INF506 Case Study

How teachers can use Facebook groups to connect with and support others as part of a Personal or Professional Learning Network.

Introduction
This case study was created to begin investigation into why teachers use Facebook groups as part of their Personal Learning Networks or Professional Learning Networks.  Facebook groups are one method that teachers use to connect with each other outside of schools. Other social media and networking sites are also used by many teachers. However this case study focuses on the use of Facebook groups and why some teachers use these.

Process
The process used for this case study included conducting a literature review and surveying two targeted Australian based Facebook groups and surveying the administrators of these groups. Originally it was planned to interview the administrators via the Facebook messaging service, however to make analysis easier, a second survey was created for them to complete. Members of other Facebook teacher groups were also encouraged to complete the survey via Twitter. The two Facebook groups that were targeted were Relief Teaching Ideas Community (RTIC) and Teachers of Adelaide (ToA). These groups were selected as the author is a member of these groups. The RTIC group has over 10,000 members and 4 administrators. The ToA group has over 2,000 members and two administrators. Given the time of year that these groups were asked to complete the survey, 107 responses were returned. The free version of Survey Monkey was used to create and collect responses which only allowed ten questions and 100 responses to be viewed.

Literature Review
A literature review was conducted to see how Personal Learning Networks and/or Professional Learning Networks were used by teachers, particularly in an online format. Both terms were used in the literature. This case study will refer to both as PLN. Some prefer the term Personal Learning Networks as they are connections that they have made for personal learning, not just professional learning.  In this case study, they will be used interchangeably. Some literature refers to communities of practice (Ranieri, Manca, & Fini, 2012; Ranieri et al., 2012) which when extended to the online world, can be referred to as networks of practice (Ranieri et al., 2012) are also forms of PLNs.  It is to be noted that much of the research in using Facebook in education relates to using Facebook in the tertiary setting (Ranieri et al., 2012). Other social networking and media platforms have more often been researched for application in the classroom and for PLNs therefore a more general social networking and media literature review was conducted.

 

De Rosa, Cantrell, Havens, Hawk & Jenkins note that reasons for using social networking sites include to meet new people and to be part of a group or community (2007, pp. 2–17, 2–18). Anderson explains that

Social media gives me access to the movers and shakers in education. It allows me to share amazing resources with educators all over the globe, to try our new ideas, and grow as a professional. It gives me a voice (cited in Ishizuka, 2010, p. 36).

Trust notes that PLNs allow access to “information and connections to thousands of individuals with an array of expertise” (2012, p. 133) and that these connections can be worldwide using social media tools. Anywhere, anytime learning is what can make social networking and social media PLNs attractive (Duncan-Howell, 2010; Elliott, 2009; Flanigan, 2011; Perkins, 2009; Ranieri et al., 2012; Richardson & Mancabelli, 2011; Trust, 2012).  Teachers engage in PLNs to learn from others, share resources, for support  and reducing isolation factors (Duncan-Howell, 2010; Elliott, 2009; Flanigan, 2011; Ranieri et al., 2012; Richardson & Mancabelli, 2011; Trust, 2012). Pietsch & Williamson (2007) presented research into beginning teachers in New South Wales which indicated that because of the casualization of teaching, many new teachers are not able to access professional development (PD) easily which leads to the assumption that having an effective PLN can assist in developing further as a teacher, particularly in gaining mentors  who may or may not be online (Elliott, 2009).

 

Survey Results
General Teacher Survey
Because the Survey Monkey free version limited the questions possible, some questions were combined to ascertain a variety of variables. The first seven questions were tick box questions and the final three questions were short answer responses. Questions 1, 2, 4, 6 and 7 allowed multiple answers.   Question 3 and 5 were single option answers, with question 3 allowing additional information to be supplied.  The full survey and its responses are available in Appendix A.

 

The answers to some of the questions were a little surprising, given the name RTIC.  58 responses were from people in fulltime employment, although only 26 were permanent and some may have been part time employees.  The majority were primary qualified teachers in the two groups surveyed. The highest percentage for location was South Australia, however this was not unexpected as ToA members were South Australian. A significant number were working for state education departments with the remainder split evenly between independent and catholic schools. Respondents were able to choose more than one educational sector as relief teachers often work across two or more sectors. One respondent mentioned that they were not yet teaching. The split in teaching experience was not a high ratio. There were a number of highly experienced teachers, 33 %, who completed the survey.  50% of the responses came from teachers who had, at most, 5 years’ experience which was anticipated given the types of posts in the RTIC group that had been observed over the past year that the author had been a member.

 

Questions 6 and 7 allowed teachers to indicate why and how they use the Facebook teacher group. Again multiple answers were able to be selected. It was interesting to note that many were using groups to gather ideas and resources, including sharing ideas and resources that they had success with, and to connect with other teachers.  A reasonable number of teachers also used the groups to gather information about PD ideas and opportunities. They also used the groups to discuss other educational issues relevant to Australia. It was projected that these groups would offer information by members about different PD opportunities as it was anticipated that many of the group members may not be permanent staff and so not have access to some information about PD opportunities.

 

Question 7 attempted to ascertain where teachers heard and/or accessed PD. The results were a little surprising, in that a significant number accessed internal PD. This was not totally unexpected when realising that most teachers who completed the survey, were on long term contracts or permanent staff members. The second highest response for accessing PD was via social networking or social media. This indicated that this in an effective way for those offering PD opportunities to communicate with teachers. Educational associations were also a high response for accessing PD. These include subject based associations, e.g. Australian Association for the Teaching of English, and its’ state based affiliations; and schooling level associations, e.g. Middle Schooling Association of Western Australia.  Most of those who use social networking and social media sites for PD opportunities indicated that they use Facebook. Twitter was also mentioned as a social media tool that was used for this purpose.

 

Question 8 asked teachers to indicate which teacher Facebook groups they belonged to. While some did, many did not. This was to see if there would be other Facebook groups that may be surveyed if further study was required. This question also asked teachers to indicate why they joined a Facebook teacher group. 75 teachers completed this question. The key phrases and ideas were compiled and a Wordle was created to allow a visual analysis.

 

(TL_Liz, 2014)

This was to allow teachers to indicate other options to those offered in question 6 or to repeat answers if they wanted. The key reasons for joining a Facebook group were for ideas and resources. Support, networking and keeping up to date were also notable reasons for joining. Much of this was also indicated when answering question 9, why teachers would also recommend joining a Facebook teacher group; networking, support and sharing ideas and resources were key reasons that were given. Some teachers indicated that for them it depended on the group and their teaching area. Some generalised groups were seen to be more primary school level orientated, however that may be because the majority of the active members are of that level. Some commented that they would not recommend some groups as they feel that a number of members expect others to do their work for them in developing ideas and resources on topics rather than using the group to expand ideas. Only one teacher said that they did not find the groups helpful.

 

Question 10 asked if there was anything that they felt they would like access to in the Facebook group that they have access to elsewhere. Most did not. However there were a few comments of note offered.

·         Offering links to free BOTES (NSW Teachers Registration Board) accredited online training (Respondent 99, personal communication, 19 December 2014)

·         sharing of local professional development offerings (Respondent 79, personal communication, 18 December 2014)

·         sharing of documents like it is possible through Dropbox and Edmodo (Respondent 29, personal communication, 17 December 2014; Respondent 46, personal communication, 17 December 2014)

·         links to professional development sites and courses (Respondent 17, personal communication, 17 December 2014)

·         permanent teachers groups, not just general teacher groups (parallel to Relief Teaching Australia group) (Respondent 74, personal communication, 17 December 2014)

·         to be more of a Pinterest type of group rather than discussing unemployment (Respondent 19, personal communication, 17 December 2014; Respondent 61, personal communication, 17 December 2014)

·         art/design teachers groups split into primary and secondary which we can take part in both or one as well as a platform to connect with local practising artists who may be taking part in artists-in-schools programs (Respondent 48, personal communication, 17 December 2014)

·         meeting people face-to-face (Respondent 22, personal communication, 17 December 2014)

·         Organisation of conversation threads in Facebook groups are also not organised in any other way but time, so if no one bothers to search the group or scroll down, we end up with dozens of posts about the same topic and the same people repeating themselves over and over in response. (Respondent 88, personal communication, 17 December 2014)

·         It’s a social forum. There are still many questions or opinions that cannot be shared in these forums. For example, I am a member of a music teachers group which is full of many other teachers whom I may one day work with or work under, revealing weaknesses is a concern of mine as keeping perceptions positive is crucial to future work. I think you will see more groups become smaller and more focused in future. (Respondent 88, personal communication, 17 December 2014)

·         not being able to discuss incidents because using real name (Respondent 93, personal communication, 18 December 2014)

Group Administrator Survey
Group administrators of both RTIC and ToA were also asked to complete another survey in addition to the general teacher survey. In part this was to see the reasoning behind the creation of the groups. There were six administrators asked to complete the survey.  The first question asked administrators to indicate which group they were involved in.  This was to see if both groups were included; no other identifying data was recorded. Unfortunately, neither of the ToA group administrators responded to this survey. Two of the RTIC administrators are also administrators for other teacher Facebook groups.  Full results of the administrator survey are available in Appendix B.

The creation of RTIC came from the administrator having another FB page, Relief Teaching Ideas.

It started off as a page where I would post ideas to use in the classroom. It quickly snowballed into a forum where people were asking if I could post their questions on my page for them. I couldn’t keep up with the demand & was getting stressed every time I logged on, because I couldn’t post everyone’s questions (I would sometimes get 20-30 requests a day!). I started the group as a way for people to post their questions directly. I also like how posts could be searched for, files & photos could be easily shared, and popular posts could be bumped up to the top & not be lost. (Respondent 2A, personal communication, 17 December 2014).

The ToA group has a file about the origins of the group which indicates that it was created as a “pretty handy place to network with other teachers, share/ request resources and so on” (Hibbert, 2010).

How each person became an administrator was queried, and three were approached by the group creator to be an administrator as they were thought to be active and trustworthy.  These four administrators find it time consuming but rewarding.  One commented that they enjoyed being busy with the groups that they were administrators for as it helped connect them with the teaching profession and adds to their learning and reflection (Respondent 1A, personal communication, 16 December 2014). Each of these administrators also participates in other Facebook teacher groups, indicating in question 7 that they did so for similar reasons to the teacher survey.  Half of the administrators completed the teacher survey as well.

Discussion
Ranieri et al (2012) completed a study on using Italian Facebook groups professionally and determined that there were two main group types, generic and thematic. The two groups surveyed were of the generic type as they were not specifically created for a school based project  (Ranieri et al., 2012, pp. 758–759). This allowed some insight into how others use Facebook groups professionally.  However, they did not discuss why teachers might join a Facebook teacher group in detail.

 

It was interesting to compare the research which indicated that support (Duncan-Howell, 2010; Trust, 2012) was one of the main reasons for using a PLN to the general teacher Facebook group survey results for question 8 where it was clearly one of the key features in joining a Facebook teachers’ group.  It was interesting to note that one pre-graduate teacher was already developing their PLN via a Facebook teachers’ group.  Pietsch & Williamson’s paper (2011) combined with the results of question 5, where 28% had less than 2 years’ experience,  and question 1 where 41 out of 67 teachers were not permanent, an inference may be drawn that developing a PLN which may include Facebook teacher groups would certainly assist with the disjointed teaching experience in a number of schools early in their teaching career. Further and more extensive study would be beneficial to confirm this idea.

 

Collaboration, including the sharing of ideas and resources were also key reasons for using a Facebook teacher group, questions 6, 8 and 9.  This collaborative concept was supported in the literature extensively (Duncan-Howell, 2010; Flanigan, 2011; Huang, Yang, Yueh-Min, & Hsiao, 2010; Perkins, 2009; Ranieri et al., 2012; Trust, 2012). While the literature did not explicitly refer to Facebook groups, it did refer to social networking and social media platforms as part of a PLN.

 

The use of PLNs to access PD was not widely explained in the literature. It was noted that PLNs could be used to do this but these were not the formal PD sessions that many schools and education systems expect teachers to comply with. PLNs allow individual lifelong learning, rather than faculty/school based learning (Duncan-Howell, 2010; Elliott, 2009; Flanigan, 2011; Perkins, 2009; Richardson & Mancabelli, 2011; Trust, 2012). This is not to say, that formal PD activities cannot be discovered and accessed through PLNs.

Evaluation
Further study in the area of Facebook teacher groups would be beneficial, particularly to ascertain if developing a PLN which may include Facebook teacher groups would certainly assist with the disjointed teaching experience in a number of schools early in their teaching career.  Some Facebook teacher groups are a closed community which means members need to be invited; others are public groups. It would be of interest to investigate why this is done.

While Survey Monkey was a reasonable tool to use, the limits of the free version reduced the analysis that could be completed. A more in-depth study on the use of Facebook teacher groups as part of a PLN would be of interest.

Conclusion
Using Facebook teacher groups as part of their PLN are one way of being connected outside of school to other teaching professionals worldwide. Many use these groups as a way to connect with other teachers, share resources and ideas, and support each other in the changing world of teaching.

Reference List
De Rosa, C, Cantrell, J, Havens, A, Hawk, J, & Jenkins, L. (2007). Our Social Spaces. In Sharing privacy and trust in our networked world: A report to the OCLC membership. ([ebook].). Dublin, Ohio: OCLC. Retrieved from http://www.oclc.org/content/dam/oclc/reports/pdfs/sharing_part2.pdf

Duncan-Howell, J. (2010). Teachers making connections: Online communities as a source of professional learning. British Journal of Educational Technology, 41(2), 324–340. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8535.2009.00953.x

Elliott, C. (2009). We are not alone : the power of personal learning networks. Retrieved December 29, 2014, from http://www.academia.edu/1194073/We_are_not_alone_the_power_of_Personal_Learning_Networks

Flanigan, R. L. (2011). Networking Professionals. Education Week, 31(9), S10–S12. Retrieved from http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2011/10/26/09edtech-network.h31.html

Hibbert, J. (2010, November 1). Teachers of Adelaide Welcome file. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/notes/teachers-of-adelaide/welcome/166241620072285

Huang, J. J. S., Yang, S. J. H., Yueh-Min, H., & Hsiao, I. Y. T. (2010). Social Learning Networks: Build Mobile Learning Networks Based on Collaborative Services. Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 13(3), n/a. Retrieved from http://ifets.info/journals/13_3/9.pdf

Ishizuka, K. (2010). People Who Need People. School Library Journal, 56(2), 32 – 36.

Perkins, J. (2009, Summer). Personalising teacher professional development : strategies enabling effective learning for educators of 21st century students. Retrieved December 29, 2014, from http://eprints.qut.edu.au/39234/1/39234.pdf

Pietsch, M., & Williamson, J. (2007). “It’s all about experience”: The challenge of becoming a teacher in fragmented employment contexts. In Proceedings of the 2007 Australian Teacher Education Association National Conference, 3 – 6 July 2007 (pp. 1 – 13). Wollongong NSW: ATEA.

Ranieri, M., Manca, S., & Fini, A. (2012). Why (and how) do teachers engage in social networks? An exploratory study of professional use of Facebook and its implications for lifelong learning. British Journal of Educational Technology, 43(5), 754–769. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8535.2012.01356.x

Richardson, W., & Mancabelli, R. (2011). The power of networked learning. In Personal learning networks : using the power of connections to transform education (pp. 1 – 14). Moorabbin, Victoria: Solution Free Press.

TL_Liz. (2014, December 29). Wordle – Facebook teacher groups. Retrieved December 29, 2014, from http://www.wordle.net/show/wrdl/8411801/Facebook_teacher_groups

Trust, T. (2012). Professional Learning Networks Designed for Teacher Learning. Journal of Digital Learning in Teacher Education, 28(4), 133–138. doi:10.1080/21532974.2012.10784693


                                                            

Appendices are included in the full write up in the document linked below which contains all the images as well.

Case Study INF506

Skip to toolbar