Facebook for teaching and learning

co-authors: Peter Bihr and  Thomas Praus


Social Communities have grown rapidly over the last years, offering people the chance to publish personal information and connect with each other. The biggest social community today is Facebook with more than 120 million members. Due to the myriad possibilities to use Facebook, there many ways to support teaching and learning.

Facebook started in 2004 at Harvard University and was aimed at connecting students. Now, almost every American student and many Europeans have profiles on Facebook. They use it to share information, such as links, photos and videos, to arrange real life events and to communicate in groups.

The use of Facebook also shows the current cultural differences between teachers who slowly have to adapt to new technologies and students who grew up with digital communication. The differences in media use and learning behaviour between so called “digital native learners” and “digital immigrant teachers” are shown below. Understanding how to use Facebook opens up a way to stepping closer to actual student behaviour and to create a more appropriate way of teaching.

From: http://www.apple.com/au/education/digitalkids/disconnect/landscape.html

Use at Universities


Facebook is already carefully used at universities, as a subject for research and as a tool to support learning. Yet these developments are mainly driven by individual academics keen to find out how to use social media in higher education, rather than institutional approaches by teaching organizations.

In Facebook, there is a group of almost 900 academics and students who in engage in teaching and learning http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2408370557. Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab teaches a course about the psychology of Facebook http://credibilityserver.stanford.edu/captology/facebookand develops applications with considerable success http://www.techcrunch.com/2007/11/19/stanford-students-facebook-application-crosses-1-million-installs



Most of all students use Facebook amongst each other, not only to chat or leave personal messages but also to communicate about educational subjects. Many groups concentrate on university courses, study groups and help with homework are organized via Facebook. There is a group for students who study at the UOC, too: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=6048751458



Moreover, there are applications that run within Facebook which can support learning, such as wikis or groupware for studying are being developed for the sole purpose of education.

One example is “courses” http://www.facebook.com/apps/application.php?id=2791815712&ref=s, an applications that lets people share their schedules and organize around classes.















Study groups is a groupware-like application which features to-do lists or sharing of notes and files in one place










You can find more e-learning apps in Facebook on  http://www.didactalab.de/wp-main/?p=66

Concerns with Facebook

Still, many teachers, academics and universities see Facebook as a threat for teaching and the university’s image. The access to the website is blocked on many schools and campuses, professors fear the distraction in class and security issues. Students have been punished for posting comments and founding groups who violated the official codes of student conduct and even been accused of cheating for running a group to help each other with their homework http://www.thestar.com/News/GTA/article/309855

Has Facebook Changed The University Cheating Landscape?

Facebook Face Off

Copyright issues are other justified concerns for teachers and faculty members. Facebook is a private company and essentially can do whatever it likes in regards to changing its Terms Of Service and intellectual property and privacy policies. This puts any instructor or institution that is relying on their environment at a disadvantage. Additionally, relying on a third party to host student material (which will be graded) is awkward, given that it may or not be archived and could disappear at any time.

Most of all privacy issues and confusion about what information to reveal to which persons creates concern amongst teachers about how to engage in Facebook. To help students and teachers consider how to act on Facebook, Tracy Mitrano, Director of IT Policy and Computer Policy & Law Program, at Cornell University Cornell published some thoughts on Facebook especially regarding privacy and legal issues  http://www.cit.cornell.edu/policy/memos/facebook.html.

Last but not least there is the uncharted territory of “friending” between instructors and students. Some instructors fear it leads to problematic familiarity; some students think it’s creepy. There are several groups that utter disaffirmation with teachers going to Facebook like “Teachers – please stop going on Facebook”.  http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2301537792

Summary: Teaching and Learning opportunities

Facebook and social networks can be of use for education in many ways and taking justified concerns into account be a valuable tool for everyday learning. There are several possibilities for educators and institutions to engage in an appropriate way.

  • Teachers actually can have their own profiles on Facebook and easily publish learning material and run groups about their subject. They don’t have to reveal much information about themselves and choose to be friends only with people they are friends with in real life or even have different groups of friends which they share only certain information with.
  • Students can use social networking to find experts and fellow students to discuss and investigate about a subject. Especially for ‘inquiry based learing’ or ‘learning through research’ social networks are a great tool to find people who will help to solve a specific issue or learn more about a given subject or find instant communities of practice.
  •  With applications in Facebook being more powerful they can actually support other online e-learning systems or even be integrated with each other.

4 thoughts on “Facebook for teaching and learning

  1. Retroenllaç: Stylewalker - Growing with the network » Facebook for teaching and learning

  2. Retroenllaç: Facebook for teaching and learning

  3. Retroenllaç: AsunTIC Blog » Xarxes socials i altres serveis de la Web 2.0

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