02 March 2010

Facebook in FE: a tutor on pros and cons (guest post)

Our College has produced a brilliant example of appropriate and very active use of social networking in education. A photography tutor, James Cunliffe, who initiated the whole project shares his experience and views on benefits and pitfalls of engaging with Facebook for supporting learning.


It is a format most students are familiar with and use frequently. Before starting the page I asked how many of my group had a Facebook account and how often they used it. All but one of the 26 of them had an account and every single one of them checked it every night.

It is a private group. Students must request to join or be invited.

All content is private and cannot be viewed by other Facebook users.

Students can add content such as links to websites, create or participate in discussions or simple ask for help on the group’s wall. All of these things create a sense of ownership with the students.

Tutors can also create or add content such as links to TV programmes they should watch, websites they should look at or news articles of specific interest.

The creator can allocate specific members of the group (staff) admin status allowing them the ability to remove any inappropriate content. (For the record I have never had to remove anything posted)

My students use it a great deal in terms of asking for help from each other which is especially important as they only attend college three days a week. A question from one can elicit a response from three or four students offering help and suggestions.

It is a joint first and second year group page and many of the students converse with each other here first despite never having met formally or being in the same year. This develops both friendships and support networks, especially with the second years are more experienced.

All of the members can be messaged quickly and simply should there be any information that needs to be sent to all (or even just one.) It also allows individual students to contact you privately should there be an issue they wish to talk confidentially to you. It appears as a message in your Facebook inbox and feels less formal than an email.

Everything posted can be commented on by any member, often starting impromptu discussions which can be continued in class.

Photographs and videos can be posted. For us, as a creative course this is invaluable but we also post photographs from events such as visiting lecturers and trips.

Educational trips can be posted as an event with the students receiving an invite by email which also promotes a sense of belonging. Links to relevant websites can also be attached.

All member information remains private, i.e. whilst we are all in the same group the students cannot view any of the staff’s Facebook pages nor can we access theirs.

By embracing this social networking it has had the effect of “decriminalising” Facebook and whilst a year ago students’ sneakily looking on Facebook during a class was a problem, this seems to have diminished considerably.

I check the groups’ page most nights however when I have not done so for a few days the notification icon at the top of the page will direct me to any new posts or comments.


Word documents and PowerPoint’s cannot be posted and only go on Moodle. It is more interactive than Moodle however it has not replaced it. Indeed all of the links posted on the Facebook page are put on to the group’s Moodle page.

Some students initially used it as a place to notify me of their absence however this has now been addressed.

Not all students have a Facebook account due to having no access to the internet or the possible disapproval of their parents.

Tutors may not have an account and may be unfamiliar with the layout and process of managing a page. They may also not have the time to manage the site. (In my experience however it does not take a huge amount of time or effort, especially as it is so democratic with other tutors and students contributing)


Whilst there are a few disadvantages associated with creating and managing a course Facebook page I am without doubt that the benefits far outweigh them. Since creating the page in October 2009 it has provided invaluable support to the majority of my students and has become a forum that they trust, respect and use to a potential I did not expect or even realise was possible.

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