Facebook for College Professors:
A White Paper
Prof. Allissa V. Hosten
Assistant Professor of Journalism
Morgan State University
Last Updated: 5.28.2009
What is Facebook?
When Facebook arrived on the Internet social networking scene in February 2004,
it was a place, primarily, where Harvard University students shared photos of
themselves engaging in drunken revelry. Back then, only Harvard campus folk had
access to the network, created by one of their very own, Mark Zuckerberg.
Thanks to Mr. Zuckerberg’s interactive innovation called “tagging,” it was easier
than ever to place a tiny square around a friend’s mug, give it a caption, and post it
for all to see (sometimes to the chagrin of those caught on camera). Soon, an
entire swath of Harvard’s campus was on Facebook. Its developers then opened it
up to any college student who had an “.edu” stem on their email address. Then
they must have thought, Oh, heck. Let’s just open it up to everyone!
Five years later, Facebook is the fastest-growing social network on the World Wide
Web. Zuckerberg often boasts that if Facebook were a country, it would be the
sixth largest nation in the world, with its more than 200 million members.
As the Facebook fan base began on college campuses, not much has changed.
About 85 percent of college students now use Facebook, according to a recent
presentation given at an education conference.1 If you are like me, and teach in a
smart classroom complete with Wi-Fi, you have seen the unmistakable blue logo
whiz by, as students try to minimize monitor windows before you walk past them.
Facebook does not have to be the enemy, however. There is a way to integrate the
seemingly distracting dot com. I know what you are thinking. Another Web site?
Ugh. I already use Blackboard. Well, read on colleagues.
Karpinski, Aryn. A Description of Facebook Use and Academic Performance Among Undergraduate and
Graduate Students. San Diego, CA. American Education Research Association. Technology Research
Poster Session. April 16, 2009.
Why Use Facebook?
Facebook can be a powerful online tool that you use to reinforce class lessons,
connect with students outside of class and provide extended material for
learning—all at a site they know and love.
I am fortunate enough to work on a college campus that provides Blackboard
online classroom services. Blackboard is wonderful. It allows you to post lectures,
notes, readings and handouts. You can message your class with one easy email.
You can even set events and reminders. What I have found, however, is that
Millennial students do not like it very much. As one of my students told me, “I
just forget it’s there. It’s yet another site I have to go to.”
As college students nowadays face information overload, many are looking for
ways to aggregate ever-flowing Web content. For these students, there simply
should be no online division between matters of work and play. This is where
Facebook has the upper hand.
With the site’s powerful ability to allow postings to links, photos, video, audio,
blogs and more, your students will not have to leave their beloved site to think
about your class. Your class can (and will) become a seamless part of their lives. It
becomes something they think about and talk about, well after your 50-minute
lecture has ended.
The first step to creating a following for your course is to create a Facebook
“group.” Click here for a video, courtesy of YouTube. If you prefer written
instructions, as I do, the step-by-step guidance follows.
Setting Up a Facebook Group
If you do not have a Facebook account already (gasp!), you should set up a free
profile on the site’s home page. You will need to input a username and a password
you can remember. You can fill in all the other information Facebook asks later on.
Here are the important steps, courtesy of WikiHow:
1. [Paste WikiHow instructions here...]
Getting Students to Participate
Congratulations! Your group is up and running! Now how do you get students to
visit it? You have to advertise. I used three different mechanisms to invite my
students to the group. You can:
1. Invite them from Facebook. Facebook has a built-in search engine that
can find people by name. People closest to your geographical region
appear first in the search, almost guaranteeing a match. You can also
find students using “school” as a search term.
2. Post the URL in your syllabus. If the first method is too time-
consuming or Internet-awkward, let the students come to you.
3. Create a link. Facebook lets you create a tab that lists all your preferred
links. Copy and paste your group URL there.
Ten Ways to Integrate Facebook Into Your Lessons
Fun things start to happen when Facebook becomes part of your students’
classroom experiences. Your coursework becomes a living, breathing discussion,
fueled by many different perspectives. Try my top 10 practices:
1. Post your syllabi. Publishing an online syllabus is wonderful.
Oftentimes, students lose their syllabi, but are too shy to ask you for
another. This way they will always have it. Simply upload your existing
Microsoft Word or PDF document to Google Docs. Then select “share.”
Select “publish as a Web page.” Google Docs generates a URL. Paste that
URL link onto your Facebook page.
2. Add reading links. Students actually read more of my handouts when
they appeared on Facebook. A day or two before class, send a single
message to all members of your class group, reminding them to read
your assigned piece. You even may want to assign extra credit for
commenting on the post.
3. Post relevant video. This was a favorite amongst my journalism
students. Once, after an ethics lecture, I linked to a Youtube video and
asked students to find three instances of potentially slanderous speech in
the archived news clip. It was fun to see that students actually “got it!”
4. Link to podcasts. National Public Radio’s Web site has great podcasts.
If you are an economics professor, perhaps you could post a link to a
podcast from American Public Media’s show, Marketplace, for instance.
Whatever your discipline, remember the key is to find a timely, real-
world podcast that relates to your lectures. If students do not see an
immediate connection, they more than likely skip the post altogether.
5. Start a forum debate. If a heated discussion erupts at the tail end of your
lecture, by all means, fan the flames online. I usually say something like,
“Students, we have to break, but let’s finish the talk in our Facebook
group. I’ll post the original argument there.”
6. Upload a photo slideshow. Maybe you are an immunology professor
who wants to post microscopic views of pathogens. Maybe you are a city
planning professor who has historic “then and now” aerial pictures of a
town. Be creative and students will view.
7. Link to PowerPoint lectures. This is extremely helpful to students who
are absent from class. To create this sort of link, simply upload your
existing PowerPoint presentation to Google Docs. Click “share” and
“publish as a Web page.” Post the URL that Google provides as a link
on your group’s page.
8. Chronicle the class on the “wall.” If you do not use many PowerPoint
slides in class, you can add comments to the “wall” of the group, instead.
Post sentences that state: “Today we talked about “X” in class. Our
classwork was “Y.” Homework is “Z.”
9. Post weekly news bulletins. Preview the upcoming week’s lecture topics
or guest speakers. My students love this!
10. Message absent students. If a good student stops coming to class
suddenly, I usually send them a private Facebook message that reads:
“We miss you in class. I hope everything is okay. I don’t have to know the details
of what is going on, but I would like you to stay in the loop. Message me back, or
post a little something to the group, so we know that you’re still a part of us.”
Every student who received this message began coming to class again,
and excelled. Usually there was a personal or medical issue at hand. A
little consideration helped students feel they could conquer my course.
Since I began using Facebook as the primary means of communication with my
students, I have seen some fantastic things. Shy students have a platform to speak
up. Those lagging behind due to illness or personal matters find they can pick up
where they left off. Some students even post links and ask me if we can
incorporate them to upcoming lectures. I always oblige them.
Interestingly, I have noticed that the dialogue does not just flow from classroom to
cyberspace—it sometimes travels in reverse too. Countless times, I have entered
the classroom to hear students saying, “Cool post. I liked that video/podcast/story.
I can’t believe...”
When you craft your own “cool post,” ask yourself three guiding questions:
1. Does this multimedia material add to the in-class discussion?
2. Is the material interesting enough to inspire debate?
3. Does the material test or assess student learning?
Reaching the Millennial student sometimes means meeting them in their native
habitat. For now, that place is Facebook. In its present evolution, the social network
has become much more than a place to post party photos. It can be an engaging
space that brings an added dimension to your course.
I hope you have fun integrating this technology into your curriculum. Let me
know how you fare. Perhaps you will think of more ways to leverage the site in
your courses. If you do, send me a Facebook message! I would love to hear how.
Quick Terms, In Review
Facebook—a free, social networking Web site, launched at Harvard
University on February 4, 2004.
Social network—an online community of like-minded Internet users who
often share vocations, hobbies or other unifying interests.
Blackboard—an alternative online teaching and learning platform, used to
deliver virtual coursework resources and activities.
Millennials—anyone born between the late 1970’s and the early 1990’s;
more recently meant to describe those who came of age in the era of
household Internet. Also known as Generation “Y,” the “Echo Boomers,”
and the “Net Generation.”
Aggregate—the new, Web 2.0 trend of allowing an Internet platform to
filter incoming information, thereby avoiding information overload.
Google Docs—Google Inc.’s online file storage and sharing resource.
Podcasts—“play on demand” audio and video components that allow users
to narrowcast programming at any desired time.
Forum—a virtual, line-by-line record of a discussion involving many users;
also known as a thread.
Wall—Facebook’s bulletin board feature, which broadcasts user’s recent
activities to their network of friends, both automatically and manually.
About the Author
Allissa Hosten, 28, is an award-winning journalist and college
professor, who empowers youth to tell their stories using new
media. She is passionate about training the next generation of
journalists to be critical thinkers. Her educational philosophy
is rooted in the belief that interactive media—and the citizen
journalism it inspires—can improve the way we learn, conduct
business and participate in the democratic system.
At Morgan State University, Hosten’s unique, multimedia instruction earned her the
Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching and Advising for the 2007-2008 school year—
the same year that she earned a promotion from the rank of lecturer to assistant professor.
Prof. Hosten’s journalism career began at one of the nation’s oldest publications, Jet
magazine. There she had the privilege of working for, and with, the late publishing
magnate, John H. Johnson. Within four months, Hosten was promoted from intern to
assistant editor of the magazine, penning best-selling cover stories along the way.
Hosten’s work also has appeared in O, The Oprah Magazine, Baltimore Sun.com and the
Examiner newspapers. Her pieces have earned the Weinstein-Luby Outstanding Young
Journalist Award and the Freedom Forum’s coveted Chips Quinn Scholars award.
When Prof. Hosten is not writing, she runs her fast-growing social entrepreneurship
endeavor, called iMedia Works. The program trains K-12 students to create Web 2.0
news media, such as blogs, podcasts and vlogs. Hosten funds the iMedia Works project
through a strategic partnership with Baltimore’s Enoch Pratt Free Library system.
Prof. Hosten holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from Xavier University of
Louisiana and a Master of Science degree in Journalism from Northwestern University’s
Medill School of Journalism. She resides in Baltimore with her fellow media junkie
fiancé, where they are restoring a 100-year-old brownstone. She has three babies: a
Boxer, named Buddha; a Rottweiler, named Bison; and a kitten, named Layla.