June 10th, 2013

Experimenting with Facebook in the College Classroom


While discussing the nuances of regression analysis, I saw some of my students smiling. It wasn’t a smile of understanding; it was a response to seeing a Facebook comment on their smart phone. I later learned that 99% of the students in the research method class were Facebook users, routinely checking for updates 10-20 times a day. I asked them to refrain checking their phones during class.

The next semester, I decided to embrace social media and created a Facebook page for the class, which was comprised of 25 students. It was actually fun and easy. In less than two hours, I had created a page with relevant material for the course. For the sake of privacy, I kept the class page separated from my personal Facebook account.

For those who aren’t familiar with Facebook, a page is really just like a blog for your posts. People join by clicking the ‘like’ button and can then follow your updates. Members can post comments or submit their own posts.

I encouraged my students to join and discuss their research on our Facebook page. I visited the page each day to answer questions and post relevant articles. The page seems to be a natural addition to this course, which requires the budding researchers to discuss and review literature, data, and regression analysis.

Many of the students began participating instantly (though some never signed up). The students quickly formed study groups outside of class, exchanged articles, and helped each other. Overall, they performed better than the non-participating students. The discussions on Facebook were commendable and carried over into face-to-face discussions. In class, students were interacting like never before and seemed more comfortable with each other as a result of the online interactions. Not only were the discussions in class livelier, but also the students were more insightful in discussing each other’s research. After all, they knew the topics beforehand.

The only real problem was that not everyone joined our Facebook page. Consequently, for the next semester, I made it a course requirement. Participation grades were given for helpful suggestions and discussions via Facebook. Naturally, everyone joined, and the discussions were busy, though a few remained invisible, except for doing the minimum to qualify for their participation grade.

This semester, I gave students an option to either (a) have the participation score for both class participation and Facebook participation, or (b) have the participation score only for the class. They chose (a) but requested that a Facebook group be used instead of a page. I had no idea what the difference was between a page and a group, but I soon found out.

The next day, after wrapping up with a class of about 180 students, a bunch of them approached me and asked if I use Facebook. “Yes, I have an account,” I said.

They asked, “Would you be comfortable joining our Facebook group for this class?”

“You have a Facebook group for my class?” I was intrigued.

“Not the whole class, just 12 of us. We try to help each other with the material.”

“I would love to,” I told them.

“It’s a ‘closed’ group, we’ll add you to it,” they said.

Why a Facebook group
This time I set up a Facebook group for the research methods class and everyone joined. I set it to be an open group thinking that these discussions might be helpful for other sections. Some students were concerned about the open status of the group and thus created anonymous Facebook accounts to join the group.

The participation and discussion rates were higher than ever, and more problem solving, and other requests were made for help with the course. This module helped achieve what face-to-face, three-hours a week interaction could not. I have decided to make this technology a permanent feature in my course. However, next semester, we will have a closed Facebook group.

This is what I have learned:

  • A Facebook page creates a public presence online. Anyone on the Internet, even those that don’t have a Facebook account, can view this page. By default, comments can be viewed by anyone on the Internet. (Pineda)
  • Students tend to be concerned about their online persona – saying something unintelligent is a big concern for them. (Selwyn) As a result, they are less likely to participate on a Facebook page than a closed group.
  • Facebook groups resemble an online café with walls to the rest of the online community, allowing students to (a) chat in real-time, (b) discuss in virtual-time, and (c) share materials through straightforward file upload.
  • Facebook groups can be open (public), closed (require administrator approval for joining and only members can read the posts), or secret (only members can see the group, who’s in it, and what what’s being posted).
  • Students prefer a closed group. They are apprehensive about asking questions in open groups where their Facebook friends can judge them as scholastically inept. (Selwyn)

As for the benefits of creating a Facebook group for your course, not only am I seeing better online interactions and face-to-face discussions, but it’s a fantastic way to get mid-semester feedback from the students.

For a step-by-step tutorial on setting up a Facebook group, view the Mashable article: Everything You Wanted to Know about Facebook Groups.

Pineda, Nick. “Facebook Tips: What’s the Difference between a Facebook Page and Group?” Facebook Blog (2010) https://www.Facebook.com/blog/blog.php?post=324706977130

Selwyn, Neil. “Faceworking: Exploring students’ education – related use of Facebook.” Learning, Media and Technology 34.2 (2009): 157-174.

Dr. Nisha Malhotra is an instructor in the Vancouver School of Economics at the University of British Columbia.

  • Guest

    I'm interested in creating a group for one or more of my classes coming up next fall. However, when I go to create the group, FB won't create it unless I add friends to it. I'm not FB friends with all the students in my classes, and I don't want to force students to "friend" me in order to join the class FB group. How did you get around those problems?

    • Marcelo Leite

      Try to create a group and add the students. The FB doesn`t accept a group without friends. Look for your students in your profile and add them (or just one at least). For the other students who aren`t in your FB profile, copy the address of your group, put it in blackboard or send by email. They will ask for authorization and you agree.

      • Nisha Malhotra

        You can create a group without friending any students. I can post more details by the end of the day.

        • Marcelo Leite

          Thank you, Nisha. I`d like to have more information about this.

          • Greg Frederick

            I have two FB accounts to circumvent this problem. I create the group and add "the other me" and then once the group is established I simply delete "the other me"! It works nicely. Then I am not putting students into a group they may not wish to join (even though it is course related.

  • Victoria

    Your experience is very much appreciated. In my practice I have tried to introduce a group in Vkontakte (the one, which is more popular among young people of my country – Ukraine). Mostly we used it with a group of students to discuss an assignment – presentation related to some sightseeing object of the city of Kyiv. Unfortunatelly, students were not enough active in discussion even I put some comments, recommendations myself every day. I gues it was my mistake to provide them too much instruction instead of letting them disscuss solution for certain part of the task. Hopefully, I caught some ideas from your experience and will improve next semester.
    It is a good idea to make the interaction in a group an optional part of grading at the begining of the semester…
    Actually, the most difficult is to find a right manner of my interaction with a group (not just checking) to motivate them to communicate. To say the truth this methods are rather innovative and students often do not feel social media to eb a part of their learning.

  • Helen

    For "Guest" above: If I remember correctly, the last time I set up a FB group for a class, I created the group and then sent students the URL by email. They clicked on the URL and then clicked "Ask to join group" or something like that.

    I believe that, when I first set up the group, I had to have at least one member besides myself in order for FB to accept it, so I "added" a family member to the group temporarily and then removed that person later, once students had enrolled.

    Another tip, if you are going to count FB involvement toward class participation…remind students not to "leave" the group until after final grades are in; when they officially "leave" the group, their comments disappear as well, I believe.

    I've had great experiences using FB for various things: discussion of homework questions, reading and commenting on each others drafts, sharing resources, posting questions (and students' answers) for small group discussion/activity, etc. While most of these things can be done on Moodle, students don't see them unless they intentionally login, which they often forget to do. They are on FB all the time anyway, though, so they see a lot more of what I and the other class members post. Good luck!

  • Robert

    I want to definitely try a FB group for my face-to-face classes. My question is–do you think FB would have the same effect, or provide a useful tool for an on-line class. We have Blackboard for on-line classes, and there is a discussion board, journals, blogs, etc. But naturally they do not have the glitz of FB. So I am wondering, even if FB duplicates some of these things, if the students might not be more willing to work with FB than with a Blackboard discussion board or journal.

    Thanks for any insight!

    • Stephen

      My experience is that most students prefer the ease of FB. They can access it on their phone, as can I, where the VLE isn't as easy to use that way. Not all students like FB, some prefer the VLE discussion boards and some prefer neither.

      I've left all of these optional so there are no participation marks but most students buy into it. My advice would be try it and see. Each cohort is different but the more channels open to the students the more likely they are to engage with you and your class.

  • Guest

    Thanks to the author for this informative article. I hope this will be followed with another article discussing the extent to which class-based closed Facebook groups are used for widespread academic dishonesty, especially in completely online courses.

  • Well, as a non-FB user, I always resent being asked to sign in to see content. It just isn't something I really want to support. While I am an old fogey, my 19 year old son feels the same and has not joined either. We do have Blackboard or could use other tools, but it does seem the students do not join those. So I hate to require students to join FB.

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  • Sounds like you've really hit a stride on how to leverage Facebook for learning. The same thing (rather, something similar) could be done with Twitter. I'm inspired and planning on trying something along the lines of what you discuss in the near future. The benefits you described are compelling. Once we know how and what can result, why wouldn't we try it out? Even if it didn't work out as swell every time, I am having trouble seeing any downside to trying it.

    One big question remains for me. You begin this post describing what is for most teachers a common experience, students being distracted from class by engaging in social media instead participating or listening (multitasking or "stepping out of the room" mentally). This incident is what led you to using Facebook as a learning tool, apparently an outside-of-class learning tool. But what effect, if any, did this have on students using social media in class for things not related to class?

    One common argument for using such tools for learning is that giving students something to do on their laptops and cellphones in class related to class will keep them from getting distracted. I’ve not seen any data on that (does anyone know if such a study exists?) but, while I appreciate how that might slightly lessen the unrelated-to-class activity by keeping them busy, I cannot imagine how it would actually eliminate or drastically reduce it. Why wouldn’t students just keep switching between class-related and not-class-related screens?

    One thought I had on this is question that perhaps incorporating social media in some ways will help students see that we are not being reactionary against social media when we ask them to consider how multitasking, etc., hurts their learning and recommend or require (or some other creative management approach) that they do not use the gadgets for non-class-related purposes.

    Paul T. Corrigan
    Teaching & Learning in Higher Ed.

    • Greg Frederick


      I actually encourage my students to post Qs they have during class to the FB group DURING CLASS. Some students are not brave enough to raise their hand to ask questions in class no matter how much we encourage them.

      Then I encourage all students to try to address those questions posted after class while I simply 'guide' the answers by asking additional questions such as: "Is that the correct line of thinking?" "Are there any other aspects we should consider?" "What's missing from this picture?" "If this variable were changed to XYZ, how would this change the result?" and so on.

      Once their classroom Qs are posted, I am better aware of what they are not 'getting' and I can address those areas in the next class session.

      I'm certain some students abuse the FB access during class and are doing less productive activities. But unless the university installs "wifi scramblers" in the academic wings that is bound to happen anyway. If I prohibit any internet access during class, I've turned myself into a policeman. However, if I am dynamic in the classroom and pull the students into what is going on, we all WIN!!!

  • I definitely appreciate you sharing your experience using Facebook in the classroom. How do you feel about Twitter?

    • Nisha Malhotra

      I haven't used twitter as yet. It might be a good tool for sharing articles, literature and references. I would love to hear from others who have used it.

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  • Marta L.

    It's very interested hearing your experience with FB. I have toyed with using it for my classes, but as we already have a Blackboard forum, I find myself unsure if it's really worth making the switch. I wonder, did you have an online class presence before FB (a course blog/website, an online platform like Blackboard, etc.)? Has FB worked more effectively than these things? And how?

    • My main drive was that the students are always connected to FB. I don't have to encourage them to go to a site. Let me give you an example. At the end of the semester we held a small class conference on a saturday – everyone presented their papers. After a certain time the office buildings get locked – A student stuck outside posted a message on facebook to let him in – instead of an email or a phone call to his friends inside. The response to his request took under a minute.
      Facebook also created a comradeship in the class – I don't know if it's the social nature of the medium or the personal/human introduction to each other outside of classroom.

      • Greg Frederick

        The constant consistent access by 70-80% student was my main reason for beginning years ago to use Facebook groups.

        I did a student poll with "Polls Everywhere" years ago and asked student how often they accessed FB. The average response was 20+ times a day. That is what made me know I NEEDED to use FB as an active part of the course.

        A former student made the comment immediately after the poll that "If Facebook were a course, I would have perfect attendance!" I knew then and there FB had to be a part of my courses and it has been ever since!

        One of the very cool aspects is that students continue to make posts to the group LONG after the course is over. In other words, they continue to think about the course topics long after the final exam AND they help other student continue learning as they do so!!! Purpose achieved!!!

        • Nisha

          That's what I find too – it's hard to close accounts of previous courses. Some students want to keep in touch and this is the best medium to do it. Also, this builds a sort of Alumni group.

  • Christian

    1. I think institutions should look how their LMS can incorporate some services that links social media. Bowling Green State University will be switching from Blackboard to Canvas by January 2014. Student's can choose to have notices delivered from Canvas to not only their email or a Facebook notice. This would be one way for students are informed when something "happens" (files uploaded, grades returned, to an alert about an announcement/email from the instructor) in (or generated) the course shell.

    2. My best friend started a Facebook group for her and her fellow peers who were in a cohort to complete their master degree. For the most part, it was a way for them to collaborate without the instructor being aware of this group. They used the Facebook group share information on course projects or, and to be honest, to have a 'bitch' session from the lag time in returning grades or the poor quality of instruction from the online courses they were registered for during the session.

    Can Facebook be helpful? I think in the case of my best friend, it was helpful, but I think it should be up to the students to create the group and not the instructor. Let the students have a way to vent about the class without being watched or afraid to comment because the instructor is watching.

    • NIsha

      Christian – thank you for that insight from the other side. I guess this would call for having two groups for a course. (one where they vent their frustrations with the instructor and the other where they informally take advise from the instructor and from others on a topic.)

  • Greg Frederick

    I have been using FB groups in my courses for 4-5 years now, from near the beginning of groups on FB.. It works very nicely. I have not yet required it as a course assignment grade. One of the problems I have run into is that our LMS has a similar "blogging feature". However, it does not work nearly as smoothly as FB not do students actively gravitate there. I used it for a number of years pre-FB.

    The only problem I have run into is that some students conscientiously object to FB for a number of reasons. They feel like it is a waste of time, or it distracts from their study time, or a former "X" broke their heart had belittled them on FB and "they never want to go there again".

    Forcing those FB objectors to use FB by making it a course requirement will likely throw the faculty member into some "administrative hot water" when these students begin to complain to Chairs and Deans. I'm placing this warning out there because it has happened.

    I believe in FB groups for classes and have used them with nearly 20 different classes now. Student evals always state that the FB groups add a rich dynamic to the course. There have been less than a handful of vocal objectors to date. However, we are near a LARGE military base and some of our students even refuse to allow the university to put their pictures on the secure LMS roster servers "for security reasons".

    If you have not tried FB groups, I encourage you to try them in a section or two next semester. It is not a lot of work to set them up (and actually easier than setting up groups on our LMS). I make mine a "closed group and give the students the link for the group in the course syllabus. They they simply have to log into FB and request addition to the group through the group link provided.

    I hope someday LMS providers will 'get with it' and provide a FB-portal that will mirror post to the LMS group into a course FB group. Then every student could have access one way or the other.

    Try it. Your students will like it!

  • Greg Frederick


    As you can tell from my former comments, I am 100% sold on augmenting 'traditional course approaches" with FB groups and social media. (My surveys of student say that our students do not use Twitter much – less than 25% regularly use Twitter. But >80% in any given class use Facebook at least once a day and nearly 60% access multiple times a day.) Student don't really seem to count "learning from FB post and studying or learning. So it is a perfect to to capture their interests and time with our topic of desire!

    I have thought for years that I needed to conduct a formal research study assessing the value of integrating social networking in higher ed.

    If you would be interested in collaborating on a joint study in this area, I would be very interested. Let me know. If you are interested I'll send you my email address and we can strategize such a study. I'm in the STEM area. But I think it would be of interest to conduct a cross-discipline study. What do you think?

    • Nisha

      Greg, I would be thrilled to take the next step and assess the use of social medial in teaching and learning. Sorry for the delay in response – I had not checked this site for a while. If you are still keen – we can begin by thinking of a survey design etc. Nisha.Malhotra@ubc.ca

  • SMR

    From a student's perspective, I believe joining a Facebook group should be a choice, as there are many students who do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to make one either for personal reasons.

    I think it would be nice if we could be given the opportunity to gain full participation marks in class or some other way, rather than forfeiting marks for simply not having/using Facebook.

    However, thank you for the article, it was very informative!

    • Nisha

      Yes, I have been thinking about that issue. Currently, it hasn't posed a problem. I had one student who did not have an account – he was fine with a pseudo account for the course. But, I see this more of a problem in the coming years as teens move to other platforms or avoid them completely. Participation points are also based on class discussions.

      thanks for your input.

  • Candice

    Like others, I too would love to integrate facebook into my course. This article gave me some great ideas!

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  • Ochieng

    Great piece on real experience. I agree that Facebook can have such far reaching effects, especially in this century where the internet is proving to be a very powerful tool in many areas, education included. The starting point would be what you suggest – facebook group made up of people who speak the same language as it were. Maturity of this group will determine how ther carry the day's agenda forward and how much good they derive from the learning process. Let me look at how to do the groups

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  • Ritu Sharma

    I have introduced Facebook group to students but they are not communicating at all. Any ideas to promote communication please suggest.

    • Reggie

      I have used FB groups for over 5 years now. And I increased engagement by adding an online class participation category and putting and up point total that a student could earn by participation.

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