Will it ever be time for Facebook?

Businesses figured out years ago that they need to take their products to where their customers spent their time online. It's time schools figured out the same thing for our customers: our students and their parents.
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor

Most K-12 administrators hate Facebook as much as YouTube and even more than Wikipedia. I've said it before and it remains completely true: If our students spent as much time studying as they do trying to get around Facebook content filters, we'd be cranking out Rhodes Scholars left and right. It isn't just students, though. Teachers increasingly find themselves on Facebook, whether they're fresh college grads who grew up with the service or the countless older teachers who, like their non-teacher peers, have all jumped on the Facebook train.

This isn't a new question. Facebook was designed for and by college students. It remains a medium that only colleges and universities are willing to embrace at any scale. Facebook, after all, is where child predators hang out, and college students (or those headed to college soon) clearly have no need to worry about predators.

Once I dislodge my tongue from my cheek, let's take a minute and really think about whether Facebook might actually add any value in K12 education and, for that matter, if it actually adds value in higher ed, where at least it's largely accepted. How are people in your schools even asking to use Facebook? I don't expect to convince everyone here and I know that I'm actually in the minority among educators, but I would argue that Facebook has value on many levels for K12 educators.

Businesses talk about communications channels a lot: B2B (Business to Business), B2C (Business to Consumer), and, more recently, C2C (Consumer to Consumer). If a floral supplier, for example, wants to sell roses to a florist, they might have a website, emails with specials on rose varieties, and directly mailed catalogs, all of which make up B2B communications. Amazon's ratings and reviews? C2C.

So who are our consumers? In education, who are the businesses? And what media can we use via the right communications channels to get them connected? While it depends on the scenario, in most cases, our consumers are students and their parents. The businesses are the schools themselves and the teachers.

How long would Amazon stay in business if they went to a retail mail-order catalog model of doing business? Straight B2C communications, nothing more, nothing less. The answer is obvious: not very long. Similar questions could be applied pretty easily to schools. Why do we force our consumers to meet us on our terms, via our chosen communications channels (usually notes home in backpacks and Parent's Night, to which only the parents of our brightest students ever show up)? Businesses are meeting their potential customers on whatever channel makes their customers happy, whether that's a Facebook page, a web site, emailed updates, text messages, or all of the above. Should parents and students actually expect any less of the schools for which their tax and/or tuition dollars pay?

Where are students at night? Right, on Facebook. Most likely, their parents at least check in once or twice as well. So wouldn't it make sense that school announcements, homework assignments, or report card notices should be on Facebook, too?

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Maybe I'm way off base here, but most teachers will back me up on one point: once students walk out the door in the afternoon, it's very difficult to get them information, make sure they're doing homework, make sure they get help if they need it, and, maybe even more importantly, make sure that their parents or guardians are tuned in and helping to the best of their abilities. There aren't many students who wouldn't feel just a little bit taken aback by this conversation:

Teacher: So where's your homework assignment? Student: I didn't do it. Teacher: Why not? Student: I forgot it. And I didn't have the notes. Teacher: Really? It was on the class Facebook page. And I posted the PowerPoint from class with the notes. 5 of your classmates posted questions on the class page, too, and I explained the answers. I saw you were logged in, so I shared a link to the page on your Wall in case you didn't have it. Student: Uhhhhhh...

Maybe it's creepy that the teacher knew the student was logged in. Maybe the posts between the teacher and students won't be archived somewhere and therefore represent a liability. Maybe students might say something untoward to one another or maybe the principal won't be able to keep an eye on every class Facebook page.

But HP, among many other organizations, has done a fair amount of research to suggest that meeting students (especially those at risk) on their own communications channels improves outcomes. It doesn't work if they have to log into another walled garden somewhere (at least it doesn't work in the same way), but the ubiquity of Facebook means that we're often more likely to find students there than we are in class.

I would hope that, if given the choice between reaching students who would otherwise fall through the cracks (to say nothing of the high achievers who thrive on extra learning time and teacher engagement) and taking on some extra liability and responsibility, most teachers would put up a class Facebook page and make it a destination for their students. I think they would and I think students would, by and large, use the resource very effectively.

This says nothing, actually, of the potential for teacher to teacher (T2T?) and parent to parent communication that some smart use of Facebook could enable. There's entire global professional learning communities for teachers on Facebook. Why not share and connect just like big boys and girls get to in businesses with a global backdrop every day?

Sure, it means that teachers damned well better not be posting their best-college-bong-hit videos (because their students know that it isn't salvia) and teachers, students, and parents all need to buy in to a reasonable social contract. Fine. I'd like to believe we all have it in us to raise the bar in that way. Wouldn't you?

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