College professors get in students’ Facebooks

College professors who want their students to be engaged and informed are turning to social networking sites to stay connected.

“I find it’s easier for me to distribute the information where they are. And where they are is Facebook,” said Rebecca Wood, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Wood is UNLV’s prelaw adviser and counsels students who are considering law school. She created a Facebook page for posting information for prelaw students. She figures it’s a whole lot easier to do so on Facebook than it would be to e-mail or call every student who would benefit from the information.

And, she said, the social site is more effective than posting information on UNLV’s Web site or pasting notices to a bulletin board. Facebook’s news feed feature keeps them informed in real time, even if they aren’t actively seeking out the information.

Facebook, which has become nearly ubiquitous in recent years, constantly updates users on the status of their friends and the organizations they follow as fans.

The prelaw Facebook page that Wood created has more than 200 fans. Her prelaw Twitter page, a micro-blogging service, has nearly 100 followers. Unless a user specifically opts out, their Facebook and Twitter home pages record every new post from Wood.

“It lets me give complete information to a large number of students, as opposed to doing it one on one,” she said.

She also has produced a podcast — an audio program posted to the Internet — that explains the ins and outs for prelaw students.

Thomas Scott, the faculty training manager at the College of Southern Nevada, said the trend is catching on, albeit slowly.

“Students are already using these tools,” he said. “They’re on Twitter. They’re on Facebook, MySpace. They watch YouTube more than they watch TV.”

He encourages faculty to connect with students on those sites.

Karen Laing, a CSN English professor, said she is all for using the social networking tools in class. Last semester, she experimented with Twitter, which is similar to Facebook, but without the pictures or video. It’s a text-only tool.

“My students didn’t find it as exciting as I did,” Laing said.

She believes that’s because she used it in an introductory class. The students were all new to college and might have been overwhelmed.

“It just felt like too much,” she said.

Still, she plans on trying again in other classes. She likes the idea of keeping students updated on what’s going on.

There are other ways of doing that. At UNLV, many professors use Web Campus, an online course management system. It is closed to the public and password protected. Professors use it to post everything from assignments and class syllabi to grades.

Mary Hausch, a journalism professor, said she uses Web Campus. She also has a Facebook page, but she’s careful not to mix Facebook with class.

She generally won’t be Facebook friends with current students, she said, though she will accept their friend requests once the semester is over.

“I want to keep some distance there and not think of them as friends,” Hausch said. “And I don’t want to see all their pictures and things out there anyway.”

There are several Facebook pages related to UNLV’s journalism courses, including an alumni page and one for all communications students.

Jake Thompson, a communications professor and coach of the debate team, said he uses Facebook as an information and recruiting tool for the debate team. He’s created three groups on the site: one for team members, one for alumni and one for recruits.

For classes, he still likes Web Campus.

“It’s very popular with the students,” he said.

And, as always, so is Facebook. Wood, the prelaw adviser, credited the site for helping to produce a great turnout at a recent law fair for students, where representatives from dozens of law schools were on hand to answer questions.

Just about the only publicity Wood gave the event was through Facebook.

About 200 students turned out.

Contact reporter Richard Lake at rlake or 702-383-0307.

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