Does Facebook Provide Educational Value?: An Overview of Theoretical and Empirical Advancements of Affordances and Critical Issues

Does Facebook Provide Educational Value?: An Overview of Theoretical and Empirical Advancements of Affordances and Critical Issues

Stefania Manca (Institute for Educational Technology - CNR, Italy) and Maria Ranieri (University of Florence, Italy)
Copyright: © 2014 |Pages: 26
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-4904-0.ch016
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Abstract

Facebook has received considerable attention in a number of research areas. However, its educational value has not been fully confirmed and results from the mainstream educational paradigms are contradictory. A number of experiences related to the educational use of Facebook as a technology-enhanced learning environment are also flourishing. In these, Facebook has been used as a unique, or at least as one, learning management system tool, or as a platform for educational purposes. This chapter focuses on these issues, providing a wide overview of the current literature on the educational value of Facebook considering both theoretical positions and empirical findings. Furthermore, a few preliminary guidelines about Facebook usage are provided, pertaining to pedagogical, institutional, technological, and ethical issues. The chapter finally provides some hints about emerging trends and areas that deserve further research, such as professional development, academic practice, and location-based learning.
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Introduction

Of the various online social networking sites (SNS), Facebook is now the most popular, with more than one billion monthly active users (Facebook, 2013). To date, Facebook has received considerable attention from a number of research areas, ranging from social and behavioral sciences, economics and law to business and marketing. Indeed, in the social sciences there is a huge amount of research about the implications of Facebook for identity and self-presentation, friendship articulation and privacy concerns (see Wilson et al., 2012).

Dozens of papers have also appeared in specialized journals and have been presented in thematic conferences in the field of education, with contrasting results in terms of Facebook's educational value. The focus has mainly been on students’ and teachers’ usage of social networking sites (Hew, 2011; Yang et al., 2011) with a special emphasis on teacher/instructor presence and self-disclosure (DiVerniero & Hosek, 2011; Mazer et al., 2009), students’ attitudes (Espuny et al., 2011), impact on academic performance (Kirschner & Karpinski, 2010), appropriate professional behavior (Ferdig et al., 2008; Hutchens & Hayes, 2013), or as a tool of professional development in lifelong learning (Pimmer et al., 2012; Ranieri et al., 2012).

Generally, the literature suggests that SNS are mainly used in education as tools supporting existing social relationships and enabling the maintenance of social capital (Ellison et al., 2011), but their value as a learning environment is still questioned. On the one hand, scholars have cautioned against using Facebook for educational purposes (e.g., Selwyn, 2009). Since students seem to be reluctant to use it for academic purposes, it is suggested that the focus should move away from its educational uses and consider Facebook as a place for socialization (Madge et al., 2009). On the other hand, scholars have emphasized the potential of social networking sites for learning in so far as they would support ‘the process of building networks of information, contacts and resources that are applied to real problems’ (Anderson & Dron, 2011: p. 87). As also pointed out by the connectivist approach (Siemens, 2005), the shift of focus from the group to the network as the locus of learning relies on a concept of learning based on exploration, connection, creation and evaluation within networks that connect people, digital artifacts and content.

However, regardless of scholars’ views on the topic, we should indeed recognize that the number of people using Facebook is growing rapidly with a very high adoption rate. This could provide, for instance, an opportunity for blended and distance learning in so far as people would already be familiar with the features of this tool, reducing the risk of technological frustration which very often undermines the success of learning at a distance. Another element that must be acknowledged is that 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 educational purposes. This seems to indicate that there is a need for a better understanding of whether, and eventually how, to use Facebook in education.

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