Thursday, April 21, 2011

Advice for Choosing Pages, Groups or Profiles When Using Facebook for Education

Students have powered-down for school
I’m an advocate of using real world tools in school.  After all, if we’re not using tools of the world in our classrooms, then what world are we really preparing students for?  The one that is most convenient... or the one that is right for kids?  If you want to do what is most convenient, then you can work at a school where they ban, block, filter and restrict.  You know those schools.  Some kids heads are on their desks, others are facing forward listening (but are they really?), and others are engaged in the outdated skill of taking down the words their almighty teacher says or writes on the board. Paper, pencils, pens, outdated textbooks are plentiful.  In schools where we’re doing what is right for kids, you see engaged youth who use the filter between their ears to determine how to best access information. Students are empowered rather than restricted from using personally owned digital devices in school.  At these schools they understand that people, not tools, have behavior.  Fortunately, more and more often these schools that mirror the real world are starting to crop up in places like New Canaan High School in Connecticut and The School in Harlem, New York.  

When I speak about schools such as these, I often get a lot of questions like this one I received recently from a Twitter follower.
"Great ideas for Facebook, but would we be taking a social risk? Facebook is taboo for many admins and districts are frowning on FB because of the potential risk for unprofessional behavior ."
My reply to such inquiries is always the same.  Tools have no intent.  Facebook doesn’t cause a risk for unprofessional behavior, but it catches those who engage in such behaviors.  What we’re really saying when we block and ban is that we don’t want to bother dealing with issues such as those who have chosen to publicly engaged in unprofessional behavior.  It is much more convenient to turn heads the other way.  

After I’ve convinced educators that Facebook is a powerful tool in education because it’s one that our kids are already using and it is our professional duty to use and help keep kids safe in the environments of their worlds, I’m often asked this question.  
:Would you encourage using a Facebook page or profile to connect with students? Is there a difference?"

Students bring their own devices to New Caanan High School
and use an unfiltered internet
There is not a one-size-fits all answer.  It depends on your intent.  If you are like me or Principal Chris Lehmann you have one profile because it’s just another way to communicate and you’ll communicate with your students in any way they wish.  The idea of being two separate people may just be too hard to keep track of and you enjoy being a professional and social role model for students.  If you are like librarian Michelle Loots (Luhtala) you use a personal page to connect with friends and family, a professional profile for students and a page to keep students in the know about library activities.. If you are like first grade teacher Erin Schoening you create a page as a window into your classroom to connect students with parents.  If you are like Brooklyn Tech High School you use a page as a place to connect with present and past students and teachers.  You might be like Education Land, a group created to connect those who are interested in education.  

If you want to understand how you can maintain a professional presence on the site separate from your personal profile, here are some tips, directly from Facebook’s Safety for Educators page (note: You may also want to visit the "Teachers" page in the Facebook Safety Center.)  First they suggest that if you are a teacher and have a personal profile, you can consider creating a group or a Page specifically for interacting with students, parents, or colleagues. Create Friend Lists to control what parts of your profile students are able to access.  If you don’t get the difference between pages, and groups, and friend’s lists here is how it’s explained on Facebook’s Safety for Educators page.

Pages, Groups, and Friends Lists Overview

Pages are for broadcasting great information to people on Facebook. For example, you could create a Page called "Ms. Smith’s 9th Grade Science Class" where you post daily homework assignments. Anyone can become a fan of a Page on Facebook. People who choose to become a fan of a Page will see updates on their profile. To create a Page, click here. Pages are free, you can control them with your personal profile, and they keep your profile separate from your students.

Groups make it easy for members of a community to connect, share and even collaborate on a given topic or idea. For example, you could create a group called "American Literature 101 Discussions" where you and your students can contribute to group discussions. Or you could create a group for all of the educators in your your department to collaborate on lesson plans and share ideas. To create a group, click here.

Friend Lists
Friend Lists provide organized groupings of your friends on Facebook. For example, you can create a Friend List specifically for your students. Then you can control which parts of your profile are visible to this entire list. You can also filter your view of each list’s stream of activity separately on the home page, or send messages and invites to this group of people all at once. To learn more about creating and managing Friend Lists, click here.

Connecting with Other Facebook Using Educators
If you want to connect with other educators who are using Facebook for Learning, join the Facebook in Education page.  This page is a resource for teachers, professors, administrators, counselors and others who work in education. You can refer to this page for privacy tips to help you maintain both a personal and a professional presence on Facebook. You'll also find answers to common questions including how to report abuse to Facebook and the best way to use Facebook as a communication tool in your school. To become a fan of this page, click here and choose the "Become a Fan" option at the top of the page.

Read Librarian Michelle Luhtala's response to this blog post at Y U Need 2 "Friend" ur Students!


  1. Lisa, this is great! I started to post a comment, but when I hit 500 words, I realized I needed to cross post instead - so it will be over at as soon as kids give me the OK to post their comments. I will Tweet & update FB status when they do.

  2. Terrific post, Lisa! Thanks for the examples of the different ways educators are using facebook.

  3. Great article Lisa! I would like to someday switch my class page from a profile page to a group. In addition to letting the group members interact with one another; groups allow you to share pictures, videos, status updates, etc.. The only thing I don't like is that updates to a group page do not appear on users' news feeds (unless something has changed, please correct me if I'm wrong).

  4. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the differences in communication in Facebook. Several educational focused blog and microblog sites have popped up as great alternatives to Facebook for those teachers who teach in a district where FB is shunned. For me, Edmodo is my choice of all alternative FB sites.

    The true advantage to Facebook is its massive popularity. EVERY student seems to have a Facebook page. Facebook is easily accessed through mobile devices AND students are already natives to the platform. This allows for minimal training time.

    One of the main hurdles for most conservative districts is the lack of control over Facebook accounts. They see encouraging the use of the platform is essentially forcing students to open an account to be connected to their studies. If negative behavior were to come from the platform then they are concerned about potential lawsuits. Again, I do not support this line of thought, but you have to understand the viewpoint of conservative districts before change can be made.

    Facebook is not the problem, the users are the problem! Better etiquette and professionalism will allow Facebook to connect us in new and novel ways.

  5. As a current MBA student, I love your emphasis in using "real world" tools to teach real world strategy. The one thing I say when people ask me about how I like my program is "I love it--I'm learning everything I feel I should have learned in undergrad...everything is applicable to work."
    Actually one tool that one of my professors required us to use for group work was an online collaboration program called Group Table ( At first we were all skeptical--b/c we were all comfortable with using gmail, or alternate tools to collaborate. However, after using it, I will never go back.
    We were able to upload/revise documents, assign tasks, set deadlines, create discussion boards, and live chat--which was wonderful for our program, as we all work all day and live all over town. Another great aspect, was our professor had us invite him as a "guest" so he was able to view our progress, see who was contributing, give us feedback, etc. From there he based our participation grade on the effort shown by each of us in the program--keeping everyone accountable.
    I think its a paid program now with a free alternative; but when we signed up it was free and were automatically upgraded. Now we use it for all of our classes--I even use it to plan trips with my girlfriends from undergrad.
    I hope you find this as helpful as my classmates and I.

    Again, great job on the post!