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Facebook is a social networking Web site developed in February 2004 by 19-year-old Harvard student Mark Zuckerburg along with fellow classmates Eduardo Saverin, Dustin Moskovitz and Chris Hughes. The site is free for anyone to join and though it began as a community for mainly college and university students, it has grown to about 500 million users worldwide as of July 2010.

Facebook was originally created with the functionality of connecting with classmates to form study groups. Students would enter in their course information and be able to link to and communicate with students in similar courses. The technology then evolved to include more and more information, making it an all-encompassing hub of social information.

This social networking phenomenon has been so far-reaching that the story of the conception of Facebook has been turned into a major motion picture. Released on October 1, 2010, The Social Network offers an appropriately foreboding subtitle: You Don't Get To 500 Million Friends Without Making A Few Enemies. Ironically, only a little over 130,000 Facebook users "Like" this movie!

Today on Facebook users can connect with other people and share information and updates. Users can post personal pictures, send messages, chat, publish notes, update current activities, thoughts and experiences through a 'status', share news by posting links, etc. To become a member of Facebook one must be at least 13 years of age and have an e-mail account.

As an educational tool Facebook can be used to organize meetings, share updates on a need-to-know basis, and can allow entire classrooms to 'friend' each other to help foster a community. All of this can be done through the creation of a 'course group', which can be created by the instructor who can then invite students to join. The course group can then be used to upload important information, announcements, reminders, and discussion topics for all to participate in. From a non-traditional academic perspective, Facebook can be used to discuss interesting topics among peers and teach each other new things about areas of interest. If we take education even further to mean the general sharing of information among others, Facebook can be a very useful tool in providing updates and current information about events, people or other areas of interest.

Another way to use Facebook as a learning tool is through the use of applications. An application is any kind of tool that has been created by a user for the entertainment or benefit of another. Apps that can be used for educational purposes include math games, flashcards, foreign language apps, mind games like concentration and soduko, and many others.

For more information and for help to set up a course group, watch the video below!

Related Theory

Using Facebook as an educational tool can be best linked with the Constructivism Theory of learning. This is mainly due to the collaborative nature behind Facebook and that knowledge from one user can impact another. Without being able to draw on experience and prior knowledge there would be nothing to share on Facebook and would be void of a purpose. A class activity might work well on Facebook because students will be allowed the chance to build upon other's thoughts by commenting and leaving suggestions and/or questions.

Facebook also supports the Communities of Practice Learning Theory by Lave and Wegner. This theory states "groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly." It argues that learning is not necessarily intentional and can result from the interaction among others in a community. Three components are required for this theory:

  1. The domain - this is a shared domain of interest. This is a network of people, not just a group of friends. Commitment to a domain is established through membership.
  2. The community - members of the domain must interact and engage in shared activities, help each other and share information with each other. They build relationships and learn from each other. Members may not work together daily, but interactions on a regular basis enable them to share information and learn from each other.
  3. The practice - the members of the community must be practitioners and develop a shared repertoire of resources which may include stories, helpful tools, experiences, ways of handling typical problems or any other additional products of interaction. Informal conversation held by others that are experts int he same area does not necessarily constitute a Community of Practice. Communities develop through practice utilizing a variety of different methods including problem solving, requests for information, seeking experiences of others, reusing assets, coordination and synergy, discussing developments, visiting other members, mapping knowledge and identifying gaps.

This theory also argues that an individual constructs their identity through interaction in social communities. People continue to modify their identity through engaging in and contributing to the practices of their communities. When utilizing Facebook, many users engage as members of Communities of Practice. By joining groups and organizations, they are affirming membership within a community based on a domain. Within that online community, they engage in practice by interacting with other users about the topic of interest. This social interaction fosters learning through the shared information among individuals of the Community of Practice.

halo.pngLike most technology-related tool and techniques, Facebook can also be used within a Cognitivistic Learning Environment. For example, after a class has studied the unique aspects of another culture, the teacher can ask the students to Facebook what they do throughout the day that may reflect our culture. This exercise can be particularly fun and informative as we typically think of culture as being something other people have. It is an exercise in cognitivism as the students have received previous sensory input and been given a chance to develop a schema around it. Now, they are asked to retrieve and use that information in another application. The advantage of using Facebook is that students can communicate in real time, as they are doing what is culturally unique - even if that means admitting they spent four hours playing Halo Reach with their online band of bothers.

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Creating a Learning Community. Facebook can be a very beneficial tool in creating an online learning community. As most social networking sites do, Facebook connects users to each other and provides a common forum for them to communicate.

Connecting to varying types of educational technology. Facebook allows users to sync their profile with a variety of hardware and software technologies. Moreover, Facebook can be used in combination with other technology-enhanced educational strategies. Most notably, Facebook is an Internet-based application, and is therefore well suited to guide and encourage students as the use the Internet for class projects or conduct Webquests. It can also prompt students to revisit their Online Courseware, where applicable, if the instructor has made any changes or wishes to reinforce any important point(s) in course objects.

android-logo.jpgTrue Interconnectivity. Used in combination with a handheld G3 or newer mobile phone, i.e. a smart phone, Facebook offers a real-time tool to stay connected to your students. For teachers and students with smart phones, Facebook is not only completely portable, it can be configured to prompt each user when a new News Feed posting has been published. The Facebook app is available on both the Apple iPhone and Google Android platforms.

Development of 21st century skills we want students to develop. In a study on social networking sites for education: "What we found was that students using social networking sites are actually practicing the kinds of 21st century skills we want them to develop to be successful today," said Christine Greenhow, a learning technologies researcher in the university's College of Education and Human Development and principal investigator of the study. "Students are developing a positive attitude towards using technology systems, editing and customizing content and thinking about online design and layout. They're also sharing creative original work like poetry and film and practicing safe and responsible use of information and technology. The Web sites offer tremendous educational potential."
Two real-life case studies illustrate added benefits of Facebook in education.

Buffelgrass001.250a.jpgExample One: Buffelgrass Shall Perish

To say the Buffelgrass Shall Perish fan page is the mastermind of Tucson teacher, Brian Kievit would be inaccurate according to the enthusiastic middle school science teacher. It was, he admits with a smile via Skype, “one-hundred percent student created.” In true problem-based learning format, the science teacher asked a group of eighth graders at his school to pick a problem in their local community and solve it. They picked Buffelgrass, that fast-growing, flame resistant menace which is cheaply imported by some states (listen up Texas!) as inexpensive erosion control and cattle feed. But, like something out of a B-horror film, it devours the natural habitat, stealing water and sucking the nutrients from the ecosystem, and has a shelf life seemingly longer than a Twinkie. In other words, after we’re dead and gone, it will be Twinkies, cockroaches, and Buffelgrass left behind. But once the students had discovered the plague-like weed, they weren’t sure how to spread the word of its horrors. One student declared that they “needed to get the word out.” After all, “knowledge is power.” Which was when they decided to create a Facebook page devoted to the threat. They soon posted a a rap song on YouTube and using Facebook, the small group of grime fighters update on their progress in educating the nation about this ground cover of evil. Brian Kievit‘s project was all about student choice, the scientific method, and getting the word out to different states -- courtesy of a little 21st century know-how. In so doing, he created a learning community, and nurtured what many teachers scratch their heads to achieve: students who love the learning process. Using the social networking tools of our age, this one Tucson teacher and his small group of students began to educate politicians, farmers, and Facebook fans like me. Using 21st century tools, they have become advocates for their own local community.

barack-obama.jpgExample Two: Teachers' Letters to Obama

And then there are those who are using Facebook to be advocates for their larger educational community. Anthony Cody began his Teachers’ Letters to Obama Facebook campaign as a personal outlet, a diary entry that soon grew into a movement. And as a result of that movement, twelve of us have been granted a conference call with Arne Duncan himself to discuss concerns and suggestions for Obama’s blueprint for revising the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Perhaps you’ve heard of the Teachers’ Letters to Obama campaign. Perhaps you’ve even submitted a letter. If you have, you should know that you’ve become a part of a chain that has led to Arne Duncan’s office itself. For from the time you added your thoughts to the discussion post, your drop in the puddle joined with others to create a pool of possibilities. What began as a discussion page for teachers to write their experiences, concerns, and suggestions, soon found their way to a congressman and bada-bing, bada-bang, a door opened and a conference call was scheduled between Duncan, Cody, and company -- a small panel of teachers representing all walks of education life from all over the country. The group doesn’t represent a particular political group, union stance, philosophy, or agenda. We come from different educational backgrounds and paths, from all regions and economic brackets. Some are award-winning teachers and some represent everything from rural to urban, from high performing to “failing” schools. In all, we are a slice of the teacher profession in a snapshot. But while twelve teachers will be speaking, it is almost 2,000 educators whose voices will be heard. And it’s all due to the use of 21st century tools. On Facebook, Cody sent out a survey using SurveyMonkey asking teachers to help whittle down the list of topics most frequently brought up on the Teachers’ Letters to Obama page to the ones they found to be the most important. The group formed a ning to help hone in on issues, to analyze the phrases from the ESEA blueprint together, and discuss the most innovative solutions from teachers in order to suggest to Duncan. They used Elluminate to meet each other on a virtual platform, planning this collaborative conversation with the secretary of education, bringing the voices of teachers to the policy table. Our discussion is waiting to be slated, and I assure you, Edutopia reader, that I will update you with its results.


  • One huge challenge teachers could deal with is how to maintain proper focus and time management while using a site that is meant for social networking and interaction.
  • Facebook is seen as a very big distraction by students at all grades levels because it is so easy to be sucked in to looking at friends' new pictures, playing a games on an application, updating one's own page, etc.
  • Students run the risk of very personal and private information getting into the wrong hands.
    • Facebook users are known to post sexually questionable images, photos that include drugs and alcohol, etc. that can be seen by people for whom it was not intended, like a teacher, coach or administrator. Language used by students on Facebook could give the wrong impression and develop tension in relationships as well.

Watch this news report about the possible negative repercussions about posting inappropriate material on Facebook:

Special Guidance

Because this medium has so many additional social uses, teachers must correctly guide students on how to utilize this medium for an educational purpose. There are many opportunities for distraction, therefore strict guidelines will be important. Another area that may require special guidance is screening information for accurate, valid information. Because much information can be user-generated, teachers must guide students and equip them with the capability to discern between different types of information and how to evaluate a valid source. Teachers should be careful to guide students to information that will be valuable to them and not cloud their minds with information that is not backed in researched and well-developed thought.
Teachers need also cautioned about their Facebook usage. Indeed, like e-mail and other digital media, there is permanence to everything that is posted on Facebook. In particular, teachers need to take care if they are users of Facebook in both personal and professional arenas. They should be aware that anything they may post on their "personal" Facebook page may - and probably will - somehow end up being available to their students. In well-published cases, teachers have even been fired for their inappropriate use of Facebook.

Current Research

There is some research that points to factors that could make Facebook dangerous for students and urges teachers to use caution.
  • Teachers should NOT make students their 'friends' on Facebook so as to maintain a professional relationship.
    • This is very contradictory to the ideas about how to use Facebook as an educational tool because teachers must be friends with students in order to facilitate groups, applications, and assignments.

Correlation Between Facebook Use and Lower Grades In College
How are students spending their time outside of class? A recent study shows that students that utilize Facebook earn lower grades than students that do not use Facebook.
Generation Facebook and Higher Education
A discussion of challenges faced by the educational institution as a result of a changing generation dependent on Facebook.

Lesson Ideas
A common assignment that teachers give to students is a research paper about an important person in history because it urges students to learn on their own, dig through information and synthesize it into a well written essay. Facebook can be used as an alternative to writing a paper by creating a fan page about their assigned person. There they can still post well written and length appropriate information but in the form of a biography using numbered facts. The students could also provide status updates for the topic or person the biography is about. For example, for George Washington, an appropriate status update could be: "Today, I signed the declaration of independence and helped make America a free nation along with my friends Benjamin Franklin and James Madison!" Students could post media images and videos that might be appropriate and help enhance the importance of the person like this picture:
Painting Depicting the Signers of the Constitution
Painting Depicting the Signers of the Constitution

Facebook can also be used is many course as a "mini blog" outlet. For example, as students complete their reading assignments, teachers can ask them to publish their thoughts. Given the cultural restrictions of this format - and the inherent value placed conciseness - students are both implicitly and explicitly encouraged to be brief and meaningful. To be sure, pithiness is highly valued Facebook. This can be very beneficial to students (as they not burdened by constructing elegant prose) and teachers (as they may get a clearer idea of what their students understand).

Teachers should set very specific guidelines on what to include like citation information, proper grammar, and length of information to ensure that students are putting in hard work and effort to help make a Facebook assignment legitimate and educational.


Facebook Applications for Educational Use
Additional applications for utilizing Facebook in the classroom.

Facebook in Education
A Facebook page dedicated to sharing educational facts and ideas.

Page Sources

Catallo, A.. (2010, September 13). Should teachers use social networking sites such as Facebook? Education,p. 13. Retrieved October 6, 2010, from ProQuest Education Journals. (Document ID: 2150782861).
"Educational Benefits Of Social Networking Sites Uncovered." Science Daily. 21 June 2008. Web. 7 Oct. 2010. <>