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Are you thinking of adding Facebook to your Web 2.0 tools?


As a teacher, coach or manager, you are probably wondering whether the world's biggest social networking service may be of use to you.   The big advantage of Facebook is that is easily takes an offline community to online.  The flexibility of social media is tempting, as it creates a unique opportunity for teachers, coaches and managers to establish communities of practice that support our students, players and employees.

There is no doubt the most popular social network application is Facebook (Hew, 2010). From your own experience you will know that managing a complex and varied interactions, with students, staff and players is demanding.  You can be forgiven for being keen to find an open, easy to use, and widely accepted online application to support your key functions, of design, assessment, facilitation and evaluation.  Facebook is the online application widely used by students, staff, and players.  It may be a tool to relieve some of the demands of managing interactions. But really, can Facebook facilitate an online community of practice?

What is an online Community of Practice?
A course, a programme or a project can easily be identified as a community of practice, (Ayling, 2010). Relationships between participants allow the domain, the community and the practice to develop and grow. The participants share commonality in their interests and passion for their activity or work. Moving to an online community of practice should bring together people who share and generate knowledge into a mutually supportive environment, (Misanchuk and Anderson, 2001). The online community is likely to be driven by individual members who desire to share experiences, knowledge and ideas. The unique aspect of the community is the way in which the members use the technology, and particularly how they engage with social networking services such as Facebook (Wenger, 2009). The real advantage is the opportunity for social interaction to support learning.

So what are the benefits of Facebook?
More recent research by Isacsson & Gretzel,  (2011) has demonstrated positive use of Facebook in support of collaborative learning projects.  Facebook illustrates the potential of social media in creating engaging learning environments. The study situates the theoretical discussion of the value of edutainment and the promise of social media to foster self-directed and social learning. The findings provide good foundations for the conceptualisation of social media use in education and practical implications for educators who would like to integrate social media in their teaching, coaching or managing.

Facebook provides the opportunity for engagement and collaboration in a wider learning community.  Interestingly, research indicates students are no more likely to engage in Facebook than they are with any other online learning tool (DeSchryer et al., 2009).    Participation will depend upon a clear articulation of the advantages of social networking services, training in appropriate behaviour, managing personal and professional self, and ensuring personal safety. Antoci and others  (2010) conclude that through both face-to-face encounters and online networking, the stock of the Internet's social capital will continue to increase. Educators have to decide whether they want to invest in the creation of this social capital.

What are the challenges in using Facebook in my work?
Reynard (2009) and Hayman (2009) have identified the key challenges in using social networking in educative environments. Hayman (2009) identified the greatest challenge to online communities is participant’s willingness to ‘present’ ideas publicly. In preparing participants for the online environment (Reynard, 2009) the teacher, coach or manager will need to ensure participants have the confidence, learner autonomy and collaborative learning skills to participate in any learning community. Everyone will need to have the same skill sets to fully participate and gain benefit from the community of practice.

What will I need to do to make this work?
Your role, if you are ready to accept it, will be to identify and foster the key skills for participation and collaboration in the online community of practice.   Following the ideas of Blogger, Marcia Connor (2008) you will need to foster skills including traditional literacy, research, technical skills, and critical analysis. You will need to encourage and develop your student's, players, and employee's skills, knowledge, ethical frameworks and self-confidence to participate in contemporary society, which includes an online community of practice.

Understanding why people participate online provides useful clues for the design and facilitation of the of your Facebook page. Kollock (1999)  and Noff (2008) have found motivations include:

  • Exchanging of information and ideas
  • Acknowledging of expertise or contribution
  • Supporting the community
  • Belonging to community
  • Sharing commitment to the community

From our reading a number of themes and issues have emerged that will need to be addressed and investigated if Facebook is to be used as an online support your activities.  These issues are complex and variable depending on the age, digital and foundational literacies of your participants.  The first issue is resistance to online social networking services. This resistance is based on a number of reservations and concerns including, privacy, appropriation of ideas and property (intellectual) and online based learning communities of practice.

The second issue is the presentation of online self, particularly the tension between private and public self. Included within this topic are concerns about digital and foundations literacies, and appropriateness of participation.  Teachers have genuine concerns about using Facebook in higher education. Roblyer et al. (2010) explain that “Unless this tendency changes and faculty perceive Facebook and its sister technologies, both current and those to come, as additional opportunities for educational communication and mentoring, SNSs (social networking services) may become yet another technology that had great potential for improving the experience but failed to be adopted enough to have any real impact.”  We hope that doesn't happen.

What are the big barriers to introducing Facebook in my work?
Everyone will share concerns about the use of Facebook. As Hewit and Forte (2006) explain students must balance the potential social gain with the relinquishing of some control over the presentation of self. Students mainly use Facebook to keep in touch with people they already know.  In an academic sense they use it to share lecture notes, ideas and to be informed of academic activity (Bosch, 2009).  Kolek and Saunders (2008) have found that Facebook is preferred by women and therefore, women are likely to be more receptive to use in education.  Lampe et al. (2006) report Facebook was used to keep in contact with friends from high school rather than make new connections in fields of study or profession.

Using Facebook to support learning will be a new use of a familiar tool for many participants.  Be sure, everyone will require training on netiquette for Facebook in a professional setting.  Facebook has the facility to create groups, so that professional contacts and personal contacts can be separated.  Participants will need training in creating and managing groups, so they can separate their personal and professional selves.

How do people use Facebook?
Christofides and others  (2009) report that students spend approx 40 minutes per day on Facebook. Not everyone will be willing or able to commit to Facebook on a daily basis. Facebook is likely to compete with other communication tools including email, intranets and websites.  Lewis and West (2009) have identified that students view Facebook as fun and not part of serious study or professional networking.  This may conflict with your expectations.  Madge et al., (2009) have found that students are beginning to acknowledge that Facebook could be used for learning purposes.  This behaviour tended to be initiated by the students themselves rather than teachers.  However, Ophus and Abbitt (2009) report that 85% of students have never used Facebook to communicate with an instructor.  Selwyn (2009) only 4% of postings relate to academic use. It is however, likely that students, players and employees will be more open to social networking services for  administration than learning purposes. You will need to decide which if any of these purposes suit you.  It could well be that Facebook enhances the administrative side of your activity but not the learning.

Christofides and others (2009) also  found Facebookers disclose more about themselves on Facebook than they do in casual conversation.  They post personal information such as photographs, birthdays, email addresses, hometowns and relationship status.  However, Lewis and West (2009) found that women are more likely to have private profiles than men.  Interestingly, Mazer et al., (2009) found that teachers who disclose more about themselves on Facebook to their students are more likely to be considered as trustworthy and caring than their counterparts.   That may be a good reason to get involved.

So there you are, a brief but up to date summary of where Facebook is placed in education and the creation of online communities of practice. We know a number of people are considering the move, and some have already made it. We would love to hear about your concerns, and your lessons learned from using Facebook to create online communities of practice.


Ako Aotearoa, (2010). Strategic elearning development at Unitec. Ako Aotearoa: National centre for tertiary teaching  excellence. Retrieved from

Antoci, A., Sabatini, F., Sodini, M., (2010). See you on Facebook: the effect of social networking on human interaction, MPRA University Library of Munich, paper number 27661.     Retrieved from

Ayling, D. (2010). Is the village common in a cloud? Cooperative education and social networking, New Zealand Association of Coooperative Education conference proceedings, Retrieved from

Bosch, T. E. (2009). Using online social networking for teaching and learning: Facebook use at the university of cape town. Communicatio: South African Journal of Communication Theory and Research, 35(2), 185-200.

Chistofides, E., Muise, A., & Desmarais, S. (2009) Information disclosure and control on Facebook: Are they two sides of the same coin or two different processes?  CyberPsychology  & Behavior, 12(3), 341-345.

Connor, M., (2009). The new media skills. Message posted to Fast Company.Com. Retrieved 10  March, 2010 from,

DeSchryer, M., Mishra, P., Koehleer, M., & Francis, A. (2009) .  Moodle vs facebook: Does using facebook for discussions in an online course enhance perceived social presence and student interactions? In Gibson et al. (Eds.), Proceedings of society for  information technology & teacher education international conference 2009 (pp. 329-336). Cheasapeake, VA: AACE.

Hayman, A., (2009). TCC 2009: Using social networking tools to build learning communities: A case study of the Punahou Technology Lab School

Ning. Blog posted to Z(e)n Learning. Retrieved 10 March, 2010 from,    ...

Hew, K., (2011) Students’ and teachers’ use of Facebook, Computers in human behaviour, 27 (2011) 662–676, retrieved from

Hewitt, A., & Forte, A. (2006, November). Crossing boundaries: Identity management and      student/faculty relationships on the Facebook. Poster presented at CSCW, Banff, Alberta, retrieved from

Isacsson, A., & Gretzel, U., (2011) "Facebook as an edutainment medium to engage students in sustainability and tourism ?", Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Technology, Vol. 2 Iss: 1

Kolek, E. A. & Saunders, D. (2008). Online disclosure: An empirical examination of  undergraduate facebook profiles. NASPA Journal, 45(1), 1-25.

Kollock, P. (1999). The economies of online cooperation: Gifts and public good in cyberspace.     In M.A. Smith & P. Kollock (Eds.) Communities in cyberspace, (pp. 220-242) New     York: Routledge.

Lampe, C., Ellison, N., & Steinfield, C. (2006). A face(book) in the crowd: Social searching vs. social browsing.  In Proceedings of the 2006 26th anniversary conference on  computer supported cooperative work (pp. 167-170). New York: ACM.

Lewis, J., & West, A. (2009). ‘Friending’: London-based undergraduates’ experience of  facebook: New Media & Society, 11 (7), 1209-1229.

Madge, C., Meek, J., Wellens, J., & Hooley, T. (2009).  Facebook, social integration and informal learning at university: ‘It is more for socialising and talking to friends about work than for actually doing work’. Learning, Media & Technology, 34(2), 141-155.

Mazer, J.,  Murphy, R., Simonds, C. (2009)  I’ll See You On ‘‘Facebook’’: The effects of  computer-mediated teacher self-disclosure on student motivation, affective learning,     and classroom climate, Learning, Media and Technology, 34(2), 175-183.

Misanchuk, M., & Anderson, T. (2001). Building community in an online learning environment: communication, cooperation and collaboration.  Proceedings from the Sixth Annual Mid South Instructional Technology Conference, Tennessee, TN: Mid-Tennessee State University.  Retrieved from,

Noff, A. (2008). Why people participate in online communities. Message posted to The Next   Web.Com. Retrieved 10 March, 2010 from,

Ophus, J. D., & Abbitt, J. T., (2009). Exploring the potential perceptions of social networking systems in university courses. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching. 5(4).  Retrieved from

Selwyn, N. (2009) Faceworking: Exploring students education-related use of facebook. Learning, Media and Technology, 34(2), 157-174.

Reynard, R., (2009, July 22, 2009). Beyond social networking: Building toward learning communities. Blog posted to Campus Technology.  Retrieved 10 March, 2010 from,

Roblyer, M.D., et al. 2010. “Findings on Facebook in higher education: A comparison of college faculty and student uses and perceptions of social networking sites.” The Internet and Higher Education, v.13 (3):134-140.

Wenger, E., (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning and identity. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Wenger, E., White, N. & Smith, J.D. (2009). Digital habitats: Stewarding technology for communities. Portland, OR: CPsquare.

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Comment by Hazel Owen on March 4, 2014 at 19:02

Thanks for a rich, informative post, Diana :-)

A couple of follow-up points. The first, I heard yesterday on a podcast, where the speaker was saying that the most valuable conversations that happen about learning, work, and assignments may happen in Facebook, but it's unlikely to be the space set up by a facilitator or instructor. I'm not sure I totally agree with this, although I definitely from experience, am aware of different types of conversation happening in the different spaces.

The main thing is - and I think this comes through in your post - is that participants in a community build the skills so that they can have these online conversations, and are aware that different types of conversation need to occur in different spaces. In other words, I feel it doesn't really matter if the conversations aren't happening in the designated space, but rather that they happen at all.

There are also, as you highlight, the notions of ownership, identity, and control - and perhaps this is something that a facilitator or instructor really needs to think through before opening up an online community. Over the last few years I have been working with a teacher of mathematics (secondary sector). He is using both Facebook and Flash videos that he creates to meet the students where they are at. The students appear to respond really well, and are doing some neat things such as creative problem solving. For instance, the students have figured out a way of transferring the videos across incompatible devices (a couple of students figured it out, shared how to do it with others, who then supported more students).

However... the teacher creates the videos, and the teacher set up the Facebook page (which is used mainly for assignment reminders, and questions for the teacher about those assignments). The teacher in question is a committed teacher, who believes he is providing the best for his students.He provides reasons such as covering the curriculum, helping to ensure his students get through the exams, concern that they 'might get the wrong idea about a concept', and that parents would feel he wasn't doing his job. 

I feel there is further potential for students to be co-constructors of the videos and the Facebook space; to negotiate their curriculum and to apply mathematics in their own context(s); to develop shared understandings; to unpick knotty problems; to be encouraged to rely less on the teacher and more on themselves. 

So, I guess, at the end of the day, the community you facilitate will, in part reflect your beliefs about how people learn and your own personal and professional identity. Hopefully too, it will offer opportunities to continue your own learning journey.

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