The evolving world of the Internet — blogs, podcasts, wikis, social networks — offers instructors and students radically new ways to research, communicate, and learn. Integrating these Internet tools into the college classroom, however, is not an easy task. Therefore, the purpose of this article is to examine the role of social networking in education and demonstrate how social network sites (SNS) can be used in a college classroom setting. To do this, existing research relating to SNS and education is discussed, and the primary advantages and disadvantages of using SNS in the classroom are explored. Most importantly, specific instructions and guidelines to follow when implementing SNS (i.e., Facebook) within the college classroom are provided. Specifically, we show that multiple types of Facebook course integration options are available to instructors. It is concluded that SNS, such as Facebook, can be appropriately and effectively used in an academic setting if proper guidelines are established and implemented.
Web 2.0, SNS, and education
Facebook and higher education
Educational benefits of SNS
Implementation of Facebook in the college classroom
Pedagogy is not keeping up with technology. Technological innovations, such as the Internet, Microsoft Office Package, and course management software (i.e., Blackboard), have become classroom staples (Jones, et al., 2008; Maloney, 2007); however, Web 2.0 tools (i.e., blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, virtual worlds, YouTube, Twitter, Flickr, and social network sites (SNS), are often ignored by instructors (Ajjan and Harstshore, 2008). Despite the high adoption rate of Web 2.0 tools such as Facebook (Dahlstrom, et al., 2011), there remains much to learn about the impact of this technology on the lives of college students, particularly SNS’ role in the educational process.
There are a growing number of conceptual and case articles (Cain, 2008, Dalsgaard, 2008; Griffith and Liyanage, 2008; Huijser, 2008; Lockyer and Patterson, 2008; Muñoz and Towner, 2010; Pence, 2007; Tynes, 2007; Velasquez, et al., 2009) and empirical studies (see Hew  for a literature review on some of the empirical Facebook studies related to education) that address the relationship between SNS and education. In general, the literature and empirical findings on implementing social networking in educational practices are mixed in their support of SNS’ use in education. In addition, there exists no known published work providing comprehensive guidance on how to implement SNS or Facebook, specifically, within the classroom. Although information via blogs (e.g., danah boyd, Frederic Stutzman and Nicole Ellison) and Facebook groups (e.g., “Faculty ethics on Facebook”) have provided useful information that have guided some of the authors’ philosophies and strategies.
Web 2.0, SNS, and education
Web 2.0 or the “read/write Web” marks an evolution of how we use the Internet. Instead of predominately being passive information gatherers, individuals are now able to easily contribute content online and collaborate with others (O’Reilly, 2005). The ability to harness collective knowledge, increase communication, and rely on user–driven content and participation are all hallmarks of Web 2.0 technologies (Cormode and Krishnamurthy, 2008). These characteristics also complement pedagogical practices (Maloney, 2007). Specifically, Web 2.0 technologies can support learning through facilitating “interconnections, creative capabilities and interactivity” . Indeed, the vast majority of students believe that the Internet can positively influence their education experience (Jones, et al., 2008). A growing number of faculty are also aware and acknowledge the potential benefits of Web 2.0 tools in the classroom (e.g., Ajjan and Hartshorne, 2008; Greenhow and Robelia, 2009a, 2009b; Muñoz and Towner, 2010; Towner and Muñoz, 2011).
Overview of SNS
SNS are “Web–based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi–public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system” . Individuals readily use SNS to maintain and/or strengthen their current, off line social networks (boyd and Ellison, 2007). In fact, they have become a primary communication and socialization tool for college students (Golder, et al., 2008); a tool they are spending considerable time using (Dahlstrom, et al., 2011; Salaway, et al., 2008). To illustrate, EDUCAUSE (2011) found that 26.9 percent of students surveyed spend six–10 hours on SNS a week (Salaway, et al., 2008). Approximately, 66 percent access a social network daily (Smith, et al., 2009). Facebook has become the college community’s favorite SNS (Salaway, et al., 2008; Smith, et al., 2010).
Individuals are drawn to SNS primarily to maintain a social connection to their friends (Joinson, 2008; Lampe, et al., 2006; Luckin, et al., 2009; Raacke and Bonds–Raacke, 2008; Salaway, et al., 2008). However, there are a number of other reasons why users are motivated to use SNS: integration into a new school setting, exchange information (e.g., music, pictures, video, etc.), learn more about individuals, communicate with classmates, event planning, communicate with groups, express and view opinions/status updates, make new friends, date, professional activities, use applications and quizzes (Agarwal and Mital, 2009; Joinson, 2008; Madge, et al., 2009; Raacke and Bonds–Raacke, 2008; Salaway et al., 2008, Smith, et al., 2010). In addition, SNS can also provide spaces for learning (Greenhow and Robelia, 2009a, 2009b; Kabilan, et al., 2010; Tynes, 2007).
SNS and education
SNS, informally, are currently being used by students to discuss education at all academic levels (Chu and Meulemans, 2008; Greenhow and Robelia, 2009a, 2009b, Jones, et al., 2008; Madge, et al., 2009; National School Boards Association [NSBA], 2007; Salaway, et al., 2008). Specifically, college students are integrating education–related topics into their social networking experience (Chu and Meulemans, 2008; Jones, Millermaier, Goya–Martinez and Schuler, 2008; Madge, et al., 2009; Salaway, et al., 2008; Towner and Muñoz, 2011). Almost fifty percent (49.7 percent) of students surveyed reported using SNS to discuss education (Salaway, et al., 2008).
Additionally, faculty members are becoming aware of SNS’ educational benefits. In particular, faculty perceived SNS, compared to other Web 2.0 tools, to be best at facilitating student–to–student interactions (56 percent) and increasing student course satisfaction (32 percent) (Ajjan and Hartshorne, 2008). However, most faculty are not adopting SNS in their classrooms. Ajjan and Hartshorne (2008) found that 74 percent of faculty surveyed do not currently use and have no plans to use SNS. Only eight percent of faculty surveyed reported using social networking. Student data, taken from the EDUCAUSE (2011) survey, also reflect a potential lack of faculty presence on SNS. Only eight percent of students surveyed reported using SNS to communicate with instructors (Salaway, et al., 2010).
Facebook and higher education
Facebook quickly penetrated into virtually all American college campuses and is rapidly growing internationally. Currently, Facebook has approximately 800 million active users, 50 percent of active users log in daily, and the vast majority of users (75 percent) are located outside of the U.S. (Facebook, 2011a). Specific adoption rates of Facebook for college students are quite impressive. According to the EDUCAUSE (2011) survey, 90 percent of undergraduates have adopted Facebook and 58 percent are frequent, daily users (Dahlstrom, et al., 2011).
Facebook has a number of attributes, beyond its incredible adoption and usage rates, that make it amenable to academic pursuits compared to other SNS. Unlike other SNS, Facebook actively encourages users to use their real identity and to accurately portray themselves (boyd, 2006; Lampe, et al., 2006). Facebook does allow some degree of anonymity as it eliminates face–to–face, verbal interaction, providing students an outlet to communicate with their instructor or peers in a non–verbal sphere (see Postmes, et al., 1998, 2002). Research has also revealed that individuals trust Facebook and its members more than other SNS, such as MySpace and Friendster (Acquisti and Gross, 2006; Dwyer, et al., 2007). Lastly, Facebook has superior privacy settings. However, other SNS do have their advantages over Facebook: MySpace allows for a much more creative and personalized user experience (Gallant, et al., 2007) and Ning does not require advertisements, however, users must pay a fee. In the future, the recently released social network, Google+, may eventually overtake Facebook in popularity and usability. For now, however, Facebook remains the preferred social network of college students.
Students are already frequently using Facebook for education–related communication. Ophus and Abbitt (2009) found that approximately 77 percent of students surveyed used Facebook to communicate with students in their courses. In addition, a survey of first–year undergraduate students shows that 46 percent of students used Facebook to informally discuss academic work with other students (Madge, et al., 2009). Towner and Muñoz (2011) reported 58 percent of surveyed students use Facebook to ask other students questions about class assignments or projects and 45 percent ask about exams. Overall, students seem relatively accepting of using Facebook for academically related peer communication.
Students and faculty have both expressed reservations in using Facebook for more formal, instructional purposes. Roblyer, et al. (2010) found that only 26.6 percent of students surveyed, “would welcome the opportunity to connect with faculty on Facebook” and 22.5 percent felt “Facebook is personal/social — not for education!” Approximately half of faculty surveyed (53 percent) felt that it should not be used for education, because it is personal or social. Towner and Muñoz (2011) reported that 57 percent of students felt that Facebook should not be used for course or instructional purposes and only 13 percent of instructors surveyed were using it for formal educational practices. The EDUCAUSE (2011) survey found that 53 percent of students think that Facebook has “limited or nonexistent” academic value, whereas 25 percent considered it “valuable” or “extremely valuable” and 12 percent reported it to be “extremely valuable.” In summary, it appears that there is reluctance by both faculty and students to use Facebook for educational purposes, although there still remains a significant percentage of students currently using and willing to use it in their educational experiences.
Educational benefits of SNS
In our view, SNS, such as Facebook, offer unique opportunities for education: facilitating communication, fostering a learning community, and promoting twenty–first century literacies. The following discussion explores each of these educational benefits.
Traditionally, faculty–to–student communication takes place in the classroom, during office hours, and via institutional e–mail. Beyond, these institutional tools, SNS can facilitate frequency and a more personalized faculty–to–student (as well as student–to–student) interactions. Unlike traditional communication (e.g., e–mail) and collaborative technology tools (e.g., discussion boards), a Facebook profile allows individuals to increase their social presence, enabling others to perceive them as more “real” online (Short, et al., 1976; Gunawardena and Zittle, 1997). One of the unique benefits of using Facebook to supplement a real–life class is that it engenders a culture of using a real identity, thereby increasing social presence. Multiple studies reported very high usage of real names and other identifiable information included in profiles (i.e., Gross and Acquisti, 2005; Stutzman, 2006; 2008; Tufekci, 2008). Furthermore, the majority of images connected to a user’s identity offer viewers identifiable information (Gross and Acquisti, 2005). Users are also revealing a tremendous amount of personal information within their profile (Jones, et al., 2008).
Anecdotally, some professors reported that having a Facebook profile facilitates student interaction because it makes them more accessible and relatable. Discovering a shared hobby or experience can be a starting point in a conversation, and reduce feelings of intimation (Rosenbloom, 2008). Overall, students seem to accept faculty on Facebook. To illustrate, Hewitt and Forte (2006) found that a majority (66 percent) of students surveyed were fine with faculty on Facebook, with males being more accepting than females. Whereas, Towner and Muñoz (2011) found that 69 percent were fine with instructors having a presence on Facebook. Some students also seem willing to “friend” a faculty member, with empirical research reporting varying levels of this practice. For example, Mendez, et al. (2009) found 30 percent of undergraduate and graduate students “friended” a faculty member. Similarly, Smith, et al. (2010) reported 32 percent of undergraduate students. Sturgeon and Walker (2009), however, reported that over 60 percent of students surveyed had “friended” faculty.
Empirical research reinforces SNS promoting, at least, a passive faculty social presence. Mazer, et al. (2007, 2009) reported that teacher Facebook profiles rich in self–disclosure increased anticipated student motivation, affective learning, and teacher credibility. Students are more willing to communicate with their instructors if they already knew them on Facebook (Sturgeon and Walker, 2009). In particular, students may enjoy having another means by which to communicate with faculty beyond more traditional channels, such as e–mail. In fact, e–mail usage is dropping among college students, as they increasingly use SNS and text messaging (Bilton, 2010; Kolowich, 2011). As a result, students may view e–mail as a more formal, institutional tool of communication whereas SNS are more informal and social. Indeed, many students appear to make the step to get to know their instructors through a Facebook profile. Towner and Muñoz (2011) found that, of students who knew that an instructor or teaching assistant had a Facebook profile, over half of students (53 percent) surveyed visited their instructor’s Facebook profile. In addition, students that were offered additional virtual office hours via Facebook IM chat were more satisfied with their office hour experience than students who only had face–to–face office hours (Li and Pitts, 2009).
Beyond increasing teacher-student interaction, Facebook also allows students to communicate about coursework. As discussed earlier, students are already using SNS to assist them in completing their coursework (Chu and Meulemans, 2008; Greenhow and Robelia, 2009a, 2009b; Madge, et al., 2009; NSBA, 2007; Salaway, et al., 2008, Smith, et al., 2010; Towner and Muñoz, 2011). Previous research has demonstrated the importance of frequent student–to–student interaction to learning within an online environment. Specifically, it increases class satisfaction, a sense of community and class performance (Beaudoin, 2002; Dawson, 2006; Driver, 2002; Fulford and Zhang, 1993).
Research, although limited, does suggest that students prefer the Facebook platform to communicate when compared to course management software (Chu and Meulemans, 2008). To illustrate, Facebook usage rates are higher, compared to course management software (Salaway, et al., 2008). More importantly, Facebook was found to be a more effective and efficient method of discussing class topics when compared to a WebCT discussion board forum; the number of students posts were almost 400 percent more on Facebook than WebCT. In addition, the postings’ quality was superior and discussions continued throughout the entire semester (Schroeder and Greenbowe, 2009).
SNS facilitate online social constructivist learning. Social constructivism learning theory stipulates that individuals learn through social and interpersonal experience. That is, learning is actively constructed by comparing material to what individuals already know. Moreover, individuals value and need the input of others and use it in their learning process. Learning, therefore, is created from dialogues found within a community of other individuals (Vygotsky, 1978). A number of higher education scholars use the framework of social constructivism to explore and support online learning processes (e.g., Rovai, 2004; Redmond and Lock, 2006; Woo and Reeves, 2007).
As Web 2.0 tools have increased in popularity, its ability to support learning in formal and informal contexts has been called into question (e.g., Bull, et al., 2008; Erstad, et al., 2007; Greenhow, 2008; Margaryan, et al., 2008; Peppler and Kafai, 2007). In particular, do these user–generated technologies bridge the gap between formal and informal learning or simply blur the boundaries? However, the definition of formal and informal (and non–formal) learning is often debated (Sefton–Green, 2004). Formal learning is usually defined as instruction or training through courses or lessons with a clear curriculum in place. Informal learning is considered unstructured or spontaneous learning with no formal set of guidelines, which is usually self–motivated (see Cross, 2006). In contrast, non–formal learning occurs when specific objectives are in place and information is sought through the media or friends. Many scholars suggest that social networks, blogs, wikis, and forums are ideal for informal learning, supporting interactions and conversations between peers, as well as sharing experiences and information resources (e.g., Beckett and Hager, 2002; Eraut, 2000; Greenhow and Robelia, 2009a; Luckin, et al., 2009; Sefton–Green, 2004; Selwyn, 2007; Trinder, et al., 2008). At least one empirical study addressing specific learning outcomes within Facebook has documented the perceived effects of these informal learning environments. Kabilan, et al. (2010) found that Malaysian students believed that Facebook could be used to help facilitate their communication and writing skills, improve their writing confidence and make the English learning process more fun.
E–tools are increasingly being adopted in formal learning settings, often used by instructors and students to build a community of learners and encourage collaborative learners (e.g., Lockyer and Patterson, 2008; Trinder, et al., 2008). Integrating social technologies into formal and informal learning environments is not without its difficulties, however (see Margaryan, et al., 2008). Learners as well as instructors often lack the skills, such as digital literacy and technical knowledge, to make full use of online technologies, such as wikis, search engines, and media sites, for learning (Luckin, et al., 2009). Moreover, many students are reluctant to view social networks as a formal learning tool (Madge, et al., 2009). Much of this research suggests that instructors play a key role in guiding students’ use of Web 2.0 tools in educational settings.
Students’ level of involvement with Facebook may also increase the likelihood of them using it as a learning community. Lampe, et al. (2011) found that students’ level of Facebook intensity predicted their increased likelihood to use it to collaborate on schoolwork. It is posited that increased time spent and a greater number of friends on Facebook may provide more collaborative opportunities and increased skills using Facebook may allow these students to envision uses that extend beyond the social. An instructor’s Facebook presence could also play a role in collaboration. Lampe, et al. (2011) found a significant predictive relationship between the likelihood of viewing an instructor’s profile and contacting the instructor through Facebook to an increased likelihood of collaboration. Students who attempted help through Facebook from a teaching assistant had an increased likelihood of “positive collaboration” (e.g., discussing class, organizing a group project, etc.) (Lampe, et al., 2011).
Twenty–first century literacies
In its simplest form, literacy involves the ability to read, write, and communicate effectively. As digital technology has developed, the conceptualization of literacy has formed into “new literacies,” including twenty–first century literacy, digital literacy, Internet literacy, information literacy, new media literacy, multiliteracies, ICT literacy, and computer literacy (Coiro, et al., 2008). For example, digital literacy includes the ability to use digital media such as the Internet, blogs, and SNS. Multiliteracy includes the ability to communicate across many cultures and languages as well as to converse in text, sounds, and images (Cope and Kalantis, 2000; New London Group, 1996). We draw on one school of thought, particularly the notion that literacy includes six interrelated types of “21st century survival literacies”: “Basic or Core Functional Literacy” (e.g., read, write, and arithmetic), “Computer Literacy”, “Media Literacy”, “Distance Education and E-learning”, “Cultural Literacy” and “Information Literacy” . As this list indicates, literacy practices are moving well beyond the printed medium to embrace the digital realm. In today’s world, being literate means more than just being able to read and write; we also need to know how to effectively navigate and find information online, operate a computer, appreciate media’s cultural role, use the digital medium for learning, manage online identity(s), communicate online, understand online social norms, and collaborate (Horton, 2008). Information literacy is an “essential learning outcome” of higher education (Association of American Colleges and Universities, 2007) and as such, educators need to integrate activities that help achieve this goal. Educational uses of SNS can help students develop these literacies.
Empirical evidence supports that students learn literacy skills within SNS. In a study examining older teens use of MySpace, Greenhow and Robelia (2009b) found that subjects were developing competencies in technology, creativity and communication through their use of MySpace. Specifically, creativity translated to “social currency”, students were more conscious of what and how they were writing, and they found unique ways of communicating through pictures, music, emoticons and IM/texting slang. Furthermore, these students were aware of differentiating their communication based on the audience and their writing practices (i.e., editing, proofreading, and stylistic choices) were similar to those advocated in schools. Students, however, were not aware that they were gaining literacy competencies (Greenhow and Robelia, 2009b).
Students also need to learn how to professionally use SNS as it continues to be integrated into all parts of our lives. Students should be able to recognize that there needs to be a division of one’s personal and professional identity online and find ways to protect and manage their digital selves. Moreover, students also need to appreciate the potential role that social network sites can play in the job hiring process. To illustrate, a 2009 CareerBuilder survey of managers and HR employees, found that 45 percent of employers are using SNS to research job applicants and 35 percent of surveyed employers did not hire someone based on content found on a SNS (CareerBuilder, 2009). Thus, “e–professionalism” needs to be integrated into the new literacy landscape (Cain, 2008; Gilman, 2009).
Educational uses for SNS have critics among faculty and students (Hewitt and Forte, 2006; Lipka, 2007; Madge, et al., 2009; Robyler, et al., 2010; Selwyn, 2009). Privacy, safety, and the erosion of professional boundaries are some of the primary reasons cited to not use SNS in the classroom (Cain, 2008; Griffith and Liyanage, 2008; Hewitt and Forte, 2006). Additional issues such as administrative blocking access and an incomplete adoption rate are other hurdles facing instructors. This section explores each of these issues and addresses some of the perceived and actual problems using this medium. Specific strategies on how to address some of these issues will be discussed in a later section of this paper.
Erosion of professional boundaries
The ability to broadcast personal information, thoughts, and online behavior is one of the reasons why SNS are so appealing. Yet, this same ability can also be detrimental to the teacher/student relationship. The social network environment makes it easy to accidentally share information to an unintended audience. For instance, there are numerous examples of students being reprimanded and suspended because of unprofessional and sometimes illegal activities (i.e., underage drinking and vandalism) displayed through personal comments, profile information, and photographs posted on SNS (Lipka, 2007; Sarrio and Bazar, 2010). Unfortunately, educators have also broadcast negative comments about their students, schools, and colleagues via SNS and have faced similar consequences (Young, 2009).
An additional problem facing instructors who use Facebook is whether or not to “friend” a student (Lipka, 2007). Facebook utilizes the term “friend” to indicate a social connection between two people. The word “friend” and the obvious connotations that it traditionally evokes are not appropriate for most student–teacher relationships. However, “friending” someone on Facebook is not the equivalent of establishing a real–life friendship (boyd 2006; Dwyer, et al., 2007; Golder, et al., 2008; Jones, et al., 2008). Salaway, et al. (2008) found that 28.4 percent of undergraduate students had more than 300 “friends” in these SNS. Yet, most communication on Facebook only occurs within a small portion of “friends” listed on an overall friends list. One study reported only 15.1 percent of “friend pairs” exchanged messages (Golder, et al., 2008). Even though friendship in the context of Facebook is different, “friending” or initiating a friend request to a student may be crossing a professional boundary. To illustrate, 29 percent of students indicated that they would be uncomfortable if an instructor requested them as a friend (Towner and Muñoz, 2011). Dahlstrom, et al. (2011) found 39 percent of students surveyed thought that it would be inappropriate to “friend” a professor. Students were also more suspicious and irritated with a friend request from a “worst” professor or an unknown professor compared to their mother or boss (Karl and Pelluchette, 2011).
Lastly, some individuals feel that Facebook does not serve an academic purpose, that it should remain a social space free from authority figures (Charnigo and Barnet–Ellis, 2007; Selwyn, 2009). To capture this perceived invasion into the social digital world by adults, the term “creepy treehouse” was developed. Creepy treehouse, in the context of online education, is creating a virtual coercive space with “the intention to lure kids in”. This space ultimately repulses students (Stein, 2008; Young, 2008). However, Facebook is no longer a “playground” limited to youth alone; thus, Facebook is not just for “kids”.
Privacy and safety
Facebook profile pages contain an immense amount of personal information (Acquisti and Gross, 2006; Dwyer, et al., 2007; Ellison, et al., 2007; Gross and Acquisti, 2005; Lampe, et al., 2006; Stutzman, 2006, 2008; Thelwall, 2008; Tufekci, 2008). It is believed that this outpouring of identifiable information and the easy communication vehicle that SNS provides opens the door to sexual predators, cyberbullying and cyberstalking (Gross and Acquisti, 2005). However, online risks for minors “are in most cases not significantly different than those they face offline” . In fact, only a relatively small percentage of tween and teen students have encountered “unsafe” online situations while using SNS (NSBA, 2007). Yet, risks do exist and of particular concern is harassment and cyberbullying (Internet Safety Task Force, 2008). A recent Pew Internet & American Life Project study found that 20 percent of teens using social media “say that peers are mostly unkind” on social network sites, compared to only five percent of adults (18 years and older using social media). Furthermore, 15 percent of teens and 13 percent of adults using social media have experienced “online meanness” in the last year. While most social media using teens (69 percent) and adults (85 percent) believe that “people are mostly kind to one another on social network sites” (Lenhart, et al., 2011), the issue of online harassment is something that still needs to be safeguarded against in the classroom.
Other privacy related concerns have related to authority figures viewing unprofessional behavior and images posted on Facebook that have led to school suspensions and expulsions, job firings, and disciplinary actions for drug/alcohol abuse. Students are increasingly becoming more cognizant of the importance of protecting their personal information. One survey revealed that 54 percent of undergraduates were “at least moderately concerned” about their personal information being “misused”. Females and older students, compared to other groups, are more concerned about privacy and safety issues (Salaway, et al., 2008).
As a result of these concerns, students are increasing their efforts to protect their personal information. Numbers on how many students have publicly visible profile information vary between studies (Gross and Acquisti, 2005; Stutzman, 2008; Tufekci, 2008), with more recent studies having much higher usage rates of privacy settings. Most recently, Smith, et al. (2010) found that approximately half the sample put “a lot of restrictions” on their profile and only seven percent had not used any restrictions. Undergraduates are also limiting access to their profile to groups of individuals within their network (Stutzman, 2007). Women, students whose friends and roommates have used privacy settings, and individuals who actively changed their profile are more likely to use privacy settings (Lewis, et al., 2008). Smith, et al. (2010) also found that women were more likely to put restrictions on their profiles compared to men. In addition, students who more frequently used Facebook were more likely to adjust their privacy settings (boyd and Hargittai, 2010). While increasing privacy settings is good news, there are still a significant number of users not utilizing privacy tools or appropriately implementing them.
A small number of colleges have banned or restricted the use of Facebook and other SNS on school property or on school related Facebook groups. Computer security issues, such as viruses, spam, and distributing confidential information, were explained as some of the reasons behind limiting Facebook access in higher education (Curatolo, 2008). Other problems encountered with SNS at universities include causing congestion in the computer lab, taking up too much bandwidth, and posting material that is not flattering to an institution (Knox, 2009). Anecdotally, it appears that relatively few institutions have created formal policies on how to deal with Facebook and SNS in general, let alone for specific educational purposes. However, there is a growing interest in creating policies and guidelines regarding social media usage on campus (Junco, 2011). Despite this lack of formal instruction on SNS/Facebook, instructors need to make sure that they follow and are consistent with educational policies (e.g., Family Education Rights and Privacy Act regulations) that are in place.
Incomplete adoption rate
Despite Facebook’s high adoption rate in the college community, there remain some individuals who have not signed up for or no longer use Facebook. The most popular reasons cited for not adopting SNS include lack of interest; they simply do not like it; too busy; no Internet access; and, a lack of technological skills (Salaway, et al., 2008; Raacke and Bonds–Raacke, 2008). Thus, an instructor will rarely have every student in their class use, or want to use, Facebook for educational proposes. Schroeder and Greenbowe (2009) reported an adoption rate of only 41 percent when formally implementing Facebook in their class. There is also evidence of demographic differences in SNS’ adoption rates. For example, Hargittai (2007) found that Hispanics were less likely to use Facebook compared to white non–Hispanics. Among teenagers using social media, Lenhart, et al. (2011) also reported that whites (96 percent) had higher adoption rates of Facebook compared to blacks (87 percent) or Latinos (88 percent). Facebook adoption rates were also higher for students whose parents had a college degree (Hargittai, 2007) or some college experience (Lenhart, et al., 2011).
Implementation of Facebook in the college classroom
The following discussion provides an overview of the different types of course integration options available to instructors. As a general policy, we believe that instructors should not make Facebook use mandatory for a class. Instead, Facebook integration should be viewed as an optional, supplementary tool that complements traditional online (i.e., course management systems) and off–line resources and discussions. That is, Facebook should not be “forced” on students, as many students are hesitant to use Facebook as a tool for academic work (Madge, et al., 2009; Towner and Muñoz, 2011). However, Towner and Muñoz (2011) noted that students are open to using Facebook for formal teaching and learning purposes, such as class announcements and administrative arrangements. Therefore, the proposed levels of course integration discussed below serve to support both informal learning through easier access to students in the class and limited formal learning through increased access to the instructor, classroom materials, and class discussion.
Levels of course integration
Once a Facebook profile is created at www.facebook.com, there are many ways it can be integrated into a course. The list below provides an overview of four different ways that Facebook can be used in your class. The profile page is the simplest option to implement, whereas the integration of Facebook applications (in conjunction with the other methods discussed) is the most comprehensive.
1) Profile page: The profile page is where instructors can add information about themselves, such as favorite music or books, educational group, professional contact information, and a photo, to share with students. Instructors can decide how much information to provide on their profile page, which can be changed or removed at any time. For educational purposes, the profile page can be used in a number of ways to communicate with students and post class materials (see Table 1 for an overview). Instructors are notified, via an e–mail message, if students post or respond to information on the “Wall”. Anything that is posted on the “Wall” becomes visible to anyone with the ability to view your profile.
Table 1: Facebook features: Definitions and educational uses. Feature Definition Educational use Messaging Messaging is internal Facebook e–mail. Privately communicate with students. Chat “Chat” is similar to instant messaging. Privately communicate with a student in real–time. Instructors can hold virtual office hours using “Chat.” Wall The “Wall” is a public writing space. It is the most visible communication feature.
Post relevant articles, videos, Web sites, photos, announcements, and upcoming events.
Students can respond by commenting or “liking” a posting.
Students can contact you directly on the “Wall” and questions can be publically answered.
Students can answer each others’ questions.
Events The “Events” function allows the organization of social gatherings or parties. Event reminders are visible on the “Wall” and “News Feed.” Remind students about exam dates, meetings, campus speakers, and study sessions. Notes “Notes” is a blogging tool.
Instructors and students can write comments and respond to reading materials, current events, assignments, class activities and study guides.
Instructors can “tag” students in the Note to solicit comments.
Instructors with external blogs can use the RSS feed to automatically import their blogs to be posted as Facebook “Notes.”
News Feed The “News Feed” reports what’s happening in your social circles on Facebook. That is, anything that is posted on your “Wall” becomes visible on your “News Feed.” Make course–related announcements and remind students about posted “Events.”
2) Creating a course group: Instructors can also create a separate group on Facebook specifically for a course. To begin creating a course group, designate a course group name, upload a group profile image, specify additional group settings, and add students to the group. Students must be your friend to be invited to the course group. There is no permission step when a current member adds a friend to the group. Instructors can also add teaching assistants and graduate assistants as members by making them administrators. Administrators are given editing privileges. By default, groups are “closed,” meaning that content is only visible to group members; however, the group name, description, events, and members are visible to everyone. Instructors must create a “secret” group to have the group name, content, and members unlisted.
Once the course group is created, instructors can tailor the group toward a particular course. Each group has its own profile site that includes a group description, a membership list, a “Wall,” and toolbar allowing you to share posts, links, photos, videos, events, and documents. These features are similar the profile page and function in the same way. Instructors and students can communicate using two methods: the “Wall” or group chat. When any member posts on the group’s “Wall,” everyone in the group will receive a notification (via e–mail) about the post. Group chat allows instructors and students to communicate with everyone in the group who is currently online. For instructors and students, the course group functions as an organizational platform and provides a central location for course material. For example, groups offer a “Docs” tab, which allows members to compose a collaborative text document. That is, any member can create, edit, and save the document, much like a wiki. Moreover, students can virtually find other classmates through the course group, allowing them to communicate with peers, set up study groups, and collaborate on assignments.
3) Creating a page or public profile: Instructors can also create a separate “Fan Page” for a specific course. In some ways, a Page is similar to a Facebook group. A Page includes a discussion board, a “Wall”, video, photo, and Web link posting, and related event creation. Pages do function differently than Facebook groups, however. First, students do not have to be your friend to join (or “like”) the Page. Second, Pages are visible to the public and cannot be “closed” or “secret.” Third, Pages offer unique features, such as a discussion board. Under the “Discussions” tab, instructors can post a current event question or a topic from the week’s readings. Students can post their own discussion board topics, starting discussions amongst themselves or replying to your discussion topic. Similar to discussion boards in common courseware, the board generates a threaded virtual paper trail in which students can read and respond. Other Page features include the ability to download applications and add blog posts; however, Pages do not offer chat or a Docs tab.
Facebook applications: There are a number of useful applications that expand the functionality of Facebook for educational purposes. Facebook applications are optional programs that users can add to their profiles or Pages to interact with friends. Some popular applications for educational purposes are “Courses 2.0,” “Courses,” “Super Courses,” “Course Hero,” “Weekly Schedule,” “Blackboard Learn,” “CourseFeed,” “Podclass,” and “SlideShare.” These applications allow students to manage and share their class schedule, meet other students in their classes, form study groups, collaborate on projects, and upload and share files. Using these applications, however, requires instructors and students to download them onto their Facebook page. Moreover, the courseware applications synced with Facebook, such as “Blackboard Learn,” not only require download, but also permission from the institution. Furthermore, for some instructors and students, downloading applications might not be ideal, as application developers can access your personal information once the application is downloaded (see Facebook’s “Terms of Service” for applications).
Facebook applications can also be used as learning tools and course activities. For example, “Flashcards” allows students to create flash cards on Facebook for studying, “JSTOR Search” helps find full text research articles on Facebook, and “Study Groups” helps students collaborate on a project. Instructors can also download applications and invite students to use the application to facilitate learning. A majority of applications are for entertainment and fun. Thus, an application’s pedagogical value should be assessed before including it in the course. If existing applications do not suit your course needs, instructors can create their own applications. (For instruction on building Facebook applications, see Feiler, 2008; Gerakines, 2008; Wagner, 2008). In fact, many institutions have created applications for student use, offering quick library access, a student job listing, the latest campus news, and alumni connections.
Overcoming Facebook’s infrastructure hurdles
Facebook provides many useful tools that can be used to create a collaborative learning community in order to engage students and provide students with information. Facebook, however, has three major infrastructure obstacles when integrated into an educational environment: privacy, posting documents, and lack of student assessment tools.
Facebook is capable of publicizing highly personal data to users; thus, it is important that instructors and students know how to privatize and secure information. Facebook privacy settings provide a variety of methods that each user can adjust to fit their needs. Users should explore the privacy options in the “Privacy Settings” in the upper toolbar of their Facebook profile under “Settings.” Here, individuals can block certain users from viewing their account, limit who is able to see profile information, control the activity that appears in the “Wall” and “News Feed,” and restrict applications from accessing personal information. To protect personal privacy, instructors should create an additional Facebook profile for professional use only. According to Facebook’s “Terms of Service,” however, Facebook only allows one profile per individual. Yet, many users of SNS maintain multiple profiles (see Lenhart, 2009). The professional profile should be entirely separate to the social or personal profile, where privacy settings need to be implemented. If instructors do not want to maintain multiple profiles, they can also create “Friend Lists,” separating groups of Facebook friends. Instructors can apply different privacy policies for each group, such as blocking social photos from the professional friends’ (or students’) view.
It is difficult to post documents, such as PDF files, Word documents, Excel files, and PowerPoint presentations, on Facebook. Instructors must link students to these files by using Google Docs or by downloading a file–sharing application. Google Docs is a free account that allows registered users to create, edit, and share online documents with students. Course documents can be posted as a link on the “Wall” when using a group, profile, or Page. Facebook groups offer a “Docs” feature, but the document must be created, edited, and saved in Facebook. Some popular Facebook applications for file–sharing purposes are “Workspaces,” “GoDaddy.com File Folder,” “Share Files (FilesAnywhere),” “Ayos iShare,” “Zoho Online Office,” and “Slideshare.” These Facebook applications offer free and secure storage space for files, editing and organizational tools, and many ways to share files with students.
Facebook does not offer student assessment tools, such as tracking or automatic grading, or an online grade book. Quizzes, assignments, and exams can be administered on Facebook via document sharing applications (e.g., “My Documents” or “GoDaddy.com File”) or Google Docs, but they must be submitted to the instructor and returned to the student in hard copy or by e–mail attachment. At the time of writing, Facebook does not have controls for securely communicating grades or other sensitive information with individual students. Student grades should never be posted publicly on Facebook. Furthermore, Facebook does not offer a tracking tool that instructors can use to evaluate student usage, such as number of posts, course hits, and content viewing. When using Facebook, instructors can only “track” students by their postings on the profile page and course group. However, Facebook has created an “Insights” tools that does allow usage tracking on the Facebook “Fan” Page.
Overcoming Facebook’s pedagogy hurdles
Instructors who wish to integrate Facebook into their courses, need to consider carefully how they will use Facebook. Academic discipline, class culture and size, and the course’s overall goals will dictate how it is integrated into the course. Instructors seeking to only use Facebook as a class communication tool and discussion forum should use the simplest option to implement, the profile page, whereas those using Facebook to distribute course material, assignments, and activities should use a course group, Page, or applications. In addition, instructors must decide if a purely professional profile, separate from their social or personal profile, is appropriate for how they intend to use Facebook. For instance, we recommend a dedicated professional Facebook profile for those fully integrating Facebook into their course. A profile used for both instructional and social purposes can erode professional boundaries between instructor and student, particularly when unintended information is shared.
Before using Facebook in a course, an instructor should create their professional profile and “Friend Lists” with the proper privacy settings. The professional profile should allow students to learn about an instructor on a personal level, so it is important to include a few photos, post items or Web links, or list favorite quotes along with professional information. While these tidbits of personal information can lead to positive teacher–student interactions, it is important to maintain a level of professionalism that does not cross the boundary of the teaching–student relationship. For instance, instructors should carefully screen personal photos and items they post to their profile. In addition, instructors should refrain from talking about their students, other teachers, administrators, and their institution on Facebook regardless of whether they are professionally or socially using Facebook.
Instructors must inform students that they are using Facebook in their course. In general, it is not recommended that instructors invite students as their friends on Facebook, as students may perceive this as an invasion of privacy as well as intimidating. Instructors should develop a universal policy on student “friending” (i.e., accept all friend requests from students, etc.). For instructors using a professional profile page, we suggest keeping the profile “open” to the public rather than “private.” This allows students to comfortably peruse an instructor’s profile without asking the instructor to be their friend. Then, instructors can simply list the Web link to their Facebook profile in their course syllabus, e–mail signatures, or other course management software. In addition, instructors can simply display their Facebook profile during class, inviting students to look at their profile. It is also recommended that instructors mention that they will not be viewing their students’ profiles and encourage students to designate them on a “Friend List” with strict privacy policies to avoid exposure to a student’s content and activities. Students can also choose to “block” an instructor from seeing their profile through privacy settings.
An instructor’s course group and Page should also be widely advertised to students as a course tool. Similar to the profile page, the link to the course group and Page should be listed on course material, shown in class, and linked within the course management software. To protect student privacy, instructors should not include the section number or meeting time anywhere in the course group or Page. Instructors using a course group have the option of making it “open,” “closed,” or “secret.” It is recommended that instructors keep their course group “secret,” as the group name, content, and membership list will only be visible to group members. Instructors are unable to approve or decline requests to join the group, as there is no permission step when a current group member adds a friend. Thus, some members may not be registered for the course. Instructors can remove and permanently ban members from the group, but only after they are a group member. It is also difficult to control access to a Page, as any Facebook user can become a “fan.” Unlike groups, Pages cannot be “closed” or “secret.” As a result, some “fans” may not be registered for the course, but, similar to groups, “fans” can be removed and banned. Furthermore, any material posted on the Page will become publicly available. Instructors should use caution when posting original course content. Overall, Pages do have more functions than course groups, however, course groups are recommended for instructors seeking to create a private, class community. Unfortunately, Facebook has recently implemented design changes that greatly limit the educational value of groups (e.g., removal of discussion boards and forcing students to friend instructors to be able to join the group). This has occurred despite Facebook’s growing encouragement of using Facebook in education (Facebook, 2011b). Thus, a page is now a better overall option; however, an instructor is limited by its lack of privacy.
To use Facebook applications effectively, instructors must notify students of the applications that they need to install on their Facebook profile. It is best to use a common course application, such as “Courses” or “Podclass,” and a file–sharing application, such as “My Documents.” The applications can be listed in the course syllabus along with instructions on how to download and install. When using applications to facilitate learning, such as “Nations,” instructors should indicate the application’s purpose and objective either in the course syllabus or on Facebook.
Instructors should also teach students how to be good Facebook users by encouraging privacy settings and “netiquette rules.” When introducing Facebook to the class, the instructor should demonstrate how to use the privacy settings and illustrate how students can block them. Next, to curb inappropriate behavior on your Facebook profile page or course group, clear “netiquette” policies should be in place. With “netiquette” policies, students will know what behaviors and interactions are expected on the “Wall” and discussion board. In addition, it would also be beneficial to discuss with students the potential ramifications, outside of education, of unprofessional Facebook/SNS activity (i.e., losing a job, not getting hired, etc.).
It is essential for instructors to be organized and consistent when making announcements and posting course material on Facebook. There are many sections on Facebook where information can be posted, which can become difficult for students to find and digest if not arranged properly. This is particularly true when using the profile page for courses as information can be easily “scattered.” For example, instructors using their profile page should post weekly announcements and course content only on their “Wall” and exam dates and assignment due dates should be advertised on “Events.” “Notes” can be reserved for more permanent course content, such as study questions or chapter outlines. Instructors posting large amounts of original material, such as discussion questions or online activities, should archive these files on their computer for future reference.
At the semester’s end, instructors should close out Facebook for their course. For instructors using their profile page, class related “Events” and “Notes” should be deleted. If instructors want to limit former student access to their profile, they can “defriend” students or place students in a designated “Friend List” with limited profile viewing. For instructors using a course group, students can be removed at the end of the semester. The latter is the most ideal for instructors seeking to archive course material on their course group and then reuse it again in another semester or term. A course group can be deleted completely be removing all group members and administrators. To maintain a good instructor–student relationship, instructors who “defriend” or remove students from a course group should send a message to students explaining why they are being removed. Instructors using Pages should delete “Events,” “Notes,” and “Discussion Board” postings. Instructors should also remove students from the Page. Finally, Facebook applications for managing and organizing the course, such as “Courses” or “Courses 2.0,” should be updated prior to the beginning of a new semester.
This paper demonstrated how SNS can be used effectively and appropriately within college classroom setting. At present, many of our fellow educators and some students are reluctant to acknowledge educational uses of Facebook. Some of the resistance to using SNS in education is simply because it is a new idea in uncharted territory. Social norms and procedures, such as those we have set forward, need to be established and refined. Some students are also unaware of the academic potential of SNS (Greenhow and Robelia, 2009b) and are reluctant to use them as a formal learning tool (Madge, et al., 2009; Towner and Muñoz, 2011). They view SNS primarily as a socializing agent, opposed to an opportunity to share information, collaborate, and learn about one’s peers and instructors. Students need to be instructed, through example, on the many uses of SNS and the importance of professionalism in this environment. Both teachers and students need to recognize and appreciate the many learning related benefits of SNS use in an academic setting.
Using SNS in education practices should not be seen as a complete replacement to traditional learning systems (i.e., Blackboard) (Dalsgaard, 2008). Instead, it should be viewed as an optional, supplementary tool that will hopefully enhance their classroom experience (Towner and Muñoz, in press). The ability to quickly learn about one’s peer via a Facebook profile and perhaps engage them online or off–line, is uniquely important to higher education students, where students often enter a class not knowing anyone else enrolled or enroll in a hybrid/distance learning class where socializing opportunities are hindered. The traditional classroom experience, especially in large courses, often does not lend itself to establishing classroom transparency or a genuine, collaborative learning community. Facebook can help to bridge this gap.
Limited empirical research has explored the relationship between SNS and education. Future research on social networking and education needs to empirically establish whether and how SNS is impacting student learning, comprehension, class participation and a sense of community. We contend that the advantages of SNS use in the classroom outweigh the disadvantages. In time, students and instructors will become more accepting and appreciative of its educational use.
About the authors
Caroline Lego Muñoz is an Associate Professor of Marketing at Fairleigh Dickinson University (College at Florham). At FDU she teaches Principles of Marketing, Consumer Behavior, Marketing Research, and Internet and Direct Marketing. Dr. Muñoz’s area of specialization is consumer behavior. Specifically, her research interests include marketing pedagogies, social network sites, themed environments, and cross–cultural consumer issues.
E–mail: munoz [at] fdu [dot] edu
Terri Towner is is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Oakland University in Michigan where she teaches courses in American politics, public opinion, political behavior, and quantitative methodology. Dr. Towner’s research focuses on the influence of new media on political attitudes, the role of race and ethnicity in politics, attitudes toward the Iraq War, and the pedagogical value of social networks. For more information on her work, see https://sites.google.com/site/drterritowner/.
E–mail: towner [at] oakland [dot] edu
An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 2009 SITE Conference in Charleston, South Carolina. We would like to thank the panel participants for their constructive input.
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Received 5 April 2011; accepted 4 September 2011; revised 22 November 2011.
Copyright © 2011, First Monday.
Copyright © 2011, Caroline Lego Muñoz and Terri Towner.
Back to the “wall”: How to use Facebook in the college classroom
by Caroline Lego Muñoz and Terri Towner.
First Monday, Volume 16, Number 12 - 5 December 2011