USF teacher uses Facebook in class

What may be used for entertainment during one student’s spare time is a learning tool for another.

USF graduate student Alessandro Cesarano uses Facebook for homework assignments and class discussions in lieu of Blackboard, the University student database used for coursework.

Cesarano, who teaches a Beginning Spanish I class, programmed the class’ Facebook group to be completely in Spanish and students must comment on posted material.

“I like the Facebook page better than Blackboard because students have more access to authentic cultural material, and I don’t have to waste class time teaching them how to use a new program because many of them already use Facebook,” he said.

This is Cesarano’s second class to use this method.

He said it provides three advantages: collaboration, facilitating communication and increased student engagement outside of class.

For Cesarano, a Ph.D student in USF’s Second Language Acquisition and Instructional Technologies program, the integration of Facebook into the classroom is a social media experiment that will serve as his dissertation.

Students are given a survey at the end of the semester to rate their experience.

So far, it’s been successful, said Cesarano, who came up with the idea while he attended the University of Virginia last year.

“The students are interested and happy to be using Facebook,” he said. “It’s something they know and are comfortable using.”

But this method has been met with concerns.

Cesarano said some “traditionalist instructors” can’t “see the potential of the new social media.”

Some of the criticism received, he said, focused on the possibility that students are easily distracted from schoolwork while on the site and that privacy issues could arise between student and instructor.

However, Cesarano encouraged students to create a profile separate from their personal ones to protect their privacy.

At the beginning of the semester, students were given a user sign form that listed a set of guidelines for using the Facebook page and a grading rubric, Cesarano said.

The guidelines state that students can only accept those in the student’s specific class as friends and students cannot promote or share inappropriate content in any way.

Patrizia La Trecchia, director of USF’s Italian program, said Facebook creates a “sense of community” in the classroom.

“To learn a language is not just to learn a new set of grammatical rules, it is to learn a new set of cultural parameters, an aspect that is crucial to our global world and multicultural society,” she said.

She said social media is a new way of interacting with others and is the “human embodiment of globalization” that is creating new ways people learn and interact.

“The bottom line is this: there is plenty of authentic cultural material on Facebook about the target language we study throughout the course,” Cesarano said. “Facebook is an interesting way to enhance the students’ cultural exposure of the language they’re learning in ways that the textbook can’t.”