Using Social Media Tools as Learning Resources

Evolution of the Internet

Over the last 20 years I have seen and experienced, as a student and as an instructor, the evolution of academia through advances in information sharing. My experience as a student began with news groups and e-mail, then with more and more information being archived on the Internet I started to use it as a research tool. I took complete courses on-line, and some where the instructor was in a whole other province. I have submitted the majority of my papers and files via the internet and in fact, I never saw the members of my thesis approval board in person, everything regarding edits and re-writes were vetted across the internet.

I know it is hard to believe, but at the time of its inception the, the actual purpose of the internet  was to share information and knowledge between scholars and researchers, easily and efficiently (Leiner, Cerf, Clark, Kahn, Kleinrock, Lynch, Postel, Roberts, Wolff, 2012). However society and web technology has moved from static to interactive; we are now in the age known as Web 2.0 (Liu, 2010). The internet is still a place to disseminate information, store information and find information; however the use and purpose of the majority of information on the internet seems to be less than academic in nature. The web has become the hub of entertainment and a source of social interaction for most users.

Entertainment or Academia?

Having used the internet as a resource for learning and as a method to maintain social interactions, I was not quite sure how the two would mix as a tool for teaching ? When I was as student none of my courses required the use of social media, however my peers and I found Facebook groups to be a very easy and efficient way to communicate, even if it was to just post where the study group was going to meet. Of course this was not quite using social media as a learning environment. Perhaps this is more of an example of academic socializing? I think many instructors would agree “Social networking is just for entertainment”, as recently as 2012 this was the sentiment expressed by many Michigan State University instructors (Brazelton, Magolda & Renn, 2012).  Nevertheless there are others that think differently and are looking at the potential of using social communication platforms as an extension of the historical classroom and even the contemporary on-line cyber classroom.

The Argument for the use of Social Networks in Academia

Liu, in her paper on using social media resources as tools for learning, examined the current use Web based technology and she noting that many post secondary institutions are using professional Course Management Systems (CMS) such as, Moodle,  Blackboard, Desire2Learn, etc (2010). She points out that these types of computer based systems need maintenance and constant upgrades (Liu, 2010). Liu explains that some social media tools are in fact quite similar to those found within many of the commonly used e-learning platforms (2010). She suggests that if educational system were to use the existing social media platform tools wisely, and integrate them into teaching process, that perhaps institutional financial investments could be cut back (2010).

Liu believes that social media tools may provide learners with novel opportunities to become more independent in their study and research (2010). She reasons that social media might extend the learning environment to the real world and to real life practice; enriching the students learning experiences by providing a parallel channel of knowledge in harmony with the current curriculum (2010). Liu in addition sees the use of social network to build an extended and sustainable community of life-long learning (2010). She believes that a major benefit of using Facebook as a community learning tool is that the members of the group can still access the valuable information collected within even that after the academic semester is over (2010). Liu does caution though that Facebook is not a professional course delivery system and should not be used as a stand-alone educational tool, but that it could be used as a tool for collaboration, and shared learning (2010).

My Role as an Instructor and the use of Social Network Platforms for Learning

Recently I encouraged the group of students I am teaching, to create their own Facebook group. I explained that the group could be used as a platform to share tips and tricks, to ask questions, advice and clarification from their peers. As supported by the literature, I advised that the group would continue long past their training so they could continue to use the space to share information about their challenges, and to provide encouragement and support to one another as they grew within their profession.

I wanted the students to have an environment separate from the classroom and I was not sure about my role as an instructor? It was my hope that the students would develop a community where they felt comfortable to share and to ask advice. My concern was that if I was directly involved in the group the students might not feel as comfortable to share and to ask questions. I wanted them to interact with one another and to problem solve together and I worried that if I was present they would instead ask me for the answer rather than work together to build their knowledge. So I have positioned myself outside of the group as a coach and a mentor, encouraging the students to share their stories and thoughts. When someone shares a great idea in the classroom I advise them to post it in the group, that way they can all see it and refer to it at a later time. It is my hope that this group will function as a parallel channel of knowledge, connecting the student’s classroom learning to real life practice, while providing the students with a sense of autonomy as they guide their own learning.

Moving Forward

In the life of todays professionals dvances in technology are an expected part of life, as an instructor I believe that my role is to be aware of the most up-to-date approaches to teaching. In this instance, the methodologies of how to harness Social networking platforms for academic purposes are not fully developed, so my role is to encourage and support the students to create their own communities of learning. Indeed there are already many student groups, study groups, Institution based groups and faculty based groups that are currently function on Facebook and this trend is likely to continue. It would be interesting to look at the discussions within these groups, categorize the types of information that is exchanged and identify if the students do in fact use the group as a platform for discussion and development of knowledge. Perhaps in the future I may embark on some research to answer these questions, but for now I will continue to encourage my students to make use of Facebook to create their own learning societies. I plan to continue to coach and to encourage from the outside because I truly believe that the students will develop their knowledge more fully if they share their experiences, provide advice and work together to problem solve independent from their instructor.


Brazelton, B., Magolda, P., & Renn, K. (2012). Social Media and Reflective Practice in Student                      Affairs. Retrieved from                    

Leiner, B., Cerf, V., Clark, D., Kahn, R., Kleinrock, L., Lynch, D., Postel, J., Roberts, L., &                      Wolff, S. (2012). Brief History of the Internet. Retrieved from

Liu, Y. (2010). Social media tools as a learning resource. Journal of Educational Technology                     Development and Exchange3(1), 101-114.

Here are some examples of academic based Facebook groups


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