SOURCE: Kansas State University

Kansas State University

August 26, 2010 10:42 ET

Professor Turns to Facebook as Collaborative Learning Tool for Students, Faculty

MANHATTAN, KS--(Marketwire - August 26, 2010) -  Facebook can be more than a way to connect with friends -- it also can be a valuable research and learning tool, according to one Kansas State University professor.

Mick Charney, associate professor of architecture, has been advocating Facebook as a way to collaborate in the classroom. As the recently appointed coordinator of K-State's Faculty Exchange for Teaching Excellence, Charney has created a Facebook page for the exchange, called FETE for short.

"Facebook has the ability to engage people as a group, and if you dismiss its trivializing tendencies, then it really does have very edifying practical purposes," he said. "So why not create a network here on campus with a Facebook page for the faculty exchange?"

The FETE Facebook page is meant to serve as a space for collaborative exchange: photo albums contain brochures for FETE; discussion boards provide a way to swap ideas for classroom guest speakers, conference topics and workshop opportunities; and the events page lists upcoming retreats and conferences for faculty. There is even a place for faculty to discuss what books they have been reading.

"With Facebook, the faculty exchange really does become an ongoing exchange," Charney said. "The exchanges aren't limited to regular meetings or teaching retreats or swap sessions, but it can become an ongoing process 24 hours a day."

The FETE page is for faculty and staff, as well as upper-level graduate students and teaching assistants. Faculty can access the FETE Facebook page by searching for it in the Facebook toolbar, and then "liking" the FETE page.

Charney was inspired to create the FETE Facebook page after using Facebook for a collaborative project in one of his architectural history courses, "Looking for Mr. Wright," which he taught in the spring 2010 semester.

Charney used Facebook for a classwide project in which he created a page, or avatar, for famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

The students then chose an avatar for different relatives, apprentices and associates of Wright. Students created a Facebook page for the person, and then "friended" each other to create an intranet of characters surrounding Wright. The students performed research on their characters and posted their findings as pictures, notes and links on their Facebook pages.

It was when one student posted a link to a YouTube video of Wright on a 1950s game, that Charney saw the project in a new light.

"To see Wright there and to hear him speak, that's when I knew that I had something," Charney said. "That really brought it home for me and I knew that we had found Mr. Wright."

The course was such a success that Charney decided to teach a similar course this semester, "Looking for Mr. Wright 2.0."

This summer Charney and two recent K-State architecture graduates -- Eric Salmon, Kimberling City, Mo., and Matthew Shepard, Plattsburg, Mo. -- conducted a workshop about the class at the 35th annual Improving University Teaching International Conference in Washington D.C. The workshop, "Looking for Mr. Wright... and Finding Him on Facebook," focused on how to use Facebook as a research tool in the classroom.

"I think Facebook has sadly been given a bad connotation because of all the trivial things associated with it," Charney said. "It really does have a practical purpose, and if you can get in the mindset of seeing its potential rather than seeing how it's been trivialized, it has tremendous value as a medium of exchange."

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