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Facebook finding its place in the classroom

Professors use the website to connect and interact with plugged-in students.  It can even be valuable for assignments.  But other sites are effective for sharing information, too — and don’t include party photos.

Since the dawn of Facebook, colleges have encouraged professors to interact with students on the site, especially in business schools. In that time, the nuances of classroom Facebook use have begun to emerge: the positives, pitfalls and limitations.

“There was a time a few years ago where I was having students add me as a friend, but when I saw pictures of them binge drinking, passed out next to kegs, I decided maybe that wasn’t such a wise decision,” says Charles Wankel, who teaches management at St. John’s College and is the author of “Cutting-edge Social Media Approaches to Business Education.” “But I imagine an instructor could adjust the privacy setting, so they could share classroom items and not inadvertently see the other stuff.”

Wankel still assigns a number of Facebook-based assignments, but now uses LinkedIn to connect students to each other and networking opportunities.

“I don’t think it’s a good thing to require students to be on Facebook. But it can be helpful if the population of students is already there,” says Steven L. Johnson, professor of management systems at Temple University. “I find master’s students just aren’t interested in communicating on Facebook. But so many undergrads live in a post-e-mail world, so Facebook definitely helps reinforce things.”

Meeting today’s students in their world

Both Wankel and Johnson use a number of other online connectors with their students, and they say blogging sites like Wordpress and Blogspot are more effective for posting core class information, like syllabuses and assigned reading.

“As educators, we can take the stance that students are going to do what we tell them. Or we can take a stance that says we want every student to do as well as possible, and we’ll meet them where they are,” says Johnson. “If we take the second approach, part of that is recognizing that students — just like any person — have different preferences about what communication channels they want to use.”

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