the teacher. To guide and mediate class discussions online, teachers can implement hashtags for students to use when posting for class. Another useful feature is creating lists—these can be used to keep track of students participating in the Twitter conversations and can also serve as a resource of other Twitter users students can follow and interact with. All of these features contribute to teaching students the value and benefits of being part of a community, as well as how to be responsible digital citizens.

Some potential cons to using Twitter in class are that it might end up being more of a distraction. Twitter can be, and is, fun—students will be challenged to balance this sentiment with their academic work. There is the risk of students using Twitter for other purposes—including cyberbullying. Also, there is an issue of accessibility—some students may not have access to a computer or the Internet at home and might feel left out of this extension and exploration beyond the classroom. Because Twitter is a global social network, it is difficult for teachers to keep tabs on all of the personal connections students make beyond the class-use of Twitter. The Internet continues to be a hunting ground for things like identity theft and other scams. This provides a teaching opportunity to teach about discretion and the consequence of over-divulging on a public forum. When using Twitter for class purposes, teachers should model good digital citizenship practices and teach that as part of their lessons.



Adolescents, as a group, are incredibly active contributors to YouTube material. It is a platform with which nearly all students are familiar, and even if some are not, its user-friendliness makes it easy to bring students up to speed for use as a learning tool. Adolescents not only use YouTube to feel their thoughts are legitimate, but also to experiment with professional fields such as reporting and the arts.

YouTube has been used in projects around engaging children and adolescents in healthy eating[i], but its power as a teaching tool may be underutilized. Although using it for Universal Design for Learning may take some creativity considering the need for active and even public contribution to most parts of the broadcasting process, its power lies in its popularity and familiarity among students, its ability to provoke competition, and its capacity for students to make it emotionally relevant. Popular videos on YouTube have emotional draws to them, so creating lessons around researching, analyzing, and judging the successful elements- such as emotional draw, length, production value, etc – would be engaging, and further, could be used for the first part of low to high sequencing of a SAFE lesson1.

[1] Adapted from: Crawford, Glenda. Differentiation for the Adolescent Learner : Accommodating Brain Development, Language, Literacy, and Special Needs. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin PressPrint.


“Set up” the content knowledge base. These questions focus on basic comprehension and factual responses.


Pose questions that are more “analytic” in nature and require students to interpret knowledge through contextual clues.


“Focus” thinking in a new direction.


Stimulate “evaluative” thinking which persuades students to appraise, assign value, and reflect.

Once students are set-up with research guidelines for YouTube searches and analyze the effective elements, teachers could move onto focusing the students on creating a video of their own and have students evaluate it based on the number of previously identified elements they incorporate and on the number of hits their video gets (which they can establish based on similar video and which provides a challenge).

This same type of lesson can be used to train students to recognize the reasons behind the publishing of videos on YouTube and to criticize and evaluate their validity, legitimacy, and potential for impact. This critical understanding would arm them against the persuasive content that may be targeting them that does not consider their wellbeing, which expands well beyond food. I work with a non-profit organization called FoodFight ( that does work similar to this lesson and is seeing staggering changes in teachers’ and high school students’ attitudes towards food across New York City. FoodFight offers workshops, curriculum materials, and support to guide teachers and their students to a completely different way of thinking about food and how food impacts our lives. Teachers and students become, in a sense, food detectives. This cultivation of detective-like critical lenses and voices is essential to life skills. And so if YouTube can help us with that cultivation, then let us use it to teach towards heartier educational harvests. Too far with the metaphor? Sorry. I get pretty excited about food.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Media and Technology Critique

Who would have imagined that social networking websites would greatly boost the evolution of human social interaction in the 21st century? Among them, Facebook, enjoying a global user population of 600 million, stands out distinctively. Since it has become an inseparable part of many adolescents’ daily life, teachers should build the link between the technologies so often used by today’s youth to enhance their educational development. Although challenges may hinder its successful practice in education, this continuously developing modality of technology is what interests me most.

With Facebook, users from anywhere around the world can, not only chat with someone by a simple click, but also have quick access to their friends’ latest news. Once logged into Facebook, users can clearly see what their friends are doing, how they felt recently, what they like or dislike. In summary, this social media platform establishes the most encompassing tool for its users to speak out their voices with their real identities. Collaborated with the third party, Facebook also enables people to update their latest news via other channels, especially through the third party applications installed on smart phones. Besides its convenience for communication, it also plays the role of conveying multi-dimensional information, including movies, music, pictures, articles, and so on. Moreover, it creates a unique opportunity for people to organize activities and make them public. In general, the invention of Facebook has dramatically facilitated social interactions.

Although it contributes to building friendships and spreading information, it is not without its problems. Users, especially young people, spend considerable amounts of time on each of their visits to its website, either via mobile or non-mobile devices. They constantly visit their friends’ homepages, and add comments to people’s status and passages. Some of them even rely on Facebook or have developed some addiction to it. Additionally, adolescent users are easily exposed to age-inappropriate information, including violence, racism, and pornographic messages.

In this scenario, with social media becoming an intricate part of adolescents’ lives, how should teachers use this double-edged sword wisely in their instructions? Since Facebook is a perfect stage for students to share their ideas with each other, teachers can establish a homepage for the class in order to help forge positive relationships amongst students and teachers. In traditional classroom settings, many teachers find it challenging to get along with their students well. While on Facebook, teachers and students get to know each other better in a more casual way. As a result, students are more willing to consult their teachers, and teachers know students’ academic needs more clearly. As we all know, the harmonious and interactive atmosphere will serve as the base of the successful teaching in the future.

Besides boosting mutual understanding, Facebook is a useful tool for foreign language teachers like me to give students language trainings. As a Mandarin teacher, I think that a natural language environment can be created on Facebook. Since people use Facebook for communication, communicative goals in a language class can be partly achieved through Facebook. By setting up weekly discussions and establishing certain rules for assessing students’ comprehension and language proficiency, students are required to respond to their teachers’ status or articles in Chinese. Since students are technology savvy and accustomed to visiting the site, they are more willing to complete their assignments and practice typing Chinese characters in this way. Meanwhile, teachers can also moderate and control the access to the homepage, and maintain focus on the topics under discussion.

In addition, they can also post assignments, useful links, and samples of work on Facebook regularly. Music, videos, and pictures related to the target subject or the current lesson can motivate students’ interest. For my language class, I will post songs (Chinese lyrics), movies (Chinese transcripts, culture), pictures (word flashcards, culture) on Facebook in order to create a multi-sensory language-learning environment for students. Various language exposures through different media can stimulate students to acquire knowledge more quickly.  Moreover, teachers can organize certain academic or social and subject-related events on Facebook. For example, teachers can arrange a visit to the Museum of Chinese in America, and let them know the history of China and early Chinese immigrants’ life in the U.S. As a language teacher, I believe this gives students an access to various learning experiences and language producing.

Although Facebook does have a potentially negative side, such as overuse and distraction, these could be overcome through appropriate management and regulations. As for teenagers who tend to lack self-control and be more immature, teachers and school counselors can work together in aiding students to moderate their use of the Internet. Peer supervision may also be a good alternative in this case.

Generally, teachers and students can both benefit from the powerful functions that Facebook possesses on a daily basis if this social networking website is adopted wisely. Although Facebook appears as relatively new tool in the modern education, what teachers should bear in mind is that they always use such a tool to lead students on the way of becoming responsible and self-motivated learners ultimately.

Facebook Community

Facebook Community
            Facebook offers students a sense of community in an era in which students are increasingly being drawn into the cyber world. Facebook allows students to create a profile that is individual to them, and allows them to interact with friends and family while also staying plugged in. Facebook users utilize this website for various purposes including: interacting with each other both publically and privately through Facebook walls and chat, respectively; sharing pictures/videos, links, information, interests, current locations, music, ideas, items for sale, and etc; managing planning of events; and group communication. Facebook allows students to interact with each other in a manner that the classroom alone does not allow. Friendships and relationships are strengthened in a way through this online community. Also, unlike other social networking media, Facebook connects users through networks and displays mutual friends, which encourages students to interact with people they may know – not strangers.
            Students know all about fostering their own community in the cyber world through Facebook – far beyond what older generations know about using various Facebook features to contribute to the community. If teachers master Facebook, it can be used in multiple ways in the classroom. Teachers can use Facebook as a means to communicate with their students – whether this means posting homework and important information on Facebook or collecting assignments. Students can also use Facebook to interact with each other for group projects and other tasks. A danger of Facebook can be online bullying or the fact that students use the Internet as a source to publicize their feelings, which can be solved if teachers (and parents) are on Facebook themselves monitoring student activity from the inside.
            In history classes specifically, students can create Facebook profiles as a means to empathize with historical figures. For example, students can be assigned historical figures for whom they will create Facebook profiles demonstrating their knowledge about the assigned figure and interact with other historical figures in the classroom by posting on each others’ walls, creating events for actual historic events, and other outlets that Facebook provides. Through this anachronistic community, students can learn history in a way they can relate – seeing “James Madison is attending the Constitutional Convention” on one’s timeline may be an effective way to remember historic events and occurrences. As technology is always changing, newer ways to incorporate history can be found. New features like the timeline can be used as an interactive way to map out history. Teaching using the technology that is familiar to students allows for more engagement with the material, and allows students to create a community of historical figures that interact with each other. Using Facebook in this manner ties together present day technology with past history and ideas allowing students to empathize with generations past.
            Tying together history and Internet safety, this lesson can incorporate the lesson that what happens on the Internet, like decisions made in history, is permanent. One wrong photo upload or one wrong decision by a historical figure can have reverberating effects on the future. This is an idea important to all history, and knowing this can teach students to think twice about their actions on the Internet. The patterns seen in history are being continued on the Internet through the Facebook community, making it a vital website for teachers to monitor and use.

The Internet and the School

By: Brent Peaslee

Education may be the most exciting field to enter during this technological era. The traditional rules of teaching are being entirely rethought. What and how a student learns once were dependent on where a student lives and the economic status of both that region and of their own family. Now with savvy Internet skills and the will to learn, a world class education can be free. Typically I am a strong opponent of technology in the classroom. I see it as a novelty rather than an effective teaching tool. Even young students in middle school whom I have helped tutor see the flaw in firing teachers to hire smart boards and ipads. In 2009 Congress released an eight year study that found no academic advantage to using technology in the classroom (Mathematica, 2009). However, after personal research it is apparent that the Internet can be an effective teaching aid if used and marketed to students correctly.

These two websites,, and, are tools that will define education in the near future. The Khan Academy is a free service that tutors students on a wide variety of subjects from pre-algebra to calculus to American politics and economics. Teachers can track and aid their own students. Adolescents to adults are using this free service to educate themselves on topics of interest or even as a free tutor for difficult classes. TED videos are short 5-20 minute lectures from individuals who are at the top of their fields. The mission of TED talks is to spread ideas that can help improve the world. The video links and transcripts of the lectures are free and typically very enjoyable to hear. How can these online resources positively affect my field of teaching?

The focus of my degree is Teaching English as a Second Language. If my students are adolescents then most of my students are taking courses outside of my ESL classroom. They will be taking math, science, history and other required academic classes. Many of them will be pulled out of these classes to enter mine and most of them will be struggling with all of these subjects. These are strong minds who are simply experiencing difficulty communicating their ideas. These two websites will be vital in my classroom. The Khan Academy has nearly every subject that my students will encounter from 6th to 12th grade. With over 2700+ videos in English, and many translated into other languages, this site has the potential to save my students’ education. They will simultaneously work on their English while keeping up with their academic classes. The TED videos will be a way to connect with my students. They will have access to the elites in their fields of interest, such as gaming, arts, and entertainment, while being exposed to the English Language on a topic they love. These sites are an invaluable resource to my classroom.

Both of these sources have been critically acclaimed all over the world. Their greatest downfall is that they are only found on the Internet. This modality is both a great education tool and a great distraction to an individual’s education. The pitfalls of the Internet have been well documented. It is a great time waster and it provides exposure to the worst aspects of humanity. All of this within a few clicks away. As a teacher I think it is important to know that students can and will access the negative aspects of the Internet, but if you emphasize the benefits (Khan Academy, TED videos) they will have exposure to the positive aspects of the Internet as well. It is impossible to make someone want to learn, however these sites can connect learning with a student’s interests. Allowing my adolescent students to choose which Khan Academy lessons most apply to them or which TED talks relate to their interests I am providing them with the freedom they want while still achieving my own course objectives. The negative aspects of the Internet may always exist but websites like the Khan Academy and TED Talks will steer students in the right direction.

Works Cited

Mathematica. (2009). Educational technology: Does it improve academic achievement?. Retrieved from