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Redefining 'Class Participation' With Facebook

This guest blog post was made by EducationWorld Web Assistant Joseph Murphy, a student at Furman University in Greenville, SC.

Students in the 21st century live and breathe technology. Cell phones are fused to their hands, ear buds are glued in their ears, and any kid can find the answer to a question in .5 seconds through the Web. With technology being the number one way in which young people communicate with their friends, why can’t technology also be a way to communicate for the purpose of learning?

Teachers are becoming more amenable to the idea of integrating technology into instruction. Smart Boards appear in classrooms across the U.S., and online programs such as Conjuguemos and Physics Classroom are being used as homework assignments.

Students have always received grades that represent formative and summative assessments—from small homework and classroom assignments to large projects and tests. But how should teachers assess participation? In a Language Arts class, participation could mean sharing one’s interpretation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet; in a Government class, it could mean offering an opinion of the latest bill up for debate. What if this participation could be assessed not just in the classroom, but also at home?

I took an AP Language and Composition class during my senior year of high school. A large component of that class was discussion, but with 25 students, not everyone got to share his or her views. This is where technology helped. We would go home and have our usual reading due for the next day, but at some point during the night, we also had to post opinions in a Facebook group that included the members of our class as well as our teacher.

We were encouraged to post because it counted toward our grades, but over time, most of us began to want to post in the Facebook group to put in our “two cents” (more like two paragraphs). This format benefited the group, because we could “like,” comment, post links, share pictures and return to previous conversations, all with the click of a button.

Not only did the frequency of class discussions increase, but students also were able to explore the topic more deeply than they would have in a 40-minute class period. Tech-enabled discussion also gave the “shy guy” an opportunity to share his opinion without the “stage fright” component of speaking in front of a whole class.

While students benefit enormously from using the tools they know best (technology and Facebook), teachers also benefit. Think about it—it’s much easier to grade a student on what s/he said during a discussion when the comments appear concretely in a Facebook group. Instead of fearing technology, teachers should use it to strengthen and expand class discussion.

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