CTL Blog

Social Media in Higher Education: Facebook

August 24, 2012 | 3 Minute Read

In the film The Social Network, the character of Mark Zuckerberg had the following to say about Facebook users: "Users are fickle, Friendster has proved that. Even a few people leaving would reverberate through the entire userbase. The users are interconnected, that is the whole point. College kids are online because their friends are online, and if one domino goes, the other dominos go . . ."

With its interconnected profiles and up-to-the minute personal "news" reports, Facebook has become synonymous with the term social media. The aforementioned quote from the fictional version of Zuckerberg highlights both the advantages and disadvantages facing faculty when using Facebook as a higher education tool. The fact that student populations are already engaged in Facebook means that the tool requires no special training while at the same time Facebook, being primarily an area of social engagement, makes some faculty and students reticent to bend it to other purposes.

In a 2010 study published in Internet and Higher Education, Roblyer et al. investigated student and faculty patterns of Facebook usage, as well as other social networking tools, at a moderate-sized southern university to try to discern student (and faculty) willingness to "segue their use of these tools from the social arena to the instructional one" (p. 135). Survey results indicated that students were "much more open to the idea of using Facebook instructionally" and that Facebook was currently only marginally used as an educational tool (Roblyer et al., 2010, p. 138). The researchers added that these results were also fickle and might therefore change over time as perceptions of the uses of Facebook change.

Elsewhere a recent creative use of Facebook at the University of Nevada at Reno caused such a ripple that the social media site actually suspended the project for violation of the terms of use. A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education described how a librarian created two fictional profiles of real life former students, Joe McDonald and Leola Lewis, as a history project to describe campus life in the early 1900s through the social connectivity of Facebook (DeSantis, 2012). By using archival information about each student, Donnelyn Curtis created profiles for each student and then used Facebook as a means for the two students to metaphorically travel through time and report on their daily life. After interest in the project greatly increased, officials from Facebook felt obliged to suspend the use of both profiles because Facebook does not grant users the right to post false information. Although the project was suspended, the overwhelming student response is a clear indicator that there is a serious interest in using Facebook for educational purposes.

Here at Hopkins, Professor Bill Brieger from the Department of International Health has been effectively using Facebook in his online classes to facilitate discussions and keep his students informed of course related content. An early adopter of online education, Professor Brieger sees faculty and student reluctance to adopt social media tools as similar to the kind of hesitation that existed in the early days of distance education. According to Professor Brieger, on the faculty side this hesitation revolves around the practical logistics of embracing an untested medium of instruction, whereas students seemed to have a different set of reservations.

"It's interesting," said Professor Brieger. "From teaching in Nigeria I discovered that students were reluctant to learn from other students. They were primarily interested in what I had to say. But I told them up front that they were going to be commenting on other student work and the whole learning dynamic became more of a communal experience."

It is this kind of communal learning experience that could be the most impacting use of social media tools in higher education.


Desantis, N. (2012). Facebook deletes university's history project for violating social network's rules. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/blogs/wiredcampus/facebook-deletes-universitys-history-project-for-violating-social-networks-rules/34918

Roblyer, M. D., McDaniel, M., Webb, M., Herman, J., & Vince Witty, J. (2010). Findings on Facebook in higher education: A comparison of college faculty and student uses and perceptions of social networking sites. Internet and Higher Education 13: 134-140.

Rudin, S., Brunetti, D., De Luca, M., Chaffin, C., Spacey, K. (Producers), Fincher, D. (Director), & Sorkin, A. (Screenwriter). (2010). The social network [Motion picture]. United States: Columbia Pictures. Quote retrieved from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1285016/quotes