Facebook & the L2 classroom

Engaging 21st century students

Sherry Venere, Jason Garneau, & Darrin Griffin, US Military Academy, West Point, NY

Click the video frame above to view the presentation. To ask the presenters a question about their presentation, please add a comment at the bottom of this page between October 6 and October 10. Presenters will check for and reply to questions at the end of each symposium day.

Abstract

The current generation of college students considers their digital presence synonymous with their daily lives. Many do not take the time to check email regularly, and spend even less time consulting course sites. Facebook and other social media sites, however, are consulted daily, if not hourly, via their laptops and mobile devices.

By complementing or even replacing the often costly and cumbersome learning management systems (LMS), such as Blackboard and Moodle, with language-specific Facebook groups, instructors have a valuable opportunity to reach students “where they live”; to present important course information to students, to expose them to unique resources related to the target culture, and to provide opportunities for language practice. Language-specific Facebook groups allow instructors to post useful course documents and reminders of upcoming graded events as well as initiate additional practice of course material, especially useful in the case of less-commonly taught languages dealing with unique alphabets and writing systems. Instructors may also share links relevant to the target culture, expanding students’ cultural knowledge far beyond the often inadequate culture presented in textbooks.

Most importantly, groups encourage students to become active participants, and not simply consumers of the language, by posting their own course-related questions and their own cultural discoveries. It also allows them further practice in a variety of skills, most obviously in reading and writing the target language posts and comments. Such groups not only increase learner autonomy, but also may promote greater instructor awareness of student needs.

This presentation will showcase examples of three Facebook groups currently being used as LMS supplements at the United States Military Academy (USMA). USMA Cadets are as avid of social media users as the typical 21st century college student. The language-specific Facebook groups in elementary Arabic, Russian and Spanish provide Cadets with instant access to course syllabi and study guides, opportunities for additional language practice in writing and reading, and for sharing unique cultural nuggets. This presentation will also offer insights into group management, successes, and challenges in offering such groups to students, especially in the areas of motivation, privacy, and time management.

Presenters
Dr. Sherry Venere

Assistant Professor
US Military Academy, West Point, NY
sherry.venere@usma.edu

MAJ Jason Garneau

Instructor
US Military Academy, West Point, NY
jason.garneau@usma.edu

Mr. Darrin Griffin

Instructor
US Military Academy, West Point, NY
darrin.griffin@usma.edu

12 thoughts on “Facebook & the L2 classroom”

  1. I understand that we need to meet our students where they are but I am not sure about the blurred lines between all facets of their/our lives. It is just a comment. Thanks for a great presentation!

    1. Thank you for your comment, Silvia! We have similar concerns about blurring those lines. The helpful thing about our group is that we never become “friends” with the Cadets and try to establish from the beginning that the forum is an extension of the classroom, not separate from it. We’ve been fortunate not to have issues in that arena, but it’s always worth considering with social media projects.

  2. Thank you for this interesting presentation. To what extent, if at all, do you think the medium and the vernacular nature of Facebook affected the ways in which your learners communicated?

    1. Thank you for your comment, Chantelle! We don’t believe that those factors had a significant effect on communication. By establishing from the get-go that the Facebook group was an extension of the classroom and therefore a semi-professional forum, none of the Cadets ever became too informal in their communication. However, we believe that the Facebook medium did allow for the Cadets to be more comfortable communicating with one another and offering their opinions on articles/links related to the target culture.

  3. Interesting presentation, but I wonder about the students’ anxiety of peer feedback on their L2 writing skills and if that might be one of the reasons for being “passive users”.

    1. Hi Essa000. Your observation is spot on. Lowering the students’ affective filter is a constant challenge. One of our questions was whether using Facebook would help lower their anxiety in any way. We have had mixed results. What is encouraging is that the Russian language students took the lead and started their own group. Thanks for your comment.

  4. I just have to say congratulations on a wonderful presentation. I am always fascinated by the ways facebook is incorporated in education. I particularly liked that it wasn’t just one language that we looked at. Thank you!

  5. Thank you for such an interesting presentation.

    Following up on the active participation/passive consumption of students, I believe this could maybe be due to the amount of exposure one has when using the tools on Facebook. The simple act of liking a post shows the users’ agreement and/or sympathy with a topic and, at the same time, makes it visible to anyone participating in the group. As whatever you like, share, and comment on this social network can be seen by everyone, the students might have felt reluctant to engage in certain posts or discussions. What are your thought about that?

    Best,

    Beatriz Carneiro

    1. Beatriz, thanks for the comment. You’re right, peoples actions within the group (likes, comments, etc.) are visible to all other members of the group. But this is not really different than within the physical classroom. One of the great parts about these groups is that they are completely voluntary, thus no one should feel compelled to engage, if they choose not to. One of the goals of this project, and the reason for choosing Facebook, was to engage the student in a familiar environment under the assumption that this may help lower their affective barrier, thus perhaps encouraging more discussion.

  6. Thanks for this great presentation. I liked the idea of creating groups with different languages.
    I collaborated with a friend in a project in which we analyzed student responses in Facebook groups related to English language teacher education courses. We noticed that our students were hesitant to use the English language and mostly responded in their native language. In one of the groups, I asked them to respond and post in English, most of the students “liked” the post but only two responded in English. my explanation is that they still fear making mistakes but this needs to be studied.

    1. Thank you for your comment and observation, Entisar. Student anxiety over production on forums such as Face Book is certainly worth studying. Since we began this project, our colleagues in the department have expressed interest in starting their own groups. As a result, a Farsi group is now active. Interestingly, the level of L2 student production in that particular group seems to be significantly more than in any other group. There are so many variables to consider. Indeed, more research is warranted.

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