23 August 2011

Facebook as Teaching Tool

As I've mentioned  before, when I first arrived at RTC in January there were no working computers in the library. We now have two staff computers and two student/public computers. I love that we have these available to the students! This feels like such a huge step for the library and for the students.

It also means my days are very busy helping students with computers and teaching computer skills (in-between cataloging of course!). The computer skills I am teaching here are very different than the ones I taught in the US. In the US we talk about databases, information literacy, scholarly research, creating a search strategy, avoid using Google/Wikipedia for research, PDFs, online journals, etc., etc., etc. (I'm debating whether or not to write 'blah, blah, blah' instead of etc.) And these are all good things. But I continue to find that the majority of the terms are irrelevant to my current situation and library. The concepts are great but some of those things are challenging my teaching ability.

For example, here are some common scenarios:

Students come to the library and simply want to learn how to use email. They don't have an email account and ask me to help them set one up. Others have email but ask for help using advanced features, such as attaching documents and replying to someone who has emailed them previously. These are sometimes the students that also want help setting up a Facebook account. I have also been asked to help students: fill out online forms/applications, use Google, write a Word document, create charts/tables within said document, transfer pictures from digital camera to computer, etc. I love answering these questions and teaching these things. In a culture that is somewhat new to the world of internet and computers, I'm learning to think carefully about my explanations and make sure my teaching is clear.

And in the process I've realized two things. 1. Technology is incredibly confusing  and 2. I need to take advantage of every computer question to teach 'information literacy'.

Let me explain.

First, think about the last time you set up some sort of online account or ordered something online or forget a password. Did the process include a word captia? You know, those things with scrambled/distorted letters/words? How often do you have trouble reading the letters? Now try explaining that to someone who is learning English. I know there are bad people in the world that make things like that important but, seriously, my patience for those things has gone out the window.

Or what about things/terms like: programs, files, mouse, monitor, click, internet, website, highlight, save? You get the idea.

Secondly, I am learning to use every computer interaction as a chance to explain the skills I want to teach. The reality is, you have to walk before you can run. For students who are just learning how to use a computer, setting up email and Facebook are fun ways to get comfortable using the machines. Would you rather listen to me say, 'This is a monitor, this is a mouse' or 'Here is how you can write to your friends at home'? Teaching a student to use email or Facebook helps him or her learn to use a computer in a slightly less intimidating way.

Or take this example: a few weeks ago a student was complaining to me that he couldn't add friends on Facebook. I went over to look at his computer and see the problem. I don't remember exactly what the error message was but somehow I figured out he had been adding random people to his friends list and Facebook had blocked him from adding anyone for a week. It was a perfect chance to explain privacy and critical thinking a bit more! :)

Finally, another student recently wanted help with a homework assignment. He wanted to do research online to supplement his reading. The librarian in me was so excited! :) Interestingly, in the US I would try to dissuade students from using Google for research, instead pointing them to other sources of information. But here, it's the first place I go. I can teach 'create a search strategy' without using those words. I show the difference between their search (i.e. typing an entire homework question into Google) and my search (picking out the keywords). And once they have their results...I tell them to make sure they write down the website they are copying from. Aha! Teaching plagiarism. Who knew you could teach so much without using all those big words? :)

And watching someone's face light up when they find their first friend on Facebook or create a good search in Google, makes it all worth it.

1 comment:

  1. This was a wonderful post. Thank you so much for sharing!