By Alyssa Carignan, Staff Writer

    Facebook has always been a place for people to communicate and express themselves, however, some classes and even professors are transforming this communication tool into an educational advantage. Many believe it has always been easy to ask your classmate a question about an assignment on Facebook. By having a group for your class, it helps to make it simple to pose a question or answer to the entire class.

    UMF Professor Paul Gies uses Facebook for a discussion group in his MAT313 class, Introduction to Abstraction. “I think it’s tremendously beneficial, it’s done a lot to make the class gel,” he said in an email interview. “A dozen times this semester, I’ve seen there was a question on the group and when I got there someone else had answered it,” said Gies.

   By posing the question to the multiple students in the group, no matter what time of day, it is likely that someone will answer you. UMF junior, Alex Robinson, uses Facebook groups for his Practicum and MAT313 classes. “It helps a lot. I can ask questions whenever I have them, even if its midnight,” said Robinson.

   “Now, students answer other students’ questions. I feel like you can’t go wrong with it; it’s a great communication technique,” said UMF senior Lyndsay Gammon, another member of the MAT313 group. “A lot of the time, if I do not get something, I stop. But once my question is answered, it allows me to go back and finish before class.”

   Facebook also allows students who do not live on campus and cannot visit a professor’s office regularly to ask questions. Gammon lives an hour and 15 minutes away from campus, making it difficult for her to meet with her professors to ask a homework question. With Facebook, Gammon can ask questions from her own home.

   Gies believes that by posing questions to everyone in the group, it further betters everyone’s understanding of the content. “Normal math classes work like this: I do an example. You go home and do homework problems like the example. You come in and maybe ask questions about those problems. Then you forget about them until quiz or test time,” Gies said, “this adds feedback after the example but before anything is due, and it not only improves your homework–more importantly, it cements your knowledge early in the cycle. On top of that, students answering other students’ questions cement their own knowledge and understanding: that’s something that’s been known for a long time.”

   Students who are shy or busy can also ask questions without the pressure of a classroom atmosphere. “Some students are too busy or shy to ask questions in class or go to a professor’s office. Having a group on Facebook makes it so easy. I am doing much better with homework and projects now that we have the group,” said Robinson.

   The MAT313 group includes not only all the students, but the professor as well. “I really like having the professor in the group because he knows the most about the subject, and I don’t have to go to his office or anything. It’s the benefit of having a professor’s knowledge in the comfort of your own home,” said Robinson.

   For students who may have the same question, it allows Gies to answer multiple students at once. “It’s been a great way to answer questions so that everyone can see my answers; I think it’s tremendously beneficial,” said Gies.

   Students can also post things they find relevant to the class, including videos, pictures, and wall posts. “The shared pictures of that horrible automaton that ate the board are a classic example of the sheer social aspect of the site: people go there and share things of common interest,” said Gies.

   Facebook allows students to connect with each other on academic and personal levels. Gammon thinks the Facebook page has helped significantly. “I think it is what has made this class,” she said.

   Gies thinks it is important to create a supportive atmosphere outside of the classroom. “I’m trying to make you guys into my colleagues,” said Gies, “Making you realize how interconnected you all are. When you’re out and working in schools, you will NEED each other and you will need ways you can interact that won’t look anything like a college classroom.”