Ontario Tech. University
Facebook is currently one of the most popular social networking sites. Research has shown both advantages and disadvantages of using Facebook as a tool to support curriculum. This chapter explores the use of Facebook in supporting the learning agenda of the classroom, as well as implications of the use of Facebook in education. The research highlights the use of Facebook as a Learning Management System in the educational environment and provides examples of how to utilize Facebook to support a community of learners.
Keywords: community of learners, Facebook, learning agenda, learning management system, social networking sites.
Social networking sites (SNSs) are virtual spaces where people can gather to communicate, share photos and discuss ideas with one another (Boyd & Ellison, 2008; Raacke & Bonds‐Raack 2008). Communication methods have changed with the implementation of SNSs. It has also impacted the way we teach and learn (Crystal, 2008a, 2008b; Johnson, 2009; O’Brien & Sharber, 2008). Facebook has great potential for teaching and learning. A Facebook group could even be used in education as a Learning Management System (LMS). An LMS is the infrastructure responsible for delivery and management of educational content, it assesses learning goals, and collects and presents data for the learning process of the institution (Szabo & Flesher, 2002). Above the delivery of content, is the ability to handle course registration, administration, skills gap analysis, tracking and reporting (Gilhooly, 2001).
“Technology is not new to the education process of teaching and learning, education is one of the areas most heavily impacted by technology” (American Psychological Association, 2009, p. 455). Additionally, “The Internet and related technologies have the power to bring literature, research, information, and people from around the world directly into the classroom” (American Psychological Association, 2009, p. 456). Technology, which includes SNSs, has the ability to increase and improve communication and cooperation between students and teachers. SNSs allow users to connect and interact with one another (Correa, Hinsley & Gil de Zúñiga, 2010), by posting and sharing information (Kushin & Yamamoto, 2010). These options can be incorporated into the teaching and learning process.
Junco (2012), examined the relationship between frequency and participation in Facebook activities and student engagement and found a positive correlation. Gruzd, Staves & Wilk (2012) found that social networking tools, such as Facebook, are popular to the general public and have been embraced by academia in a professional context. Scholars are using Facebook as it is convenient for making connections with peers for collaboration. It can also be used as a powerful tool in teaching. Students are open to the possibility of using Facebook in education (McCarthy, 2013; Roblyer, McDaniel, Webb, Herman & Witty, 2010), however, it has not yet been taken to its full potential in education.
Students’ use of Facebook
In a fall of 2009 survey, it was noted that 73% of teens, aged 12 to 17, used SNSs (Lenhart, Purcell, Smith & Zickuhr, 2010). Students use Facebook for a variety of reasons, including communicating and collaboration with peers. Users can broadcast messages to Facebook friends, post status updates, and use Messenger for private conversations (Smock, Ellison, Lampe & Wohn, 2011). Social interactions and connection is the objective of online social networks (Cheung & Lee, 2010).
Students can also use Facebook for educational purposes, including collaboration, discussion and to obtain extra help. Students can form groups on Facebook and post questions to obtain feedback from peers. They can share links, such as videos on the wall of the group page and in personal messages. Teachers can access the Facebook group to send reminders to their students about assignments and tests.
Facebook use in higher education has increased over the years. Both faculty and students have utilized the SNS to support learning. Research shows that SNSs can promote a community of learners and assist with the development of social relationships. However, SNSs can also cause distraction in the learning process.
A Community of Learning
A community of learners “can be defined as a group of people who share values and beliefs and who actively engage in learning from one another-learners from teachers, teachers from learners, and learners from learners. They thus create a learning-centered environment in which students and educators are actively and intentionally constructing knowledge together. Learning communities are connected, cooperative, and supportive. Peers are interdependent in that they have joint responsibility for learning and share resources and points of view, while sustaining a mutually respectful and cohesive environment” (“Learning and the Adolescent Mind”, 2019).
For introverted students, creating a community of learners allows the student to feel more comfortable, therefore, making larger contributions to the educational community. “Once characteristics of a learning community are established, there is a ‘direct impact on the continuance of participation within the community” (Whitworth & DeMoor, 2003). A sense of community is imperative for learners to obtain meaningful experiences (Garrison & Kanuka, 2004). Facebook as part of the community of learners can be used to create more communication among teachers and students (Bowers-Campbell, 2007).
How to use Facebook as a Learning Tool
Bull, Thompson, Searson, Garofalo, Park, Young & Lee (2008) stated the following:
The informal learning that occurs in the context of participatory media offers significant opportunities for increased student engagement in formal learning settings. The experience with communication technologies that teenagers today possess must be tapped by educators and connected to pedagogy and content in order to address learning objectives in schools. Teacher education faculty members are experienced in this arena. We are currently at a moment in time in which the current and next generation of educators each can make a genuine contribution by working together. (p.106).
Research studies have demonstrated that the use of Facebook can increase the satisfaction and motivation of students. O’Sullivan, Hunt and Lippert (2004) and Mazer, Murphy and Simonds (2009) found when students reviewed the teacher’s page, there were higher reported levels of motivation, learning, teacher integrity and an overall positive attitude in regard to the course and the teacher.
According to Li and Pitts (2009), when a teacher has virtual office hours on Facebook, there is a positive impact on student satisfaction with the communication between the teacher and the student. This also addresses the students’ needs when it comes to the importance of teacher/student communication. Hewitt and Forte (2006) states that Facebook interactions have a positive impact on the perception of the professor and that two thirds of respondents shared they felt comfortable with having teachers on Facebook. This presents the opportunity for teachers to bring Facebook into education.
Teclehaimanot and Hickman (2009) provided the suggestion that teachers be passive when it comes to interacting with their students on Facebook outside of class time. Teachers should not comment on students’ personal pictures and not send Facebook invitations out to their students. This addresses students concerns regarding professional/personal relationship status discussed in disadvantages section of this chapter.
Students can be provided with information regarding the use of Facebook in education in order for them to begin the process of sharing information. Teachers and students can have access to school information, learning, and discussion. The information can be shared from student to student or student to teacher. Facebook allows the exchange of information, making it an important educational tool for teaching and sharing knowledge on an ongoing basis (Alger, 2009).
Advantages of Facebook as a Learning Tool
We know that students are utilizing SNSs for social benefits, including communication with peers. As a result, the incorporation of tools, such as Facebook can be streamlined into education. This allows students to easily connect with teachers and peers after class hours. “Material can [now] be presented in more vivid ways than in the past, which may engage students more actively” (American Psychological Association, 2009, p. 456). Facebook allows students to access technology that provides the opportunity for interaction outside of class time, including online collaboration and multitasking by engaging in more than one class or topic concurrently. It provides rich learning and teaching practices in informal learning contexts.
Facebook has built in tools, such as discussion board (wall), instant messaging (chat) and email (messenger), which all allow for multitasking (Judd, 2013). Multitasking is more pronounced among students (Carrier, Cheever, Rosen, Benitez & Chang, 2009). Many people utilize technology in many areas of their lives, including in education (Wood et al., 2012). Facebook also offers available virtual office hours for teachers, which presents a positive impact on student satisfaction due to the ability of communication outside of the classroom (Li & Pitts, 2009).
When exploring the functions of Facebook, a consideration would be to use it as an LMS. The teacher would have the ability to create a course page or group and manually add the students. Research shows that using LMSs possesses numerous benefits for teaching and learning. It allows faculty to shift the focus from content to process based learning (Vogel & Klassen, 2001) and helps to “facilitate change from passive to active learning” (Herse & Lee, 2005, p. 51).
Schroeder and Greenbowe (2009) utilized a Facebook group and WebCT together to allow students to discuss course questions. They stated WebCT was compulsory and the Facebook group was optional. The end result showed the number of Facebook posts was four times higher than posts on WebCT. The Facebook posts discussed more complex topics and there were more detailed responses to the posts.
Disadvantages of Facebook as a Learning Tool
Although we know students are using SNSs more frequently, there are still considerations around how to use them in education. Some students would prefer to keep their personal lives separate from their professional (education) lives. Many students believe that Facebook is a place for socialization and should be separate from academic work (Hew, 2011). A barrier to using Facebook as a learning tool could be the perception of technology use in one’s personal life over use in learning. It is rare that students use Facebook for education as they tend to keep their personal and professional lives separate (Jones, Blackey, Fitzgibbon & Chew, 2010).
Students seem to have positive experiences with Facebook as a “social study space” but feel it is off limits for teachers. This presents the question, would faculty do more harm than good by trying to formalize the use of Facebook in education (Gray, Annabell & Kennedy, 2010)? Facebook defines connections as “friends”, so students could have difficulty in understanding why the teacher wants to be a friend connection (Rambe, 2012). Students have frequently used Facebook, however, there are concerns about the use in education, as students do not want to be friends with their teachers on Facebook. Teachers who use Facebook may indirectly disclose information that could impact the teachers’ reputation and have a negative impact on the student/teacher relationship.
Facebook groups can be used as a LMS in the classroom. Students are generally pleased with how a Facebook group can be used as an LMS, however, there are limitations. Facebook may not provide a safe environment for sharing information and it does not fully support all components of an LMS (ie. support of files).
According to the American Psychological Association (2009), there needs to be a distinction between entertainment and engagement. Visual engagement does not necessarily represent intellectual engagement and too much use can be critical to learning (American Psychological Association, 2009, p. 456).
Facebook can also be a distraction to learning and some students may disagree with using Facebook as an educational tool. As teachers begin to understand how Facebook is being used, there will be a greater understanding of the impact during class time. Teachers can then develop options to use Facebook to support the learning agenda.
Conclusions and Future Recommendations
Particularly because of the immediacy, vividness, and on-demand nature of technology in the classroom, satisfaction may be mistaken for achievement. Thus, more than ever, attention needs to be devoted to the scholarship of teaching and specifically to how technology inside and outside the classroom affects learning outcomes for new generations of students (Mayer, Griffith, Jurokwitz & Rothman, 2008, p.338).
Research shows that students do not want to blend learning with their social lives (Jones, Blackey, Fitzgibbon & Chew, 2010). Future research is required to explore perceptions on using a different Facebook account specifically for learning. Many feel Facebook does not provide a safe environment due to privacy concerns. Further research can explore the safety of information and privacy issues within the platform.
Additional research can investigate the effectiveness of using Facebook as an LMS. Teachers can post announcements, facilitate online discussions and share resources with their students. Facebook allows the students to communicate with their peers and the teacher. This allows for continued collaboration and more accessible communication inside and outside the classroom. What will contribute to the effectiveness is the design, teacher attitude and technical support (Ozkan & Koseler, 2009).
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