Facebook: The new classroom

A Carleton University professor says Facebook can be a useful learning tool - but it can also be distracting. (Tom Bateman/AQ)

Facebook can connect people with far-away friends and family members and keep you in the loop about social events.

Logging on can turn into hours of reading a news feed updated instantly after every comment or “like” a friend makes.

But is it appropriate for the classroom?

St. Thomas University professors have been using different kinds of media sites for academic purposes. Facebook is one of them.

The integration of social networks is part of e-learning, which connects learning and technology. Chalkboards have turned into smart boards, pencils and paper have turned into laptop keys and computer screens. But should Facebook be a tool for classroom discussion?

Chad Betteridge, a second-year journalism student at STU, had to get a Facebook account for one of his courses that uses the social networking website instead of Moodle.

“I deleted my account just over a year ago. A few reasons that I decided to leave Facebook were privacy issues, information handed over to companies and the obsession it spawns,” he said.

“If there is an internet connection, you can be sure that someone is checking their Facebook. Some people can’t go two hours without checking their news feed.”

Betteridge’s class only uses Facebook to post on a class message board.

“Any ‘social networking’ aspects of the site aren’t involved and we only use it to post short journal entries,” Betteridge said.

“It’s a message board and I think that if professors want to seek substitutes for Moodle it’s fine. As long as they stay within the boundaries of what Moodle is capable of.”

Tim Pychyl, a professor at Carleton University, said many students have self-regulation problems when it comes to Facebook.

He recently released a book called “The Procrastinator’s Digest: A Concise Guide To Solving the Procrastination Puzzle.”

“A student logged into Facebook for a course work may think, ‘Ah, it will only take a minute to check my friends new pictures or update my status,’” Pychyl said.

“Three hours later, the student is still off task but appears at times, even to themselves, to be working.”

Pychyl said Facebook can be a tool for learning, but it can be distracting too.

“It’s a bit like holding your classes in a shopping mall. Although the students might like to be there, it’s very distracting for many students and can be a problem.”

Ann-Louise Davidson, a professor of education technology at Concordia University, said e-learning works in the classroom.

“Students all have Facebook and it’s easily accessible for them. If a prof posts assignments on Facebook, it’s because they know that students have Facebook accounts.

“The question is how much work do they actually do on Facebook?”

Betteridge does not have any friends on Facebook. He uses it only for the purpose of the classroom and says because of that, it is effective.

“If I still had Facebook friends I could see it being very distracting.”

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