MET:Facebook as an Educational Tool

From UBC Wiki

This page was originally authored by Darren Roper (2010).
Edited by Jacqueline Smith (2011) Edited by Sheza Naqi solo (March 2012) Edited by Rupi Banga (March 2014)

Facebook is a social networking site that allows users to communicate and interact with each other. The latest design and revision of Facebook is in the format of a timeline and allows users to maintain a profile page and create content, such as status updates, video links, pictures, fan like pages and event pages. These posts are then displayed asynchronouslyto their “friends.” The site also allows for synchronouschat between users. Facebook being one of the most popular social networking sites and having millions of users, acts as a platform for allowing individuals to establish connections with friends and family, near and far, with teachers, colleagues, and peers. Being a very dynamic tool with vast potential, it encourages large-scale participation. Because of its easy accessibility and being a medium where there are no major pre-requisites, this tool has incredible potential in education. According to Freishtat and Sandlin (2010), social networking tools allows for self-directed learning outside of the formal classroom setting (503). In addition, it’s popularity with the youth, allows for instant engagement and motivation. -Revised by Rupi Banga (2014)


Among all websites, only Google receives more traffic than Facebook[1]. A majority of American teens with internet access currently use social networking sites (Mack, 2007). As well, social networking has displaced email as the primary source of electronic communication (Harris, 2008). Facebook was not designed as an educational tool. At its novice stage, it was meant to be a medium used to reconnect and stay connected with old friends and families. Due to its social affordances, educators were not convinced about the potential it could have in the classroom. With the on-going change instruction, especially to accommodate 21st century learning skills, Facebook has become an educationtal tool where students are given the chance to collaborate, discuss, build communities and sharpen their ICT skills. Moreover, teachers have the ability to use Facebook, because of its familiarity with students, for differentiated instruction to cater to the individual needs to students. Pollara & Zhu (2011) question social networking and state, if students are already investing time and energy in social networking, building relationships and their own communities of shared interests and fostering 21st century skills in the process, there is a unique opportunity to form educational communities of knowledge. So, if students are already using social networking sites, should educators try to secure that captive audience in a space they feel comfortable using? This happens to be a question that all educators do stumble upon but once the qualities are reviewed, the opportunities for educational purposes are endless. (Revised by Rupi Banga 2014)

Communities of practice

Proponents of using social networking sites in an educational setting cite the potential of creating a community of practice. This is a group of students who work together to learn (Bowman, 2009). Students will learn through the process of collaborating with their peers (Harris, 2008 & Ito, 2008). In this setting, the focus will be based on the interests of the students rather than that of the schools. The students will be actively involved through the process of social communication (Ito, 2008).

The Facebook community will serve both novice and expert users. Students who have more experience in the agreed upon area of interest will be welcomed into the group as mentors and less experienced members will be able to learn from them (Ito, 2008). Collaborative peer mentoring will promote learning among all members of the interest group. This is a key component of constructivist theory (Kolb, 2008). A related benefit to a community of learners is that students become experienced with the kind of peer evaluation that takes place in face-to-face interaction (Lange & Ito, 2009). In what she describes as “geeking out,” Mizuko Ito (2008) describes communities that develop around a deep interest in a particular subject. By their very nature these communities are based on peer based communication. This provides students with experience in roles that they may later encounter in a professional setting.

How to Use Facebook in the Classroom

Many teachers, even those at online universities, are hesitant to use popular tools such as Facebook, given their inherent risk of exposing students to inappropriate content as well as the unethical connotations that novice teachers become notified of during their teacher education courses. Facebook is limited to ages 13; therefore, Facebook is more likely to be employed in high schools rather than elementary. It is crucial for teachers and administrators to keep up to date with advances in social networking because it will be that much easier to be aware of the content displayed and how student, teacher and classroom Facebook profiles can be configured to provide an appropriate level. Once a tool like Facebook has been thoroughly explored, it is difficult to deny that a tool like this can be integrated in a classroom course and ultimately help students fulfill many of the courses prescribed learning outcomes. (Revised by Rupi Banga 2014)

Here are a few of the examples of Facebook playing a productive role in the classroom:

Case study: Literature Circle

In the case study, Paulette Stewart (2009) described a social networking interest group. A virtual literature circle was created by a school librarian with the purpose of helping students with critical thinking skills and reflection while reading. The designer of the project used specific themes from social learning theory. Guidelines were set for the students, who came from different grade levels. Different roles were defined for each student. The designers created an atmosphere in which students would create their own discussions. Concerns of potential conflict between the students were addressed by the creation of specific communication rules. The result was the creation of a dynamic learning environment that served to scaffold literacy skills.

Facebook & Shakespeare in an English Course

Rosefsky et al (2012) stated, “To be effective, curriculum must be relevant to students’ lives. To make curriculum relevant, teachers must begin with generative topics or topics that have an important place in the disciplinary or interdisciplinary study at hand and that resonate with learners and teachers” So often teachers are struggling with introducing material to the class that they will find interesting and meaningful. With the cost of new class set of books, teachers are using the classics year after year or perhaps whatever is available in the book room. While the classics truly never get old, teachers must consider the fact that many students do not connect with material as they once did. Shakespeare on the other hand, is an integral part of an English course and cannot be side stepped. It is understandable that students have difficulty keeping with the plot of Shakespeare’s plays, especially because of the language; therefore, teachers need to find innovative ways engaging students with the works of Shakespeare. The Facebook Shakespeare project is rapidly becoming popular amongst teachers. Students are able to choose a character, make a Facebook page and via status updates, relationship statuses, timeline photos and quotation integration, they are able to unfold the plot thus show their understanding of the play. By Rupi Banga 2014

Facebook uses in Different Courses

In a Science course, students can conduct research projects and with such a high number of users, it would be interesting to see how many participants would want to be involved in the project. Students care share their hypotheses and theories with class-mates and ask for feedback on validity issues.

In a History class, students can write a review of primary and secondary sources and post their ideas on Facebook. Students care create "like" pages for famous historical figures and important events as way to study for exams.

In an Info Tech course, students can learn how to create apps that could potentially be used on Facebook or ideas that could end up being used for other social networking sites. Moreover, it is an excellent way to teach students about media etiquette and internet responsibility.

In a Social Justice course, students can take on a social cause and create a safe online community Facebook page where students can share their thoughts, options and ideas for making positive changes in their community. (Rupi Banga 2014)

Facebook Groups for Classes

Outside the boundaries of a large-scale project, the use of Facebook can still facilitate interaction between teachers and students. Setting up a Facebook group for a class, for example, gives students the chance to ask asynchronous questions. Students who are uncomfortable speaking in the classroom or in a face-to-face situation may find this appealing. The asynchronous nature of Facebook has become a popular way for undergraduate students at Penn State to ask for help (Mack, 2008).

The following Video Tutorial guides teachers on how to set up a Facebook Group for their class.

Setting Up a Facebook Group for Your Class {{#ev:youtube|cm0aDPRHiQA}}

Using Facebook as a Learning Management System

By creating a Facebook Page for your class, you can effectively use Facebook as a Learning Management System for your students to use as they would any other LMS, such as Blackboard or Moodle. By "Liking" the page, students can engage with the content on the Wall, participate in polls created by the administrator, have online discussions within the page, as well as upload Microsoft Office documents to the page. Being free, and without needing access to a host server, and being a platform that most already have the skills to use, having a Facebook page can be easier to use than LMSs like Blackboard or Moodle.

The Basics of a Facebook Page for Educators {{#ev:youtube|OQhEk9ZKekA}}

Facebook and 21st Century Learning

With teachers implementing 21st century skills into the classroom, it has become easier to integrate social networking sites like Facebook into a classroom. The vision of 21st century skill in education was created for the purposes of allowing education to be more personalized. It is meant to provide students the necessary skills to be successful in the real world outside of school. Owen (2013) states that the “Framework for 21st Century Learning by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills states that there are "four Cs" that are critical learning and innovation skills: communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking.” Facebook is such a versatile tool that it is easy to create an online class, ask students to collaborate on projects, share ideas, and participate discussions. In addition, the learning opportunities that Facebook presents in a classroom are engaging, creative and authentic- all the qualities that teachers look for when making lesson plans. (Rupi Banga 2014)

Using Facebook to Facilitate Communication

An excellent way to ensure students are more engaged in the learning experience is by strengthening the communication between students, their peers and the instructor. These are just a few ideas to do just that.

  • Create groups. You can create groups for entire classes or for study groups with smaller subsets of students that allow for easy sharing of information and communication, without students even having to friend each other.
  • Schedule events. From beginning of semester mixers to after-finals celebrations, easily schedule events for the entire class using Facebook.
  • Send messages. From unexpected absences to rescheduling exams, it's easy to send messages through Facebook.
  • Share multimedia. With the ability to post videos, photos, and more, you can share multimedia content easily with the entire class.
  • Post class notes. Post notes after each class period for students to have access for review or in case they were absent.
  • Provide direct communication with instructors. Instructors and students can contact each other through Facebook, providing an opportunity for better sharing of information and promoting better working relationships.
  • Allows shy students a way to communicate. Shy students who may not want to approach their teacher after class or during office hours can use Facebook to communicate.
  • Facilitate classmate connections. When students get to know each other more intimately, they become more involved in the learning experience. This is helpful in both large classes that wouldn't normally promote such intimacy and in smaller settings that regularly depend on that connection.
  • Make announcements. Instructors can send out reminders about upcoming tests, upcoming due dates, or any classroom news.
  • Brainstorm. Students can have the ability to add their thoughts to the group wall any time they occur allows for more opportunities for brainstorming off each other.
  • Share interesting websites. Students and instructors alike can post interesting websites that add relevancy to the class.
  • Post homework. Posting homework through Facebook not only provides easy access for students, it also puts in writing specifically what is expected and when it is due.
  • Grassroots movements. Students at University of British Columbia learned that the weight room at their aquatic center was slated for closure, and through Facebook, won to keep it open (Jeffrey 2007).

Class Project Ideas Using Facebook

  • Follow news feeds. Have students follow news feeds relevant to the course material in order to keep current information flowing through the class.
  • Share book reviews. Students can post their book reviews for the instructor to grade and other students to read. If it's a peer-reviewed project, then students can more easily access each other's papers online.
  • Poll your class. Use polls as an interactive teaching tool in class or just to help facilitate getting to know one another with the Poll app for Facebook.
  • Practice a foreign language. Students learning a foreign language can connect with native speakers through groups or fan opportunities such as this one.
  • Create your own news source. A great way for journalism students to practice their craft, use the Facebook status update feed as a breaking news source for sports results, academic competition results, and other campus news.
  • Follow news stories. Keep up with news through Facebook on groups like World News Webcast that provides video clips of world news.
  • Keep up with politicians. Political science students can become fans of politicians in order to learn about their platforms and hear what they have to say first hand.
  • Create apps for Facebook. A class at Stanford started doing this in 2007 and still has a Facebook group profiling their work. A class at Berkeley also did the same (Jeffrey 2007).
  • Bring literature to life. Create a Facebook representation of a work of literature by having students create Facebook Profiles for the characters in a novel you are reading together. Students can interact with each other via Facebook as their novel study character through their Wall, Status Updates etc.

Benefits of Using Facebook in the Classroom

Why use Facebook with your class? Here are some of the benefits you may see when you decide to use Facebook as a learning tool:

  • Inviting atmosphere. Since Facebook isn't exclusively the instructor's any more than it is the students', this offers students an opportunity for active participation on a level playing field.
  • Students are comfortable with Facebook. Most students are already users of Facebook, so implementing it into class provides a comfortable way for students to participate in class.
  • Informal. The informality inherent in Facebook's connections lend to yet another reason students may be more willing to participate in class activities here.
  • Promotes collaboration. Facebook's design promotes social interchange between participants, thereby increasing collaboration between students working on activities.
  • Keeps schools current. Universities must move from a skills-centered approach to learning to one of connectivity to stay relevant to students.
  • Students engaged outside of class. When students are accessing the class content more often, that means they will be thinking about and engaging in the lessons more frequently.
  • Ambient awareness. Facebook provides an excellent opportunity for students and instructors to participate in ambient awareness, a way of getting to know those you follow on social networks in more meaningful ways.
  • Teach personal responsibility. Instructors can take this opportunity to teach students how to responsibly use Facebook and other social networking sites so it helps their future–not the opposite.

Facebook For Educators Resource by Facebook

The Facebook for Educators resource, which was comissioned by Facebook itself, helps to familiarize teachers on how to use Facebook to enhance classroom interactions. One of the sections dedicated to the benefits of social media is highlighted below:

"Digital Learning Experience Attributes

  • Interactive: Students who create their own content and interact via social media can express their identity and creativity.
  • Student-Centered: Shifts the learning responsibility to the student, requiring students to take a more active role in their own learning process and emphasizes teachers as providers of help as needed to overcome difficulties.
  • Authentic: Teachers should find ways to reconcile classroom use of social media to the authentic way teens are using them outside of the classroom. The use of social media and technology should be tied to a specific learning goal or activity.
  • Collaborative: Learning is a social activity, and many students learn best through working with a group of peers. This collaboration and peer feedback can take place in either a virtual or in-person environment.
  • On-Demand: Course content should be made available “on-demand” so the learner can view course materials when, where, and how they want to view the content, whether on a desktop computer, mobile phone or handheld device."

(Phillips L. F., Baird, D., Fogg BJ, p. 13)

The Facebook for Educators resource is actually linked as a .pdf off of Facebook's Safety Center for Teachers, which includes an article called "Teaching Digital Kids." The article outlines Facebook's recommendations for how teachers can model citizenship by integrating Facebook in the classroom environment. The Facebook for Educators resource delves further into the ways in which Facebook can be used as an educational tool with sections on Kids, Safety & Social Networking, Creating a Social Media Policy for your school, Navigating Privacy Settings on Facebook, Teaching Students to be Good Citizens in the Digital World, Teaching Digital Responsibility, Using Groups and Pages on Facebook, Teaching Digital Natives, Facebook Mobile as a Learning Tool as well as links to Professional Development Resources on Facebook.

Facebook Applications for Students and Educators

  • Students can use these applications and groups to enhance their usage of Facebook in school:
    • weRead. Students can manage the books on their reading lists, connect with others in discussions about the books, and more.
    • Flashcards. Create flashcards on any subject to help reinforce what you need to know.
    • Notely. Organize assignments, classes, notes, and more with Notely. You will need a Notely account to use this Facebook app.
    • Study Groups. If you don't want to create your own group for a study group, use this app instead that allows for easy collaboration.
    • CiteMe. Get properly formatted citations according to APA, Chicago, Harvard, MLA, or Turabian style with this app.
    • Hey Math! Challenge. Students can watch flash movies explaining difficult math concepts with this app.
    • Worldcat Allows students to share sources and conduct research projects
  • These Facebook apps can make your job as the teacher easier and more engaging for the students:
    • Calendar. Use this calendar app from 30 Boxes to keep your classes on track with upcoming assignments, tests, due dates, and more.
    • Files. Upload all the important files you want to share with students such as your class syllabus, supplemental reading material, or assignments when you use this app.
    • Make a Quiz!. Easily make quizzes to test your students' knowledge and see how they score.
    • Courses. Manage your courses with this app that allows you to create an instructor page, manage assignments, and more.
    • Webinaria. Record your class lectures and post them for the class to review on Facebook.
    • Booktag Share books and ask students to read the summaries and make comments on their first impressions.

(Revised by Rupi Banga 2014)

  • For both students and teachers:
    • Podclass. Teachers and students who use a classroom management system can access their courses, assignments, and more through Podclass.
    • Google Docs. If you are using Google Docs, access them through Facebook with this app.
    • JSTOR Search. You may need to access this through your library's proxy, but this is a great way to find full articles through JSTOR.
    • SlideShare. Instructors and students can use this app to create awesome slide presentations as a part of class or to complete an assignment.

Facebook Privacy Concerns

As the management teams of Facebook, Myspace and other social media entities continue to take steps to address and alleviate concerns raised by their users, and members of the wider society; it is prudent that educators objectively ponder the wisdom in fighting the ‘inconvenient’ use of this formidable technology. Parents, teachers and others in the adult majority have long bemoaned the obsession that young people have with social networking and the possible risk they face in using these tools. The claims are not without merit, as highlighted in several newscasts and magazine articles in recent times.

The Wall Street Journal dated February 26, 2011 revealed that Microsoft and Facebook were now attempting new approaches to boost web privacy. The article points to the establishment of stronger consumer protection as the driving force behind the move. The addition of a “do-not-track” tool to the web browser was highlighter as one way the corporation sought to assure users that their movements could not be monitored online. The adjustment of section heading to reflect more meaningful information and guides were other initiatives the corporation sought to do. This drastic step highlights the reality of the privacy concerns facing media facilitated teaching and learning forums.

This move follows closely on the heels of initiatives taken in October 2010, when the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) highlighted facebook’ attempts to satisfy the EFF Bill of Privacy Rights for Social Networking Requirements.

The continuous nature of Facebook’s efforts is no doubt an indication of their drive to secure the privacy of their users and to encourage wide scale usage of the tool among all age groups.


New research points overwhelming to gains to be made from creating opportunities for the inclusion of social media in the classroom – gains which significantly outweigh the negatives. The articles below speak to this and suggest that in order to reap the benefits that may derive from the inclusion of social media in the classroom, a number of measures should be considered. Some of these are:

  • Engage students in open & frank discussions about common etiquette which should be maintained across any media. Invite them to consider “Is this wise? Is this necessary?” whenever they are tempted to act unwisely online.
  • Create (in concert with student representatives) a Policy Statement for social networking for students of your school. Publish the statement in student handbooks and around the school. Students may need to sign/acknowledge their understanding of the policy prior to use of the social media in classes.
  • Remind students of the dangers and the inherent risks in being labeled a sex offender.


In order for success to be achieved however, administrators and teachers will need to be creative in coming up with ways to incorporate social media in the classroom and observe the different threats that seek to hinder their progress or interfere with their students well-being. Foulger (2009) study found that although a number of pre-service teachers actually engaged in social networking, they were seemingly devoid of the knowledge that there was a need for the development of ethical standards and guidelines to govern its use. The researchers called on the administrators and trainers to educate the pre-service teachers on the matter in an effort to prevent potential problems. This they say should lead to greater harnessing of the educational potential of the social networking tool (18). Ultimately, in the end, education wins. Students who have argued that classes have been boring and mundane will have new outlets to interact and develop within the ambit of predetermined latitudes. Jacqueline Smith February 2011

Privacy on Facebook for Educators

Some students and parents may not welcome teacher interaction in a personal venue such as Facebook. While it is a very popular site for students and may be seen as an easy way to reach them (Mack, 2008), teachers must walk a fine line. On one hand, students may appreciate that teachers and staff are more accessible to them (Harris, 2008). Students also reported “high levels of motivation and effective learning” when they have had access to teacher sites that included personal information. This information fostered positive attitudes both toward the teacher and the course (Mazer, 2007). On the other hand, students found it “weird” that their teachers had accounts on Facebook (CBC news, 2009). The risk would be that students would potentially find a different venue for personal communication if they felt teachers and other adults were infringing on their own space. A more serious danger lies with teachers harming their credibility with students by demonstrating inappropriate behaviour online (Mazer, 2007 & Parslow, 2008).

The Ontario College of Teachers (OCT), amongst other teacher governing bodies, have published advisories to help teachers maintain their professionalism while engaging in social networking activities. The OCT document, "Professional Advisory: Use of Electronic Communication and Social Media" was approved on February 23, 2011. The document sets steadfast guidelines for how teachers interact with their students on computers and mobile devices. It defines social media sites as, “Examples include, but are not limited to, sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Flickr, YouTube, Wikipedia, Picasa and MySpace” (Council of the Ontario College of Teachers, p.2, 2011).

An overview of the recommendation that the OCT makes are:

  • Avoid any friendship requests from students, and don’t send any
  • Use a dedicated webpage for class interaction, not a personal profile
  • Manage your privacy and security settings on all social media sites
  • Monitor all of your content and be mindful of what others post to your accounts
  • Ask friends not to tag you in any photos or videos without permission. Remove anything that is inappropriate.
  • Avoid slamming your students, colleagues, employer or others within the school community
  • Avoid impulsive, inappropriate or heated postings

Facebooking Tips for Educators

In addition, educators should check out these suggestions for ways to use Facebook effectively and professionally:

  • Create a separate account just for your classes. Keep two accounts if you want to use Facebook personally as well. This keeps your Facebook relationship at school on a professional level.
  • Manage privacy settings. If you don't want to manage two accounts, use these tips to manage privacy to keep your personal and professional lives separate.
  • Get over the term "friend". Many professors are disturbed by the idea of making friends with their students. Instead of adapting the Facebook term in the common way, try to think about the relationship as one of a mentor, or in an Aristotelian version of a utilitarian friend.
  • Friend students carefully. Make sure you are friending students in current and former classes for professional purposes. Keep as professional a distance on Facebook as you would in person.
  • Ask students to put you on limited access to their pages. This keeps you from having to see their Spring Break photos, status updates that may indicate why they really missed that midterm, or any other information that may compromise your professional working relationship.
  • Create lists. Create a list for each of your classes, then keep students in each class on that list. This is a great way to organize your students.

Privacy on Facebook for Educators {{#ev:youtube|jcrxADcy1Ys}}

Other Concerns with Facebook

Exposure to Online Content

Questions as to whether it is appropriate for a teacher to expose students to an environment that may foster gossip or harbour predators and cyber-bullying have been raised. (Fodeman & Monroe, 2009) Others argue that the concerns over teens on social networking sites have more to do with historical issues of parental authority, youth culture and peer pressure (boyd, 2009).

Equal Access

While many have access to the internet and social networking sites, there are still some students who do not. This must be considered before creating a project for use in the classroom. Students whose parents are concerned with the privacy and other issues may not be allowed access to the site. Another consideration is that some schools, such as those in New Brunswick, have blocked access to Facebook (Bowman, 2009). Some politically aware teens (described as “conscientious objectors” by boyd, 2008) may avoid Facebook out of the realization that the site could manipulate them. All of these situations will make it difficult to create a Facebook community of learners. Limited projects like the creation of groups for classes may be the only option for educators until each student has Facebook access.

Making the Environment Safe & Distraction Free

With the misuse of personal data and the tarnishing of users characters, best practices must be observed and secured atmosphere established very early on in the development stages of the course. The distractions are also many so keeping students on tasks is paramount to the successful use of this tools and resource.Jacqueline Smith February 2011


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