Contributed by Marshall Cavendish Education
The rise of social networking sites presents unique opportunities for language education, especially when youth today are digital natives and prolific users of such multimodal social networking sites.
Social networking sites have become very much part of our lives. A survey done in 2009 indicated that the most common internet activity among young people between 15 to 24 years of age was the use of social networking sites. Our students are clearly into information and communication technology (ICT) tools. It would be counter-intuitive if educators do not use them to engage students in the classroom.
Teachers can and should creatively integrate ICT tools into their lessons to create a multimodal environment for their students. This can help nurture in them the key competencies and dispositions needed to succeed in our 21st-century, technology-driven world. My team of English teachers at the School of Science and Technology, Singapore (SST) are exploring how this could be done.
Facebook for English Language Teaching
This year, the English department at SST started a closed Facebook group for all Secondary 4 students to teach language use and critical thinking, encourage social constructivism, and allow both self-directed and collaborative learning across classes.
The teachers posted tips on grammar and vocabulary use, discussed current affairs and language skills, and uploaded lesson materials in this Facebook group.
Central to the primary and secondary school English Language curriculum is the ability to listen, read, view, speak and write a variety of text types or genres. In addition to print sources, the Ministry of Education (MOE) 2010 English Syllabus incorporates a variety of multimodal non-print sources such as web-based texts (which includes online articles, blogs, wikis), CD-ROMs and DVDs, analogue resources such as films, television and radio broadcasts. Facebook lends itself very well to the incorporation of such multimodal sources and the promotion of multiliteracies.
Facebook also helps prepare our students to be active citizens in the future. There are plenty of opportunities for them to engage with politicians and various lobby groups with an online presence. Students need a platform to learn the etiquette for such engagement and to discern the information they receive online. A school Facebook group provides the perfect environment for such learning, which is guided by educators.
With so many social networking sites around, how did we arrive at the choice of Facebook? Several studies on the use of Facebook among university students have pointed to its potential use for educational purposes.
Using naturally occurring exchanges on students’ Facebook pages, Selwyn (2009) noted how social networking sites can be used educationally to support discussion between students and also for teacher-learner dialogue in the UK. Similarly, Bosch (2009) found in his study that students in South Africa used Facebook for academic purposes to share ideas about projects and lecture or study notes.
Facebook versus “Chalk and Talk”
How does Facebook measure up to traditional ways of learning? For one, it makes a classroom borderless. Learning can now continue even after the school bell goes off. Compared to other educational ICT tools such as blogs or PBworks, Facebook has a huge advantage. Almost all students have a Facebook account, and they already frequent Facebook for social reasons.
In Facebook, students are able to initiate discussions beyond the traditional classroom to include multimodal materials such as videos, pictures, comic strips and links to other sites. They also think they learn best from both text and videos, which is also observed by Cisco (2008).
Teachers can also share articles quickly and easily by just clicking on the Facebook button at the bottom of newspaper and magazine articles. Reading has been changed by how electronic text types are organized to let readers choose their reading path. Most of the time, it will be non-linear. The speed of such frequent updates and non-linear reading are similar to what students usually encounter in their daily reading practices.
For the typical Asian learner, expressing one’s opinion on the Facebook group is definitely less intimidating than articulating one’s view in a traditional classroom. Students who are more reserved can now actively participate in the closed Facebook group by posting their comments.
There are plenty of opportunities for students to engage with politicians and various lobby groups with an online presence.
– Chin Meng on how Facebook prepares students to be active citizens in the future
The way students used Facebook did not always go the way the teachers had envisioned. Their participation was limited to commenting on teachers’ posts. It was difficult to get them to initiate a new discussion of their own.
We were not able to accurately measure the kind and amount of learning that takes place on Facebook. It is still unclear how it will translate into real-life outcomes and pen-and-paper assessment.
To overcome the above, my team is exploring several ideas, such as organizing competitions to entice students to post and developing a team of student writers under the school’s Talent Development Programme to become active contributors. The team has also surveyed the students to obtain feedback on how we can improve the Facebook group.
Facebook was created primarily for social purposes, and it presents information in a chronological fashion. As a pedagogical tool, this is a limitation as it is difficult for users to search for discussion topics or use the group for revision purposes. This, however, can be overcome by syncing the Facebook group with a blog for topic tagging.
Now that they have gotten the hang of using Facebook as a learning tool, my team hopes to explore collaboration across schools, both locally and with partner schools in other countries. Language learning is not strictly bound by the syllabus or traditional methods, so there are certainly more possibilities in harnessing social media for educational purposes.
Bosch, T. E. (2009). Using online social networking for teaching and learning: Facebook use at the University of Cape Town. South African Journal for Communication Theory and Research 35(2), 185–200.
Cisco, Global Lead Education. (2008). Multimodal learning through media: What the research says. Retrieved from http://www.cisco.com/web/strategy/docs/education/Multimodal-Learning-Through-Media.pdf
Selwyn, N. (2009). Faceworking: Exploring students’ education-related use of Facebook. Learning, Media and Technology, 34(2), 157–174.