Posted by: schooleducator | February 20, 2009

Facebook Schools

Last year, when I purchased my iPhone, I braced myself for the 4-hour online tutorial to learn how to navigate the device. However, just as I was sitting down to begin the tutorial, my 8 year-old son told me not to waste my time. He could teach me in 20 minutes, he stated boldly. All he needed was a little time to “play” with the phone. Sure enough, he proved to be a better and more entertaining teacher than the online tutorial and I fast learned the basics of iPhone use. He continues to be my iPhone navigator, updating the phone, looking for “cool” apps to add and explaining the phone to me in clear, easy to understand language. Technology has flipped our roles. It used to be that parents and teachers taught children. Now, the reverse is true and the quicker we can grasp this concept, the better equipped we will all be to live in the 21st century. President Obama knows this. He has retooled government’s approach to communication. Each week, he uploads his weekly address to YouTube, the White House web site invites viewer interaction and he even found a way to hold onto his BlackBerry. And, the President has enlisted a chief technology officer to rewire the government’s whole technology apparatus.
Schools need to do the same. Students are fast growing disenchanted with the snail’s pace of change going on in classrooms regarding teaching with technology. Thankfully, some teachers have grabbed the mantle and are taking steps to meet students where they are in the online world. One talented teacher cooked up an entire 20th century China project on Facebook. Students adopted the personalities of Sun Yat-sen, Mao Zedong and Chang Kai-shek and created and updated Facebook pages and profiles, replete with photos and wall postings. In the words of the teacher: “This project changed the classroom. Students were so motivated and put way more hours into their research than a traditional project might have done.” The best part about this project was the organic way it developed in the hands of a teacher who listens to her students. As the class brainstormed the beginning stages of the unit, one of the students simply suggested that the class create Facebook pages for the three leaders and be required to chat, post and debate online. Instead of balking at this potentially outlandish idea, this teacher jumped at the opportunity. This is exactly the kind of collaborative learning that the 21st century demands, but it does mean surrendering a bit of curricular control to the students. For many teachers, letting students “run” the show poses a challenge to the traditional “sage on the stage” model, even in the most progressive of teaching environments. The time has come to turn the reins over to the students.
What if there was a school where every teacher was required to run their courses on Facebook? Many schools have pushed teachers to have their own websites, with syllabi, unit samples and topical web links. But the missing piece with this type of design is the lack of interaction for the user. Facebook forces interaction and active learning. It has speed and multi-tasking wrapped into one page. One teacher with whom I have spoken says just this: “Students multi-task and we need to create classrooms that multi-task.” This particular teacher has given her classroom a facelift and she teaches the class essentially online. YouTube, Google images, and iTunes songs plaster her Power Point lectures and she daily posts to a class blog and includes interactive features in her homework assignments. Students love her class and they rarely get sidetracked, as they take notes on their laptops and input data during hands-on labs. This teacher’s premise is to make the classroom mirror the online lives of the students so that students will not be distracted from educational goals. She has never had a technology related discipline issue in her class. Imagine this teacher with a school sanctioned Facebook page. Her already innovative approach would increase exponentially.
The virtue of the online classroom is that it does not require classroom walls. Learning goes on 24/7 and with the right design students will want to spend their time outside of school collaborating and adding content to class Facebook pages, for example. The teacher who created the 20th century China assignment shared that her students added to their class created Facebook pages at every hour of the day and night. Motivation skyrocketed and learning grew more authentic with real time audience.
We live in a “flat” world as Thomas Friedman has argued. This “flatness” must extend into the field of education. The old hierarchical model of education needs to be dismantled in favor of cross platform teaching and learning. President Obama has sounded the clarion call for rewiring government and schools need to seize the moment. We can’t wait and more importantly, kids can’t wait. Now is the time for full-scale reconsideration of instructional delivery with the latest technology tools. As the recently released MacArthur Foundation study on digital youth stated: “they (kids) are often more motivated to learn from peers than from adults […] to stay relevant in the 21st century, education institutions need to keep pace with the rapid changes introduced by digital media.”

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