Using Facebook to Facilitate Course-Related Discussion between Students and Faculty Members

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Online social media Web sites such as Facebook (Facebook, Inc, Palo Alto, CA) have transformed personal communication, social interaction, and even language, as users "friend " other users and "like" other Facebook pages to establish relationships. Facebook is among the most popular social networking sites with over 500 million users and a large proportion of overall Internet traffic. (1) The service can be used in many ways, including for personal and professional networking, social interaction, and business. It is also used for advertising and to disseminate news and information to users. Within Facebook, individual or group users can post status updates, links, or media content on a profile page or "wall." The application then compiles these posts and updates in real time for display in a "news feed." Each user's news feed is different and lists updates only from that user's Facebook friends or from group pages that the user has "liked." If a group or individual's page is "open," all Facebook users may visit the page (similar to a public Internet page) to read and contribute posts and updates. "Closed" or private pages require users to establish a relationship or gain permission in order to contribute to page content.

Facebook is widely used by students and faculty members in institutions of higher education, including colleges and schools of pharmacy and other health professions. (2-5) There are several aspects of the Facebook platform that could make it an effective educational tool. It could facilitate active learning (as Facebook users engage with each other to participate in discussions or share and view posts) and easy sharing or posting of current events, and could serve as an accessible, real-time, dynamic platform to allow course-related discussion. However, several papers acknowledge the risks of combining social media and health professions education, specifically citing issues about maintaining a professional image, the pitfalls of online interactions between faculty members and students, and the disclosure of protected information or other inappropriate or unethical acts. (2,4-7) While there are no standard guidelines for health professions faculty members that detail whether or how best to interact with students on social media Web sites, some institutions have developed or are considering implementation of policies about social media use. (8) Others have raised concerns that use of Facebook within a course could increase student and faculty workload as Facebook does not replace other course management software (eg, Blackboard Learning System and WebCT, Blackboard Inc, Washington, DC). (9-11)

Several published studies have described specific courses or educational strategies using the Facebook platform; however, we found only 2 that involved pharmacy students. (9-12) One paper describes how students in a geriatric pharmacotherapy course used a closed (or private) group Facebook page to participate in weekly discussions. (9) Students thought the application was easy to use and the assignment added value to the course. A letter published in the Journal describes an adult ambulatory care pharmacy elective course (11) that was to include moderated discussion via Facebook, but the course was cancelled because a large proportion of students who initially registered for it subsequently withdrew. In a survey of students who had dropped the course, 91% cited the Facebook assignment as one of the aspects they liked least about the course.

Our objective for this study was to establish a Facebook page for the Comprehensive Disease Management course to encourage pharmacy students to participate in online discussions of course material and related current events. This course teaches pathophysiology, pharmacotherapeutics, and pharmacy practice skills, and we thought a Facebook page might be a useful study aid. After creating the page, we evaluated how students used the page, how often they used it, and what their opinions were about the page. …