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Using Facebook Questions with Students

posted: 5.3.11 by Traci Gardner

Let me ask you a few questions:

All of those polls were created with the Questions feature on Facebook but they just begin to touch on the potential this feature has for use with students.

Facebook has offered the Questions feature for users for over a year, but in March, they expanded the service so it could also be used on Pages. The result has renewed users’ interest in the feature.

At first glance, many of the polls seem frivolous, asking about favorite bands, odd foods, and reality TV shows. Recent media coverage for Questions focused on the unexpected popularity of Heather Marie Hollingsworth’s simple poll, Cleaning out my friends list in the next few days…Do you wanna stay? The question went viral, spreading through Facebook from friend to friend, and Heather has received over than 4.8 million responses to date. It’s a funny demonstration of modern society’s need to be liked, but probably not useful for the classroom unless you are discussing social networks.

When I started looking more closely at Facebook Questions, however, I began to see questions such as these, which do have potential for classroom use:

Students do not need to use Facebook or to have answered the polls for you to discuss them, so you can avoid the creepy treehouse effect. If you happen to have students as friends and they have answered the Facebook question, their profile pictures may show up in the poll results, so do preview the page.

Beyond the classroom, you can use the Facebook Questions feature to build interest in your writing program, peer tutoring center, or special topics or projects on campus. All you have to do is come up with a poll and answer it yourself. You don’t have to advertise you poll by putting posters or making announcements. You just post it.

A query posted on Facebook Questions spreads virally, from friend to friend. When you answer a question, it posts on your wall. Your friends (or in the case of a Facebook page, the people who “like” you) will see the poll in their news feed. They can then answer the Facebook question, and it posts on their wall. Their friends will see the poll and can respond to the question. Every time someone responds, the question reaches more people on Facebook.

Let me share a question to show you how you could use this kind of poll on your campus:

When you are stuck or need help writing a paper, who do you ask for help?

  • My teacher
  • My roommate or a friend
  • A writing center tutor
  • A family member
  • The writing center helpline
  • Someone in my class
  • An online writing center site

See how I turned that poll into a subtle ad for the writing center? If I posted that question, I would customize it by naming the writing center, giving the number for the helpline, and adding the address for the writing center site. People who see the question would see three specific details on the campus writing center. The question becomes as much about suggesting a place to get help on a paper as it is a poll about student habits. Sneaky, huh?

Obviously, Facebook Questions does not give you official or scientific results. I would not use the feature as the basis of my research, and it’s highly likely that an IRB would agree with my decision. That said, there’s nothing wrong with using Questions for a quick survey of colleagues or students on a topic, as Billie Hara did when she posted a Quick poll for an upcoming ProfHacker post: Generally, how long is the tenure clock at your university (assistant to associate) last month.

If I’ve whet your interest, you must read the social business Web site oneforty’s write-up on using Questions to build community: How to: Engage and Expand Your Community with Facebook Questions. The article reviews the tool well, shows some of its limitations, and suggests why it works for connecting with people on Facebook.

Finally, spend some time looking at the questions your friends have answered on Facebook. Reading through the list will give you a good idea of what works well. You’ll find the link to questions your friends have answered (the icon is a small bar graph) on the left side of your Facebook page, past the links to your news feed and messages, down in the section with games and other applications.

So log onto Facebook and take a look. If you post a question of your own, share a link in the comments. I’d love to see how some other folks use the feature. The feature is fairly straightforward, but as always, if you have any questions, let me know 🙂

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Teaching with Technology
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