Using Facebook for Global Citizenship

I gave a talk today at our local authority education service, ESIS about how we have used Facebook in school.  The audience was more primary teachers than secondary and I sensed a bit of a silence in the room afterwards.  I think Facebook seems to be a taboo subject.  It’s seen as the baddie (despite almost every teacher I know being on Facebook!).

So – how did we use it in school?

Last year I was involved in a Comenius project.  For those who don’t know, Comenius is an EU project that funds school partnerships.   We received around 17,000 Euros to take part in a 2 year project with partner schools in Sweden, Italy, Germany and The Netherlands.  The project was set up by my colleague Holly who teaches art.  She was interested in the ways in which identity is shaped by local and global factors – and by new technologies.  I was brought in to help with the tech side.

The first phase of the project used a Moodle hosted by the German school.  Students from different schools were paired up and exchanged information.  It functioned and information was shared but students didn’t really engage. We set out to look for ideas to increase engagement.

We were aware that the students were using Facebook (as were the teachers) for the majority of their communication anyway so, we took the plunge.

A Facebook page for school

I’ll backtrack a bit.  I’d been running a school Facebook page for a while.  That started after the 4,000 hits our school website received on a snow day (checking whether school was open) crashed the site.  We only have 1200 pupils but it seemed that everyone hit F5 on every possible internet enabled device in the house.  Which meant I couldn’t update the site.  A lesson on site hosting followed.  Facebook has massive servers and can handle a lot of traffic so it seemed an ideal way of communicating this information very quickly.

I set myself up a new profile on Facebook using my school email address.  Facebook prefers you to have the one profile understandably but there’s no real way for them to get rid of duplicates as they only real criteria they have is email address.  You can’t use Miss or Mr as a firstname so teachers who like to keep their first names a mystery won’t like this (and probably aren’t reading this anyway).

The school Facebook page has about 250 followers.  It would have more if I updated it more often.  A few people have commented or liked and it ticks along.

Back to the project

Using my teacher profile I set up a group on Facebook for the Comenius project.  I set it as a closed group meaning that only members of the group can see posts and content.  The other options are an open group where everyone can see everything and a private group which is so secret you won’t know about it unless you get an invite.

I then invited the teachers on the project from the various schools to become my friend and then admitted them into the group.  once they were in the group I made them all administrators.

The only way students could get into the group was by being admitted by their teacher.  We agreed between us that we would only admit our own students.

The part that many teachers had an issue with is that in order to admit a student the group we had to be friends with them.  I decided it wasn’t a problem for 2 reasons:

  1. This was my teacher profile.  There’s nothing personal on there about me at all.
  2. You only have to be friends with the student until you have admitted them to the group which takes about 30 seconds – then you can unfriend them.  I really don’t want to go down the route of seeing what students post to their timeline!

Prior to admitting students we sent letters home to all the students taking part in the project to explain how it was going to work and giving parents the opportunity to opt their children out.  Not one parent replied.  We didn’t admit parents to the group but encouraged them to ask their children to show them.  We also only allowed students over 13 to take part.

How did we use Facebook?

The 2nd part of the project was to create a short film on the topic of Community.  We told students that the films would be uploaded to Facebook and discussed what would be suitable for inclusion and what wouldn’t be.  We checked the films first and then the students uploaded them to the Facebook group.  All the other students in the project could then comment and like – which they did.  It was a very simple way of sharing the work and getting feedback from people all over Europe.

We also had a live chat one evening to discuss the films.  This was less successful as we couldn’t hold the chat during school hours.  Most schools in Europe block Facebook!  Out of the control of their teachers some of the students got a bit silly and ruined it for the rest.  They were disciplined the next day in school (not our school, our students were great!). We ran out of time to do more but I’m confident that when the novelty goes the silliness will go too.

What were the main benefits

First and foremost, it enabled students to KNOW they were meeting the right person.  As soon as they found out the names of their exchange partners, they all went on Facebook to find that person.  Anyone who’s tried to look for an old friend on Facebook knows that can be akin to the needle and haystack.

Secondly, students really engaged with the project this time round.  They connected and chatted and shared.  Once they had met for real, face-to-face they followed up with more in-depth connections.  Even now, a year on, they tell me they’ve been chatting to the friends they made in Holland or the family they stayed with in Sweden and are making plans to meet in the summer.  It’s a far cry from the wooden letters I wrote to my French exchange partner (sorry Carole).

We’re planning to repeat this with another project starting in the Autumn should we get funding.