SHHH it’s a Secret!!! Secret Facebook Groups in the English Language Classroom

This post is also a part of Adam Simpson’s 11 from ’11: The best of your posts from this year blog challenge (see the very end of the post for other people who have taken the challenge).






Following on from the previous post The Internet: The ‘Ultimate’ Challenge and Opportunity this one deals with accepting the challenge through a practical educational application of Facebook that I am currently in the middle of researching in my classroom. Secret Facebook groups are being implemented as an integral part of my courses.  I want to look at the methodology and reasons for using Facebook, offer considerations about practicalities in setting up Facebook groups for classroom use and finish with some raw data so far.


The Background: Why Social Media and Why Facebook?


Before deciding which medium to use it is important to have a clear solid framework when deciding which technology best fits each situation that you wish to apply it in. If it is not considered carefully and with purpose technology can become an empty sideshow that might interest learners with its gimmick appeal but they will lose interest quickly if there is no underlying substance.


Here I will introduce two framework considerations when considering the introduction of TECH into the classroom:





Looking at the image here you can see that there are three components Content, Pedagogy and Technology.  Instead of them being seen as separate entities each one is affected by the other and interrelated.  The content will affect the type of pedagogy and possible technology used.  This works in every direction on the chart.  This synergy creates a knew kind of knowledge.that combines an understanding and integration of all three called TPCK.  In Misra P., Koehler M (2006:1025) own words TPCK:



requires an understanding of the representation
of concepts using technologies; pedagogical techniques that use
technologies in constructive ways to teach content; knowledge of what
makes concepts difficult or easy to learn and how technology can help
redress some of the problems that students face; knowledge of students’
prior knowledge and theories of epistemology; and knowledge of how
technologies can be used to build on existing knowledge and to develop
new epistemologies or strengthen old ones.
Misra P., Koehler M ( 2006:1029)



2-Appraoch 2: CSCL(2010:11) Computer Supported Collaborative Learning

This second approach is based on Firth’s arguments about the nature of language .If you had to complete the following sentence what would you add:


Language is….


Firth (2010) states that “language is profoundly social” and argues in her article for a use of Web 2.0 to match the nature of language learning because it allows for CSCL.  Interestingly she defines CSCL as a space where two or more learners come together and collaborate in a space on line.  This really excites me because it means learners communicating independently of the teacher or even the classroom and being in the driving seat.  This is an area I want to see happen much more in my learning environment.



Moving from theory into practice:


From my own experience:  I have tried out many different forms of TECH in the classroom looking for something that would give me the TPCK blend as well as CSCL. Here are the various systems tried:


Approach 1: WEBCT/SUCOURSE/SAKAI: These are course management systems where learners can follow announcements or download material.  One of my favourite studies into Facebook use in the classroom, The Chemistry of Facebook bySchroeder, J., & Greenbowe, T. J. (2009) compares these course management systems with Facebook and describe WEBCT as:


a ”content first system” (1).

In other words a course or teacher centered system that really only allows for information transfer from the course to the student.  Many of these systems in my experience try to incorporate a chat function or forum but from another reserach I am currently undertaking it seems that learners do not find these to be authentic platforms in which to chat or communicate with each other.


Approach 2: TWITTER – Although it allows learners to chat and is fun for remote communication I have found at university level it is great for learners to gather information, stay informed for research projects, or to follow their own interests.  It is also a great source of Personal Learning and professional development for teachers.  ( I have tips under the Twitter Diaries of the Tweeting Novice if you are curious to get started.)  However the chat element takes time to master and is not a smooth or an easy to follow form of communication in chats.  It often requires summaries.  Also the Twitter platform often gets overcrowded so learners can be locked out from the conversation and so can the teacher.


Approach 3: Blogging: This medium is great for public writing/performance/ review and response by a wider audience.  It is also great for teaching authentically in English.  Learners building their own blogs gave an authentic need to communicate in English to learn how to do something and also brings increased motivation to read on the net in English and ask lots of questions.  However, you need to set some time aside every week for technology related questions.  I started to give an extra office hour where learners could pop by with their blogging issues.


Posts related to starting blogging on this blog:

a-We don’t need this type of education

b-Shine on you crazy diamond


Approach 4: Facebook


During my conference experience as the curator of @eclipsingx I took apart Facebook and Facebook groups in order to see if it could provide a better platform for collaboration and communication as opposed to Twitter.  During this time I read many works on wikinomics and the new face of social media along with David Kirkpatrick’s book published in 2010, The Facebook Effect.  From all of this social media research I discovered several points that made Facebook not only an ideal platform for an educational platform during our conference but really got me thinking about its use in my courses.  Here are the points that seem to make Facebook groups an ideal candidate for the language classroom:


                                                                                  (1) study groups was a part of the original design
             (2) secret and secure: The group can be made secret so that no one can see who
                  is in the group
             (3) group wall uploads in real time (the chat function is too small so the wall becomes
                  the chat space)
             (4) supports large uploads of video and images, not just text.
             (5) Like and comment function
             (6) message and video message-some learners send me a video message in English
             (7) impressive notification system: Through the notifications, side bar group counter
                  and directly to the learners’ mobiles.
             (8) easy access from every device i.e  mobile/ IPAD etc.
             (9) money is pumped into the servers so Facebook rarely crashes
             (10) Minimalist style makes it super easy to use.



Returning to one of my favourite studies The Chemistry of Facebook by two science professors at IOWA State Univeristy they felt that compared to WebCT Facebook had more to offer :



In light of the much higher and more dynamic participation in social networking sites by members of the Iowa State University community, a course-related Facebook group seemed a viable alternative virtual environment through which students could communicate and interact.
                                                                                                                                                  Schroeder, J., & Greenbowe, T. J. (2009: 2)
In this study they offered a Facebook aspect of the course to all 128 newly enrolled students.  The students could choose to join the Facebook group voluntarily.  Only 41% of the enrolled learners signed up but by the end of the course their interactive exchanges were 400% greater than the 51% who opted for the non-Facebook option (WEBCT).


Opening SECRET FACEBOOK GROUPS-Some important points to remember:

1) You need to set the group as secret/closed to protect your learners’ privacy

2) You do not need to friend your learners-both your private Facebook and theirs can remain that way.  You can just form a group and not see the whole content of the Facebook page.

3) An online policy: It is a good idea to have one to cover online behaviour in the group.  Facebook now has an educators space online to help you with this and any other issues.  Click here


My Current Experiment

All of these considerations has lead me to open and start using Secret Facebook Groups in my Upper Intermediate course.  We are now in week 9 of the semester and it is a 16 week course.  All of the 19 learners in the group are in the preparatory programme to enter faculty.  Additional reasons I have chosen to use Facebook as a medium apart from those mentioned above are:


1)The Turkish Education system is very competitive particularly the University Entrance Examination (ÖSS).  I want learners to experience a more collaborative environment within and beyond the classroom.


2) The classroom environment roles for many of these learners is the teacher as the ‘all knowing’ expert who is the only source of information.  I want to explore with them different alternatives to their previous experiences.


3) Distributed Intelligence.  As some of you may recall my writer of the year this year is Howard Gardner.  I have decided to read his entire works (if you want to join me click here).  One of his ideas about distributed intelligence has really struck a cord with me so I am also exploring this concept:


The essential insight here is, again, that not all intelligence is in the head…
It is also appropriate, however, to think of other individuals as part of one’s “distributed intelligence.(H.Gardner:1991)




The Data So Far:


The data is still in the early stages without any formal analysis.  That will be the subject of a more extended post in the future.  However,  you are welcome to have a look at some of the snapshots of the learners’ use to get a sense of what they have been doing in the groups.  To protect the learners’ anonymity I have removed their photos and hyperlinks and coded them as Student A, B and so on.


While presenting this experiment at a conference recently several questions were posed so I will provide the answers as background to the data:


1-Were the learners instructed to use English?  At no point were the learners given any instruction about which language should or shouldn’t be used.

2-Is it mandatory for learners to join the group? No.  One learner has not joined but he collects information by looking at a friend’s Facebook.  Homework and notices are sent by email and to Facebook.

3-Why do learners not really start liking and commenting until the middle of November?  For an answer to the psychology of group formation please follow this link to Adam J. Simpson’s recent blog post: Have you wondered why your group activities fail to inspire students?




Snapshot A: Teacher initiated communication

Snapshot B: an appeal

Snapshot C: Pictures independently uploaded by learners

Snapshot D: Blended Learning

Snapshot E: Student Independent free-time use of the group

Snapshot F: Learners were given background research for a reading text




1-Firth, M., (2010) Can Facebook Engage Students in critical analysis of academic theory? Asian Journal on Education and Learning, 1(1), pg 10-19.
2-Gardner, H. (1991) Intelligence in Seven Steps, published in Dickinson, D. (1991): Creating the Future: Perspectives in Educational Change: New Horizons for Learning
3-Kirkpatrick, D. (2010) The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company That Is Connecting the World: Simon & Schuster
4-Misra P., Koehler M: Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge: A Framework for Teacher Knowledge: Teachers College Record (2006) Volume: 108, Issue: 6, Publisher: Citeseer, Pages: 1017-1054 (mishra-koehler-tcr2006 PDF)
5-Schroeder, J.D. and T.J. Greenbowe. (2009). The chemistry of Facebook: Using social networking to create an online scientific community for the organic chemistry laboratory. Innovate 5(4) (The_Chemistry_of_Facebook PDF)
6-New Resource: Hockly, N. 2012: Recently gave a plenary called ‘Facebook Nation’ which has interesting studies as well as alternatives to Facebook for those with limited access. Visit resources here
Other entrants from Adam Simspson’s blog challenge:

Here are the people who’ve taken up the challenge so far:

Marisa Constantinides – My 11 from ’11

Tyson Seburn – 11 from 11

Dave Dodgson – 11 from ‘11 – (Almost) A Year in the Life of my Blog

Tara Benwell11 from ’11


And one I just read read this morning: This one looks at the post they wished/might have written during the last year.):


Tamas Lorincz : 11 from ’11 I haven’t written




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  3. […] started a challenge which has already had some pretty groovy response (Marisa, Tyson, Dave, Tara, Sharon) by some of the great bloggers out there. The challenge is simple: choose 11 post from the year […]

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  6. Merve Oflaz says:

    Hello Sharon,
    It’s great for me to come across this post at the 27th Blog Carnival. The timing is perfect, because I’ve been thinking about the Facebook issue nowadays.There were some things keeping me away from using it, but after reading your post and especially the tips, I’m much more relieved. I think I will try to make an attempt in the next module and try to use it with my students.
    Thank you:)
    Merve OFLAZ

    • Sharon says:

      Dear Merve,

      Glad to hear that.)) I would love to hear what happens so as to get a rounded picture of our use of Facebook in education. The article about the Chemistry of Facebook, in the references at the end, is one of the most relevant for our university setting. I learnt a lot about how to go about the whole process from that article.) Good luck with Facebook.) Kind regards. Sharon.))

  7. Nicky Hockly says:

    Great post, Sharon, with some really useful tips. Adam Simpson mentioned this post in his METU prsentation today, so I had to get straight online to check it out- good stuff!

    • Sharon says:

      Thank you Nicky for stopping by and for the encouraging comments.) When I have some free time I will be analyzing the whole data I collected and posting again. Right now it is just snapshots.

  8. […] Content Knowledge (see also @yearinthelifeof’s vlog introduction, @sharonzspace’s overview and application and a recent […]

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