Are We Ready for Facebook?

This paper considers the readiness of Hastings to use Facebook as a technology-mediated environment to promote informal, balanced, and reciprocal communication intended to strengthen teacher expertise. Using a soft systems analysis, it will address the needs and perspectives of various stakeholders including, teachers, administration, students and the community.

MA ELM 560, May 2013

Are We Ready for Facebook? An Analysis Using Soft Systems Methodology

Introduction

Hastings Education Centre (Hastings) is a small school in the inner city of Vancouver that serves adults working toward high school completion. The caring staff of about 20 teachers and support staff works diligently to create a system that is flexible enough to accommodate the needs of the socially and educationally diverse student population.

Despite the good work done by staff at Hastings to make education accessible, the focus has been on acquiring students by accommodating their needs and not improving learning by honing teacher expertise. The Vancouver School Board only funds two professional development days per year for adult educators, only one of which is school based. Decreasing provincial funding makes any increase in professional development initiatives unlikely. In efforts to enhance teacher focus on improving their practice at no extra cost and in a manner that respects the realities of the teachers’ asynchronous schedules, it has been suggested that teachers use a technology-mediated environment to develop professional expertise through collaboration.

This paper will investigate the readiness of Hastings to use Facebook as a technology-mediated environment to promote informal, balanced, and reciprocal communication intended to strengthen teacher expertise. Using a soft systems analysis, it will address the needs and perspectives of various stakeholders including, teachers, administration, students and the community.

Analysis Using Soft Systems Methodology

Stage 1: The problem situation unstructured. The new provincial funding formula for adult students mean that established student retention rates at Hastings are too low.

Teachers need free access to asynchronous, reciprocal, formal, and informal communication that facilitates and encourages improved teaching practices.  A technology-mediated environment would allow for teachers at Hastings to collaborate, but it is unclear whether teachers at Hastings are prepared to adopt such an initiative in general, or Facebook specifically.

Stage 2: The Rich Picture.

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Stage 3: Relevant System. The relevant system is a circular one where every party benefits if the school is successful: The government funds adult education, teachers secure meaningful employment, students access education, the community is improved, and the government receives taxes.

Root definition: Hastings is a system to transform adults with literacy and numeracy skills below high school leaving standards into adults with high school leaving credentials or adequate skills to meet their needs.

 CATWOE Analysis

Customers of the system Students
 Actors  Teachers
Transformation process  Students increase literacy and numeracy
 Weltanschauung  Adults with high school leaving skills are less marginalized and the community benefits from their educational upgrading.
 Owner  Government (the public)
Environmental constraints  Funding is assumed and affects everything: changes in funding influence how the school operates, which in turn affects the students/community.

Stage 4: Conceptual Model.

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Stage 5: Comparison of Conceptual Model with Rich Picture.

 

Activity

How activity is addressed in real situation

Recommendations

Attract StudentsFlyer published by school boardContinue with recent change in layout that improves communication.Advisor outreach in communityBuild on public relations by creating a Facebook page for the school that encourages student participation through formal and informal balanced communication.Front-line teachers and support staff greet students warmly.Use Facebook to learn and discuss communication strategies with students.Previously, 19 students enrolled in and attending the first 10% of a class get funding. This means that advertised classes get cancelled without warning. Changes in funding for the coming year will reduce funding for students who do not attend 65% of classes.In order to avoid significant deterioration and possible collapse of adult education, teachers will need to improve their practice. Facebook is the platform where teachers can begin this process.

Enroll StudentsCurrent intake assessment is outdated and only offers a weak evaluation of student ability.Use Facebook to share posts about evaluation strategies and to engage in preliminary discussions about collaboration for improved practice.

Teach StudentsTeachers at Hastings come together one day a year for professional development. Meetings outside of class times are rare because of asynchronous schedules. For obvious reasons, teachers do not meet during class times. This has created a professional culture that does not benefit from its own expertise.Use Facebook as a platform to refine teaching practices. Relevant posts and discussions form potentially worldwide sources can be accessed asynchronously and subsequent learning can lead to collaboration. The clarity of digitally recorded posts permits communication to acquire a higher degree of importance.

Motivate StudentsThe staff at Hastings does a superior job of motivating students, but the focus is on accommodating individual student needs for accessing education.Improved teaching practices will address the learning needs of students and further motivate them to succeed by increasing their access to their own success.

Evaluate StudentsReport cards consist of a letter grade, a percentage, and up to three comments taken from a database of about 200 comments.Easy reporting is motivating to teachers from a work-life balance perspective, but it is not conducive to meaningful evaluation. Evaluation practices are one of the many topics that could be investigated on Facebook.

Graduate StudentsAE Graduation is the best night of the year.Students could have the option to share their own memories of the evening on the school Facebook page.

Refine PracticeCurrently the school refines its practice by learning, sharing, and collaborating on every of the above actions except teaching and evaluationTeachers at Hastings must collaborate to refine their professional practices. A technology-mediated environment will facilitate collaboration while allowing for the idiosyncrasies of the workplace.


Conclusion

Hastings has always prided itself on its “storefront” delivery model. Unfortunately, their traditional concept of the store is outdated because it has not fully incorporated an online presence. This presence should affect not just how students relate to the school, but how teachers within the school relate to one another.

Facebook is accessible and can promote change from within Hastings’ established culture. The current culture of individualism is fortified by asynchronous work schedules. Organized change will need to occur in small increments, without the use of regular attendance at meetings or increased funding for professional development. Social media can address all of these issues. Although it initially puts low expectations on teachers to participate, Facebook has great potential to foster grassroots change, and it is free. Ready or not, Hastings needs a technology-mediated environment to address its professional development needs.

 

Reference

Naughton, J. (1984).Chapter 3: An overview of the Checkland methodology.  In Soft Systems Analysis: An Introductory Guide (pp. 17-47). Milton Keynes: Open University Press. Reprinted by Athabasca University.

 

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