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Monday, March 5, 2012

Using Facebook to Teach Spanish Community Service Learning

by Ann Abbott


Even though I love teaching, I must admit that I had begun to feel exhausted by it lately. In part, the administration of the community service learning (CSL) component was feeling heavy to me, and in part I was feeling the need for a change, a new challenge. But that all changed this semester when I began using this phrase to start my classes:


"Please turn on your cell phones and open Facebook."


I know that many educators feel that nothing good can happen with a classroom full of students checking their Facebook feed. Instead, I feel like it has given new life to my teaching. I'm not exaggerating. Of course, Facebook doesn't change bad teaching into good. But it does open new possibilities. And that is exactly the kind of change, the kind of challenge that I was looking for. 

First, here are some basics:
  1. I created a Page called "UIUC Spanish Community Service Learning." That's an umbrella term for all the courses I teach, so I don't think I will have to create new pages for future courses.
  2. My students and I do not need to friend each other in order to use this Page. I like being Facebook friends with current and former students, but this eliminates (I hope!) any awkwardness and feelings that I am invading their private space.
  3. My students all sign a "Talent Release Form" at the beginning of the semester, so putting their pictures on this page is already pre-approved. I don't tag individuals.
  4. I have learned to post something myself and ask students to comment under it. Asking them to all post something creates a very messy wall. 
  5. I have one student this semester who does not have an account in Facebook. No problem. He can just pair up with someone who does.
  6. Not all of my students have smartphones, iPads or laptops. But at least half do. So they pair up.

Now I'll share with you the ways that I used Facebook in my two courses last week.

SPAN 232: Spanish in the Community


In class that day we covered Lección 10--¿Quiénes son los inmigrantes en tu comunidad?--in Comunidades. This is a very important class because it attempts to dispel many myths about immigration.

Facebook photos. I teach two sections of this course, so during the first section I took pictures of a couple of the student groups while they were discussing all the foreign-born family members, friends and professionals that they know. In class we did activities, watched a video and did some follow-up exercises. After class, I uploaded those pictures to our Facebook page. For each picture, I transformed one of the follow-up questions I had simply asked out loud in the first class into a caption for the photo. So, in the second section, students had to use the information presented in the class to post their answer to one of these questions:
  •  Escuchas a alguien decir, "Mis bisabuelos inmigraron legalmente. ¿Por qué tenemos a tantos ´ilegales´ahora.¨ ¿Qué le respondes?
  • Escuchas a alguien decir, ¨Somos un país con deudas, no podemos seguir manteniendo a tantos inmigrantes.¨ ¿Qué le dices?
Lessons learnedI thought everything was clear. I thought the implications we had drawn from the facts were compelling and straightforward. Yet what they actually posted on Facebook was not exactly what I thought they would say. Instead, it was a window into what they had actually learned. Or not learned. Certainly, their answers were not terrible, and I am proud of my students for engaging with a difficult topic and probably for the first time. But their comments under the photos showed that their understanding of the concepts needed some refinement. And some feedback. Something that I could give my students on Facebook, but that the first class of students didn't get at all.

The implications for me are clear: asking students to post their conclusions to Facebook is a good comprehension check. It's also a good way to follow-up on information from the class that would just gotten lost in the shuffle otherwise. Theoretically, I could accomplish the same thing by asking students to write their answers on note cards and hand them in. Realistically, I wouldn't have been able to follow up on those notecards during the next class, and my feedback wouldn't have been available to all students to see and learn from.

SPAN 332: Spanish and Entrepreneurship 

For this class, I used the Facebook page as an organizer for the entire 50-minute class. The course is about social entrepreneurship, and last week I was focusing on the use of social media for social enterprises. I thought "Radio Ambulante would be a great case study for us to examine throughout the class period. And it was. Here is how Facebook helped. I have numbered the entries to show their chronological order. I posted 1, 2 and 3 before class. I posted 4 after class.

1. Posting links in Facebook. It's so easy for students to find websites when you have everything ready for them. At the beginning of class I say, "Go to our Facebook page." (At this point in the semester, they all know where to go.) After a few moments I ask them to raise their hands if they are there. That way I know if there are any bumps or any students I need to help. "Now click on the link for 'Radio ambulante' and explore the site for a few minutes, but don't click on the audio files, please." Again, I ask them to raise their hand if they need help getting to the site while the others are exploring.

After a few minutes of free exploration, I clicked on the piece titled "Palabra prohibida," and we all listened to it together. Then I paired students and asked them to compare the protagonist's experience with their community service learning work in the local Latino immigrant community. They then shared their "palabras prohibidas" (e.g., mojado, ilegal, etc.). I drew parallels for them of how it takes time and effort to build trust with the community you want to serve, especially if it is a marginalized and vulnerable community. One strategy to build trust is to partner with an already-trusted organization or individual.

Finally, they watched the video that introduces what Radio Ambulante does and what they need.

2. Using the comment feature. In the previous class, I talked about social media marketing and the importance of using client-centered language and calls to action. So here I linked to the @RadioAmbulante Twitter feed. In pairs, students looked at @RadioAmbulante's tweets and analyzed them according to the questions I posted along with the link. Asking students to comment has two advantages. First, it organizes their responses and keeps them all in one place. Second, they can easily read each other's comments; in fact, several of them "liked" a comment within the thread.

3. Using the "Ask question" feature. My first attempt with this feature earlier in the semester was worthy of Failblog. I asked a question then gave too many choices. Students who were accessing the question from a mobile device couldn't see any more than just the first two options. I tried to recover by asking students to put their answers in a comment below the "quiz," but there is no comment feature along with "Ask question." So, by this class period I had learned my lesson: I posed a "yes/no" question. All semester long I had hammered home that a social enterprise, according to our definition, had to do two things: 1) create social value AND 2) generate income. That is, a social enterprise cannot depend solely upon donations and grants. They knew those two components so well that they could answer them by me just raising one finger then the other. So I asked an easy question: Is Radio Ambulante a social enterprise by our definition? Many of the students were hesitant to enter their answer in the Facebook question! But I waited until they did. There was even an air of excitement (too strong a word, but I'm not sure how to describe it) as we waited to reveal the correct answer. The majority got the answer right--"no." But many got it wrong. I would have never guessed that they would have missed it.

4. Posting a recap. After class, I did what I normally do: open Facebook. This time, though, I took a few minutes to read through the students' postings from our class before jumping over to my personal account to see what my friends were up to. I decided to summarize the day's lesson, mostly as a way for me to use the same structure the next semester I teach this course. But it was also a way to reiterate and clarify the lessons learned during our class. Attendance is very high for this course, but this is also a way to give those who miss class a peek into what we did.

Lessons learned. Not every lesson plan will adapt itself well to Facebook, but this one did because it was a case study of a web-based nonprofit and its use of social media. Although short in nature, students wrote in this class more than they usually do. Most of that writing was collaborative, too. I think those are good things and mimic the kind of writing they do outside of class as well. Facebook's "Ask question" feature was an excellent chance to really know whether students had understood a concept or not. In this way, it seems to be a little like the popular iClicker. Finally, I myself like Facebook, and so I had fun planning, executing and then reacting to this lesson plan.

If using Facebook feels forced to you, student will know it. But as far as I could tell, both the students and I really enjoyed the class and the ways that Facebook helped us work through the course content. Then again, given what I saw in their answers in both classes, maybe I should ask them that in a Facebook question to really know for sure! Of course it helped that "Radio Ambulante" is such a rich, interesting site.

Do you use Facebook with your students? What suggestions and ideas can you share? Do you have good reasons for not using it? Please comment so we can all explore new territories together!

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