Fishing Where the Fish Are: Adding Facebook to the Learning Management Platform Mix

min read

By Sidneyeve Matrix

To increase student engagement with course materials and classmates, some higher ed faculty are making Facebook a platform of choice. In her Anatomy and Physiology course, biology professor Geralyn M. Caplan says she uses Facebook because, "I always felt it was best to fish where the fish are." In a closed (invitation-only) Facebook group Caplan encourages students to discuss, ask questions, upload images from microscopes and dissections, and provide peer feedback. The results have far exceeded her expectations in terms of peer-to-peer educational value created. Even after graduating, some students continue to interact with the group. While her colleagues are skeptical about teaching on Facebook, Caplan believes "the key to using any social media in your classes is your own comfort level with the format."1

Today social media tools are part of the educational technology in use by a majority of academic staff, according to recent studies.2 Research shows that adopting social media platforms in educational settings results in students' increased time spent on task, better student satisfaction ratings, more cohesive community collaboration, even higher student outcomes.3 Not surprisingly, demand for social media training is also rising, to bridge digital skills gaps that prevent some professors from adopting these tools.4 Part of that professional development is inviting early adopters like Caplan to share best practices with colleagues, including super successful cases and fascinating failures. In what follows I share my experience of teaching on Facebook.

My Experience Teaching with Social Media

Like many others I've experienced a hit-and-miss mix of gains and losses in adopting ed tech tools for my classes. Over a three-year period I've seen some unexpectedly awesome results and suffered many frustrating technical complications and crashes.5 Teaching with social media feels a little like being in perpetual beta. Facebook is particularly complicated to use, as the terms of service, default settings, site design, user experience norms, and rules of engagement are in constant flux. In my mass communications course each year 1,200 students are invited (but not required) to engage on a course Facebook page to post and respond to course-related links, questions, or comments. I regularly see about 80% of students "like" the page. The other 20% report they either quit Facebook during the school year, refuse to mix their social life with work or classes, or intentionally do not belong to Facebook. Even if 100% of my class liked the page, however, I could not rely on it to communicate important announcements, because Facebook limits how page updates are pushed to users' newsfeeds — updates are usually seen by fewer than 50% of students who have liked the course page.

Of those who do opt to join the course Facebook community, each year more prefer to "lurk" without contributing — and yet those same students exceed all participation expectations via the learning management system (Moodle) discussion forums. While a majority of students are interested in subscribing to the class Facebook "feed," a considerable percentage prefer not to publicly engage with the course on this platform, to avoid broadcasting all activity to their entire personal social network. Concerned about privacy and not wanting to "spam" their friends with school-related updates, many students will engage in social listening, passively participating via a read-only subscription to the Facebook page while reserving their own discussion comments for the gated community of the LMS.

I agree with Dr. Caplan that leveraging students' digital literacies and social media proclivities by teaching on Facebook makes a lot of sense. I will continue to do so. Using popular and mobile-ready media platforms increases the convenience factor and makes it nearly effortless for students to check in and connect with courses and colleagues. My experience suggests that to optimize student engagement, the best strategy is a hybrid approach: creating a Facebook group (if all students are on Facebook) or page (if some are not) and setting up discussion forums on the LMS as well. This hybrid approach gives students the choice to actively participate in public or more privately, and recognizes the complexity of online communication, including the fact that social media is used by most of us to connect with multiple (and often incompatible) publics composed of old and new friends, family, employers, and our campus connections.


  1. Geralyn M. Caplan, "Facebook: It's Not Just For Cat Videos Anymore," The Online Science Educator Lab, June 10, 2013.
  2. I. Elaine Allen and Jeff Seaman with Doug Lederman and Scott Jaschik, "Digital Faculty: Professors, Teaching and Technology  2012," Babson Survey Research Group and Inside Higher Ed (August 2012); Tanya Joosten, Laura Pasquini, and Lindsey Harness, "Guiding Social Media at Our Institutions," Planning for Higher Education, vol. 41, no. 2 (2013); and Helen Beetham and Rhona Sharpe, eds. Rethinking Pedagogy for a Digital Age: Designing for 21st Century Learning (Routledge, 2013).
  3. Lesley Smith, Patricia Haden, and Samuel Mann, "Building Student Communities with Social Media," Proceedings of the 3rd Computing and Information Technology Education and Research in New Zealand, Mike Lopez and Michael Verhaart, eds. Christchurch, New Zealand, Oct. 2012; Reynol Junco, "The relationship between frequency of Facebook use, participation in Facebook activities, and student engagement," Computers & Education, vol. 58, (2011), pp. 162-171; NadavDabbagh and Anastasia Kitsantas, "Personal Learning Environments, Social Media, and Self-Regulated Learning: A Natural Formula for Connecting Formal and Informal Learning," The Internet and Higher Education vol. 15, no. 1 (January 2012), pp. 3-8; and Sidneyeve Matrix, "Your Digital Impact: Online Professional Development Strategies for the Timestarved," Proceedings of EdMedia World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia and Telecommunications, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada (2013), and on SlideShare.
  4. ETNA 2012 Report, "Growth and Development – an analysis of skills and attitudes to technology in Scottish further education," [] ETNA vol. V, JISC RSC Scotland (2012); and Larry Johnson, "The NMC Horizon Report: 2013 Higher Education Edition," (Austin, TX: New Media Consortium, 2013), pp. 1-40.
  5. Justin Ellis"When j-school goes online: Putting journalism education in front of a massive audience," Nieman Journalism Lab, January 11, 2013.

© 2013 Sidneyeve Matrix