Facebook offers free private online groups that adult basic skills (including ESOL/ESL) teachers can use with their students. Why, you may wonder, are adult basic skills teachers interested in doing this? Because many or all their students already use Facebook for social purposes, and are comfortable with this online platform. For some students, Facebook (FB) is on all the time, so the best way for a teacher to reach them is through their FB accounts, not by phone or email. Teachers who might be uncomfortable with the idea that anyone could join their classes’ FB group pages are relieved to know that these can be private, where the only participants are those that the teacher invites. Teachers are amazed to see how students can build community and camaraderie using a FB group for education, and to see students showcase their skills and talents in ways that might not have been evident in class. FB is free and ubiquitous, of course, and that makes it especially attractive.
Here are some examples of what adult basic skills teachers are doing with FB groups:
Susan Gaer, co-author of this article, is a professor at Santa Anna College in Southern California. With her pre-college level English language learner class she starts her Facebook group at the beginning of the semester. At first, most all the posts are from her. However, as the semester progresses and students’ comfort level with both the class and the teacher increases, they take more ownership of the posting. Usually by the end of the semester, Susan is no longer posting at all. The group is entirely run by the class.
Ed Latham is an adult basic skills teacher, and teacher educator, in Maine. He says that Messenger, a Facebook chat program, is one of the most powerful features of FB for his students. He writes, “I get much more mileage out of sending a group chat or individual message through FB than I do from using texting or email. Students share that it is just easier to respond to a FB message because they are usually hanging out in FB.”
Once you open the chat icon (See Figure 1) FB will have a chat box in the lower right corner of the screen. That chat box has a list of “friends” and you can click on any one name to open a small chat window. (See figure 2)
“With that individual chat started, you can then add others to the chat by clicking on the small people icon at the top of the chat window to add more. When that dialog opens you can simply select a number of people who would be in that one chat. …I find that using chat to communicate with learners when they are not face-to-face works best. I will message individuals with reminders, follow up individuals who struggle, offer resources for the individual project-based work someone is doing, and at times I can often front load or flip classroom information as well. In short, chatting in FB is used mostly for individual or small group communications when students are not face-to-face, but they are digitally available. It has been shocking how some of my most struggling students will respond to a Facebook message rather than an email or even a face-to-face discussion. There is something ‘safer’ for them with an instant message discussion. Perhaps it is because body language is not involved so they can relax more?”
FB group for adult basic skills teachers:
In a FB group for adult basic skills teachers that we host (to join it, email one of us), teachers and teacher educators such as Ed and Paul have said that FB groups are a better choice than other platforms for discussion, especially for: ELLs who need to practice English writing; teachers’ reminders to students about assignments due, and upcoming events; and scheduling posts in advance. For example, teacher Kathy Olesen Tracey writes, “I like that I can plan a week or more posts and have them scheduled to go out. This helps me create a theme and then organize my time on FB, separating work time from home time and for sharing individual files with students as a group or individually.”
Here are some useful resources for learning more about how adult basic skills teachers use FB groups:
- 99 Ways to Use Facebook in Your Classroom
- From the FB Help Center How are Pages different from groups? Which one should I create?
- Short OTAN videos showing how California adult basic skills teachers use FB groups. David especially liked this one because the teachers mentioned many different ways that their students benefit from FB groups, that they: build community, increase learning persistence, are a way to support — and track outcomes of — students after they have left their ESL classes, provide peer support and peer communication, are a place students can share their successes, and provide a way to advise on career pathways.
- David Rosen’s interview with Susan Gaer about how she uses FB groups with her English language students.
Susan Gaer is a professor at Santa Ana College School of Continuing Education, one of the largest non-credit programs in the state of California. She has been there since 1994. In addition, she is one of the series consultants for Project Success published by Pearson. Currently, Susan is on the boards of both CATESOL and TESOL. She is also an Academic Senator and a member of the CAI (Common Assessment Initiative) for ESL. She is an avid user of technology and advocates for more use of technology by presenting at conferences both statewide and internationally.
David J. Rosen is the President of Newsome Associates in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. He is the editor of the COABE journal Web Scan column, a long-time active contributor to the LINCS Technology and Learning community of practice, and the author of the Adult Literacy Education blog davidjrosen.wordpress.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.