Sociology professor uses Facebook to connect students with critical issues

social media logosDr. Sherell McArthur, an Education and Sociology professor in the School of Education, prepares her students for the social inequality issues they might face in their teaching careers. In 2012 at Georgia State University McArthur started a Facebook group for her sociology class: Critical and Contemporary Issues in Education. In 2015 McArthur came to BU to teach SO 210: Inequality in Education and SO 211: Race, Culture, and Education, and continued using the Facebook group to supplement her classes. The page is a space to connect the class with “news stories and critical and contemporary issues in education, or issues that impact education like the current political context,” which McArthur and her students can all add to. McArthur’s students are added to the Facebook group when they first enter SO210, and are never removed from it. Anyone can post an article, video, or event announcement. Examples of items posted on the page include: news reports on developments in school bathroom gender legislation; articles on Betsy DeVos’ appointment to Secretary of Education; and reminders for “Critical Conversations & Coffee” events*.

Some educators shy away from class social media use for fear of having to monitor the content posted. However, McArthur testifies: “To date, none of the students (current or former) have posted anything inappropriate. We have had posts that have prompted discussions. We do not always agree but that’s fine. I recognize that all of the members of the group are processing new information, ideologies and perspectives, juxtaposed with their lived experiences.” Her only criteria for a post is that it is truthful, a concern that social media users must all be aware of in the light of the many false news stories dispersed on sites like Facebook.Facebook event announcement

Conveniently, most students enter a class social media already familiar with its mechanics. However, McArthur advises students to “keep in mind that there is a real person behind each post.”

“I encourage professors to use technology and social media to support and advance their instructional strategies. Create a page that allows students to grow cognitively and promotes learning outside the classroom space,” says McArthur.

Facebook can be an excellent educational technology, in the right contexts. Most students use Facebook to some extent, because of its universality. For instance they can connect with other students for projects, advertise and coordinate events, or even post surveys for research projects. It is a social media platform already used for various aspects of academia, so integrating course content or announcements into it is not unheard of.Classroom with social media

*Critical Conversations & Coffee is an SED discussion series on social issues developed by McArthur and the Elementary Education and Social Studies Departments.

Amod Lele, Senior Educational Technologist at the EdTech Department, runs a discussion group on the use of social media for teaching purposes. For more information or to find out when the next meeting is, email us at askedtech@bu.edu.