Facebook and Twitter have officially been blocked in Iran since 2009, though the large majority of young Iranians access these sites using VPNs and other illegal circumvention tools. Despite the “official” illegality of these social networking sites, many high-level officials use Twitter and Facebook to connect with Iran’s citizens, including President Hasan Rouhani. Rouhani has two Twitter accounts, one English and one Farsi, that he uses to tweet about foreign and domestic affairs. Foreign Minister Javad Zarif uses Facebook to post daily updates and connect with Iranians.
For a school project, I recently interviewed my young Persian professor about her own stance on Facebook. While she admitted to not liking Facebook personally, I thought it was interesting that she is using the platform with our class as a medium for language learning. Over Spring Break, the professor sent our class a short Facebook message saying:
“Today is Sunday. Today I watched a movie and read a book. How about you?” We then were expected to respond with a short greeting and statement about ourselves.
While this felt like more fun and authentic homework than simply writing responses on a piece of paper and bringing them to class next week, it proved surprisingly difficult. For one, the font size as portrayed above was the actual size as it appeared on Facebook. As someone who just learned to read Persian script, it was nearly impossible for me to decipher that message, thus I decided to paste into a Word document and increase the font size. I also wrote my own response message in Word, however upon pasting it back into Facebook, my word order became jumbled. Both Word and Facebook had issues alternating between typing right-to-left and left-to-right, and they seemed to alternate randomly when working between the two.
Despite these difficulties, I’m now considering creating a Facebook group for my own adult ESL class. I mentioned in my last post that I personally feel that it is difficult to make progress in learning a language when a class only meet a few hours a week; I have heard similar complaints from my own English students.
I like my professor’s idea of creating a space in which learning can continue to occur beyond these few hours, however I am unsure of which platform to use (maybe Facebook as well?) and what exactly to do on and with the platform. I don’t think a single message thread is the best use of Facebook, and I’m wondering if creating a private group where I can post links and articles related to things we talk about in class might be better. I’ll report back about my progress with Persian on Facebook and if and when I decide to use Facebook with my ELLs.