Facebook in education
and teacher training
Institute of Educational Technology
National Research Council of Italy
Levinsky College of Education, 3rd May 2015
Institute of Educational Technology
National Research Council of Italy
ITD-CNR is the only public scientific institute in Italy entirely devoted to
studying how ICT-based tools and methods can innovate learning and
The mission of ITD is to perform research studies and technology transfer
activities focusing on:
ICT as a resource for teaching/learning processes;
innovative approaches to the design, management and assessment of
study of new educational needs and opportunities brought about by ICT.
Research lines at ITD-CNR
Innovation in disciplinary learning: development of environments and methods for innovative
education in STEM and in the humanities (e.g. virtual and remote laboratories in science,
representation and manipulation environments in mathematics; language learning; cultural
E-inclusion: research addressing ICT-based inclusion for people with Special Education Needs: e.g.
disabled, immigrants, people with learning difficulties or who are unable to participate in regular
Innovation in professional training: investigation of work-based learning. Areas of special interest
include teacher training (pre/in- service), learning design and Open Educational Resources,
entrepreneurship education, training in specific contexts such as medicine and digital scholarship.
New skills for the knowledge society: study of learning environments that foster the acquisition
of key transversal skills such as information problem solving, computational thinking skills,
communication skills, self-regulated learning skills.
Formal, informal and non-formal learning: investigation of the emergence of educational
opportunities offered by social media, cloud computing, mobile systems, tangibles, etc.,
innovative learning modalities sustained by game based learning, mobile learning, online
learning, inquiry based learning, etc., in different educational contexts of application, both formal
Topics of this presentation
1. Potentials and critical issues of Facebook as a
technology-enhanced learning environment in
education and in teacher training
2. The role of Facebook for teachers’ professional
development through the analysis of five Italian FB
groups of teachers
3. Social network sites for people with disabilities
(research study in progress)
Facebook as a technology-
environment in education
and in teacher training
In the last 7-8 years, thousands of papers have appeared in specialized
journals and have been presented in thematic conferences in the field of
education, with contrasting results in terms of the educational value of
The focus has mainly been on students and teachers’ usage of social
networking sites with a special emphasis on teacher/instructor presence
and self-disclosure, students’ attitudes, impact on academic performance,
appropriate professional behavior, or as a tool of professional
development in lifelong learning.
However, though the literature suggests that SNS are mainly used in
education as tools supporting existing social relationships and enabling
the maintenance of social capital, their value as a learning environment is
1. On the one hand, several scholars have cautioned against
using Facebook for educational purposes: the focus
should move away from its educational uses and consider
Facebook as an only place for socialization.
2. On the other hand, other scholars have emphasized the
potential of social networking sites for learning: they
would support ‘the process of building networks of
information, contacts and resources that are applied to
Social network sites and formal
learning: a challenge
The potentials offered by social network sites such as
Facebook to school and formal learning represent also their
major threats and challenges, since they contribute to
The space and time for leasure, spare time and socialization
The space and time for schooling, studying and school-
A few issues to be considered
There is an increasing amount of experience
whereby Facebook has been used as a unique, or
at least as one, learning management system
(LMS) tool, or as a platform for instructional
There is a need for a better understanding of
whether and eventually how to use Facebook in
A critical review of the literature
A critical review of the literature on Facebook as a technology-
enhanced learning environment was carried out in 2012, with the
aim of exploring the extent to which its pedagogical potential is
actually translated into practice.
Only empirical studies published in peer-reviewed academic
journals with a specific focus on Facebook as a learning
environment were considered for the review.
We conducted a comprehensive literature search that identified 23
relevant articles that were subsequently analysed according to a
simplified list of guidelines. These articles were further analysed
and recoded through a set of emerging categories.
Summary of results
The results show that pedagogical affordances of
Facebook have only been partially implemented.
There are still many obstacles that may prevent a
full adoption of Facebook as a learning
environment such as: declared and implicit
institutional policies, teacher and student
pedagogies, and cultural issues.
Mixing information and learning
Facebook was mainly used as a Learning Management System, relying on the familiarity
of students with SNS. When used as and/or when compared with a virtual learning
environment, Facebook seems to be conceived and designed as a ‘fenced’ space to
deliver content and support interactions rather than to combine different and
heterogeneous sources of instructional materials. As a consequence, this affordance of
blending filtered and non-filtered contents seems to be very often underestimated.
However, in some experiences the information delivered in the course was not limited
to predefined contents but open to diverse sources exposing learners to a variety of
inputs. In this case, the authors seem to emphasize the need for a new role of the teacher
as ‘information moderator’ with an obvious impact on designing and delivering.
In other terms, in so far as the exposure to many and different types of information can
enrich the learning experience but also cause an increase of cognitive load, the role of
teachers should be reshaped in terms of facilitators able to guide students to navigate in
the oceanic world of digital information.
Hybridization of expertise
There is an awareness that an open environment such as Facebook allows access
to a plethora of resources usually inaccessible in closed learning systems.
However, most of the learning experiences reported try to reproduce existing
educational settings through the adoption of the metaphor of the classroom or
lecture hall, with special attention to issues of privacy and protection of
The choice of consolidated pedagogies that derive from an established tradition
of online and distance education that heavily relies on LMS and other virtual
learning environments (VLEs) also affects many of the educational practices that
are occurring on SNS. The bottom-up networked dynamics of social networks
can conflict with the hierarchical top-down organization of academic
institutions. This heritage affects instructional choices such as orienting towards
a closed group in which each participant has a clearly defined role and a certain
kind of expectations.
Widening context of learning
Although some authors emphasize that teachers have to change their way of
teaching to accommodate their students’ social and digital practices, a number
of cases pointed out that although students tend to post more on Facebook
groups than in LMS environments, the majority of posts are usually related to
affective communication rather than to topics relating to the themes of the
course. Although appreciating the learning experience that occurred in the
Facebook environment, many students still resist its full usage as a formal tool
of learning, at least when it is the only tool provided.
In a way, it seems that most students have a rather traditional vision of
schooling. Their implicit pedagogies still make precise distinctions between
spaces and time of learning and spaces and time for socialization and
entertainment. These traditional visions of schooling and formal education tend
to separate ‘life’ from ‘studying’ and ‘home’ from ‘lectures’, and students’ use of
Facebook consequently ‘appeared to be (un)consciously replicating and
reinforcing roles developed in their previous phases” of their education.
Extending and systematizing
Potentials and critical issues. A few
Potentials and affordances:
Simplicity and speed of use of native tools. The basic
functions of Facebook (wall, discussion boards, photos,
etc.) are easy to use, accessible and intuitive. In addition,
they allow users to quickly share information, create and
manage work groups, etc.
A high degree of external connectivity. The enormous
expansion of Facebook has forced many external services
to adapt to the new social philosophy of the Web 2.0
Potentials and affordances:
Socialization, communication and community building. FB supports socialization among students
promoting mutual help and facilitating communication and discussion. This reinforces
interpersonal relationships and fosters community building, supports students’ interaction and
Sharing of resources and genuine materials. FB enhances the opportunity of sharing resources,
lectures and study notes. It also allows significant content to be presented by means of genuine
Social learning and collaborative activities. FB provides opportunities to develop social learning
and carrying out collaborative activities and project based learning. Despite some limitations due
technical aspects, its external connectivity and capacity to support open projects help manage
and develop collaborative learning projects.
Mixing formal and informal contexts of learning. The inherently informal nature of FB may open
the doors to the hybridization of contexts of learning with implications for the types of contents
that are shared in it and the roles played by people as well. Students may have the opportunity to
be exposed to authentic contents and real experts, and mix rather than separate life and learning,
personal interests and educational goals.
Critical issues: technological
Digital divide and incomplete adoption rate. Although on a global
level the technical access to the Internet has been increasingly
improved, there are still people who cannot access digital
technologies and social media. As a consequence there could be a
sort of digital divide between students who have access to
Facebook and students who do not. Moreover, despite Facebook is
highly spread among college students, there are individuals who
have not a profile in this social network site for different reasons
such as lack of interest or of skills, they are too busy or simply do
not like it.
Lack of functionalities. The way and the speed in which posts
quickly appear and disappears on the wall together with the lack of
a system for tagging, filtering, searching and organizing information
make difficult to store information and manage the task of
generating, classifying, saving and retrieving knowledge.
Critical issues: management
Time constraints & Faculty/School workloads. Taking
care of a relationship and social connections is a time-
consuming activity that requires regular feedback,
attention and commitment. To be active in a social
network site users must engage with these behaviors and
attitudes. When moving to the educational context, being
an active and attentive teacher in Facebook may result in
a growth of the workloads which conflicts with time
Critical issues: insitutional
Erosion of professional identities. Since SNS enable users to share personal
information, thoughts, and behaviors, some scholars caution against the risks of
accidentally sharing information to an unintended audience with negative implications
for the teacher/student relationship. This can happen from student’s and teacher’s
To be or not to be a Facebook friend. Some scholars pointed out that being ‘friend’ in
Facebook has a different connotation from being friend in the real life. Nevertheless,
the word ‘friend’ evokes an imaginary that is not appropriate for most student–
Facebooking as a voluntary activity? Being an informal environment where people
connect to each other for personal interests and affinities, it is pointed out that even
in the cases in which FB is proposed as a learning environment, the participation in it
must be kept voluntary. Teachers and educators cannot impose as compulsory the
registration to the social network and they must be able to manage the possible
consequences of this voluntary participation.
Critical issues: pedagogical
Disruptive power of social network sites. Teachers often complain that social
networks divert students’ attention from classroom participation and ultimately
are disruptive to the learning process. It is also underlined that an intensive use
of Facebook may have a negative impact on students’ academic performance.
Losing the warmth of ‘real’ contacts. There are also concerns relating to the fact
that social networks may discourage face-to-face communication: if, on one
hand, online interactions may create a safe space for students who are not at
ease with expressing themselves, on the other hand, students are missing the
opportunity to learning real-life social skills.
Assessment strategies. The informal nature of FB as a learning environment may
generate misunderstandings about whether students’ performances in FB are
assessed or not. There is a need for a clear policy making students know if
Facebook is used only as a repository for shared works, or if their participation in
the group’s activities is also part of the set of assessment criteria.
Critical issues: ethical
Privacy and cyber security. As well known, the Facebook
personal profile includes a huge amount of identifiable
information and it is believed that it can open the door to
sexual predators, cyber bullying and cyber stalking.
A few suggestions: technological issues
Ensure that all the students have an Internet access and
verify whether they are registered to Facebook or not.
Promote the development of teachers and students’
basic technical and social skills in order to participate
A few suggestions: management issues
Support faculty members in the use of social media, both
in terms of technological issues and of pedagogical design
through best practices and training.
Use Facebook as an optional tool inside and outside
classes. Provide students with alternative assignments if
they choose not to participate. However, if Facebook is an
essential component of the learning provision discuss
with students your pedagogical choice.
A few suggestions: institutional issues
Implement institutional policies on the use of social
networks in the educational environment in light of
security/privacy issues, as well as faculty and student
Do not underestimate the importance of developing a
clear and negotiated view about the student-teacher
relationships. Discuss with colleagues and students about
roles and cultural norms, to reach a common
understanding on how to manage personal and
institutional life, informal and formal spaces of learning.
A few suggestions: pedagogical issues
Use Facebook as a tool to support and facilitate informal
discussions and collaborations with clear educational goals.
Foster the development of self-regulation and
metacognitive skills to manage potential distraction.
Evaluate students’ reflections on their learning through
social networking sites in the form of formative
assessment, through strategies such as rubrics, portfolio,
Be aware of implicit pedagogies that inform the way in
which learning activities and roles are conceived.
A few suggestions: ethical issues
Develop students’ awareness about the security
and privacy issues of posting personal information
online fostering the acquisition of “social
Is Facebook still a suitable technology-enhanced
learning environment? An updated critical review of
the literature from 2012 to 2015
development in online social
networking sites: the case of five
Italian FB groups of teachers
Social networking sites and
Social media and social networking sites are progressively
gaining attention also in relation to professional development
and life-long learning for school and academic teachers and
Social networking is indeed a fundamental aspect in
developing a strong professional identity and furthering
These sites are emerging as places in which to cultivate
different forms of social capital, bridging and bonding, that
facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit, as
well as exchange of resources, personal and professional
relationships and implications for psychological well-being.
Some theoretical concepts
Social capital and SNS
Networks of practices and SNS
Social Capital and SNS
Bridging social capital = loose connections between individuals based
on the exchange of useful information or new idea but no or weak
Bonding social capital = benefits that individuals may derive from
emotionally close relationships, such as family and close friends,
which might include emotional support or other type of assistance
Although research suggests that the practice of using Facebook to
maintain existing social relationships is more common than that of using
it to create new connections with strangers, there is also some evidence
that ‘users may use the site to convert latent into weak ties’.
Networks of practices and SNS
They imply a set of individuals who are connected through social
relationships, whether they be strong or weak
What distinguishes a network of practice from other networks:
individuals interact through information exchange in order to
perform their work, asking for and sharing knowledge with each
In electronic networks of practice, individuals may never get to
know one another or meet face-to-face, and they generally
coordinate through means such as blogs, electronic mailing lists, or
social media sites.
It seems that something like a transition from a pure form
of recreational Facebooking to a new form of professional
Facebooking is taking shape on the web, demanding a
renewed attention to the social processes occurring in
To date little empirical research on the professional use of
Social Network Sites (SNS) has been conducted,
particularly with reference to groups of teachers on
In 2011-2012 an extensive survey on teachers’ groups in Facebook was
conducted to investigate professional uses of informal social networks.
A questionnaire was addressed to the members of five Facebook
groups (n=1107) with the aim of verifying a series of research
hypotheses focused on the relationship between types groups and
social exchanges, on the one hand, and types, groups and professional
implications, on the other.
The study identified two typologies of groups, generic or thematic.
The main goal of the generic group was the sharing of experiences
related to schools in general, while the main purpose of the thematic
group was focusing on a very distinctive discussion theme (e.g.
dyslexia and other specific learning disabilities).
• Data seem to suggest that a difference exists between the two groups in
terms of types of shared social capital. Generic groups seem to be mainly
characterized by bridging social capital, whereas thematic groups by
bonding social capital
• In generic groups SNS seems to play the role of an infrastructure enabling
the activation of ‘latent ties’. In thematic groups SNS plays the role of
supporting the maintenance of social capital and of existing ties
• In thematic groups the direction of the movement between online/offline
activities would be from offline to online, whereas in generic groups the
direction is reversed, from online to offline
• Groups in social networks may be meant as sub-networks delimited by
Advantages and drawbacks
• Construction and negotiation of
• Sharing of educational practices
and experiences, debate on methods
and implicit pedagogies
• Continuous mentoring for pre-
service and novice teachers
• Emotional and socio-relational
support in professional life
• Blending of virtual and real as a
means through which to promote
new collaborative projects
• Blurring of personal and
professional identities and
difficulties related to their
• Possible control of contents by
• Digital divide related to the
adoption of social networking sites
for personal use
• Low digital literacy skills
Social network sites for
people with disabilities
(research in progress)
An online survey about how persons
with disabilities use social network sites
We started from the following study:
Shpigelman*, C.-N., & Gill**, C. J. (2014). Facebook Use by Persons with Disabilities.
Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 19, 610–624.
*Department of Community Mental Health, Faculty of Social Welfare and Health Sciences, University of
Haifa, Mount Carmel, Haifa, Israel
**Department of Disability and Human Development, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, USA
Aims and procedure
To explore the potentials and the critical issues related to the use of SNS by people
with disabilities (physical, cognitive, sensorial, etc.)
To analyse if people with disabilities use social network sites differently when
relating to their nondisabled friends and groups compared to their disabled friends
To investigate issues of digital divide and of accessibility
To investigate eventual cultural and technological obstacles that may prevent use of
The survey is addressed to people with disabilities that use SNS being at least 13
years old and that self-identify as disabled people
The administration of the online survey (implemented through SurveyGizmo) is still
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