Integrating Facebook into Basic Sciences Education: A Comparison of a Faculty-Administered Facebook Page and Group

Review Article

Austin J Anat. 2014;1(3): 1015.

Integrating Facebook into Basic Sciences Education: A Comparison of a Faculty-Administered Facebook Page and Group

Safaa El Bialy1*, Alireza Jalali1 and Akram Abood Jaffar2

1Division of Clinical and Functional Anatomy, University of Ottawa, Canada

2Department of Basic Medical Sciences, University of Sharjah, United Arab Emirates

*Corresponding author: Safaa EL Bialy, Division of Clinical and Functional Anatomy, University of Ottawa, 451 Smyth Road, Ottawa, On K1H8M5, Canada.

Received: July 26, 2014; Accepted: August 25, 2014; Published: September 01, 2014


Facebook (FB) is the most popular social media site visited by university students on a daily basis. Consequently, FB is the logical place to start with for integrating social media into education. The purpose of this study is to explore the use of a faculty-administered FB Page versus a FB Group to supplement and enhance human basic sciences educational experiences. First and second year medical students at the University of Ottawa (UO) and the University of Sharjah (UoS) to whom the group and page were dedicated were invited to take a survey regarding the use of FB as an extracurricular way of enhancing their teaching experience. The majority of students had presence on social networking sites with predominance of FB. Both students using the Anatomy page in UoS and members of the histology Group in UO stated that FB was a time effective way of communication with easy access to the learning material; it was an inviting atmosphere to participate with self-assessment questions being the most popular posts category. Pages and groups are equally accepted by students. Innovative instructors are required to experiment with ways to bring this familiar environment to the classroom. This entails an understanding of the capabilities and limitations of the Page and Group which has been thoroughly discussed in this study. FB should not only be used because students are embracing this new technology trend but because of its inherent potentials in boosting e-learning.”

Keywords: Basic sciences education; E-learning; Innovations in medical education; Social media; Facebook pages and groups


With the rapid development in information and communication technologies (ICTs), various changes have been made in terms of the methods in the teaching and learning process [1]. Social networking sites have attracted a huge following amongst university students and became an integral part of their daily lives. Thus, it is not surprising to assume that they have a potential to improve learning [2,3]. Medical learning, in particular, has grown beyond the boundaries of the four walls of the classroom. Social media is seen as an informal way of learning and offers the opportunity for the students to be highly engaged with educational content outside the four walls of the classroom.

Creative applications of these technologies are tremendously growing at universities around the world, yet there are few examples of their implementation in education for medical students. Some examples of social networking sites are MySpace, Instagram, You Tube, Twitter and Facebook. Although Facebook started out in early 2004 as a Harvard-only social networking site, Facebook is currently the leading social networking site, with more than 1.3 billion active users as of January 2014. According to Facebook statistics, 48% log on in any given day and collectively spend 640 million minutes per month on Facebook [4]. The Facebook phenomenon is happening all over the world. In America, 42% of teens of ages 12-17 communicate via Facebook, replacing landline phones and email with the site. Undeniably, the young generation now is spending more and more time online and on Facebook [5]. The question is, with the growing amount of time youth are spending on social networking sites like Facebook, how should educators consider these to be of value for educational purposes?

Facebook “Timeline” allows users to share information about themselves. Facebook “Pages” allow organizations, businesses, and celebrities to communicate broadly with people who “like” them. Once liked a page fan starts receiving updates which appear in the news feeds. However, Facebook pages are public, a feature that can be controlled in Facebook “Groups.”Groups are more suited to small-group discussions on shared interests and have privacy settings that can be set as open, closed or secret [4].

The purpose of this study is to explore the use of a faculty-administered Facebook Page versus a Facebook Group to supplement and enhance human basic sciences educational experiences beyond those of the traditional classroom. The aim is to provide a model of Facebook use as an educational resource in basic sciences education and to compare the integration of a Facebook Page versus the integration of a Facebook Group into medical education.

Methods and Procedures

The use of Facebook as a faculty-administered closed Group was incorporated into histology teaching at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Ottawa (UO) for two academic years, since 2012. Totals of 13 and 18 hours of lectures were devoted to first-year and second-year medical students, respectively. The students were divided into 2 Anglophone groups and 1Francophone group to be taught by the same professor in their second year of studies and different professors in their first year of studies. The use of a Facebook Page was incorporated into anatomy education resources for second-year medical students at the University of Sharjah (UoS) for two academic years, since 2011. A total of 205 hours was devoted to anatomical sciences and distributed as gross anatomy, 78%; histology, 13%, and embryology, 9%.

The infrastructure of the Faculty of Medicine, UO and UoS is designed to allow free Wi-Fi internet access for all students anywhere on the campus. In UO and UoS, online support to the courses included teaching materials which were made available through one 45 (Source) and the Blackboard learning management system (Blackboard Inc., Washington, DC) respectively. Facebook participation was optional, and students were not graded for participation.

The purpose of the Human Anatomy Education (HAE) Page [] at UoS [6] as well as the Histology Group [ groups/509891252420943/] was to support classroom-based teaching with comments, links, questions, pictures, videos, and interactions. Post categories included assessment, explanatory comments, revision files, videos and video links, book/article recommendations, anatomy- and histology-related humor, arts and history in relation to anatomy and contributions from the audience. Most of the HAE Page and the Histology Group posts were timed to be in synchrony with the objectives of the courses studied at both universities.

Students at the University of Ottawa and the University of Sharjah (total possible n = 320 and n= 157 respectively) to whom the Group and Page were dedicated were invited to take a survey regarding the use of Facebook as an extracurricular way of enhancing their learning experiences. Survey questions were designed based on the current literature [7-10] and optimized with input from faculty and medical student focus groups.

The Histology Group was assessed by an online survey questionnaire created on Google Drive Forms and Statistics were extracted from Google Drive analytics with the free Spanning Stats for Google drive. Although the Insights tool is not available for a Group, the engagement rate was manually calculated by summing up number of likes and comments for each post and dividing them by the number of members who saw the post. The HAE Page was assessed by two methods: first, by distributing paper-based surveys to in-class students, and second, by using the Insights tool of Facebook to provide metrics on the Page’s performance. Significant Insights tool metrics are detailed in [6].

The surveys consisted of items including Likert-style questions, multiple choice questions, yes/no questions and short-answer questions. The data presented was anonymously collected. Participation of students was entirely voluntary and anonymous. No incentives were offered for the completion of the survey [Appendix-1].

The survey questions were divided into sections, each of which approached a concern about student’s use of Facebook: (1) presence on Facebook and other social networking sites, (2) the main purpose of creating the account, (3) frequency of access and devices used to access Facebook, (4) current means, prospects, and preparedness of using Facebook in education and (5) perceptions of using a faculty administered Facebook Group or Page in education.

The frequency of access to Facebook was scaled a “few times a day,”“every hour,” a “few times an hour” and “lost count as I am receiving push notifications.” Regarding the medium of access to Facebook, the following devices were listed: laptop, smart phone, tablet PC and desktop.

Students were asked about the purposes of using Facebook in general and about their current educational usage of a Facebook account in liking Pages with educational themes, participating in medical/educational Groups and contributing by posts. Student perspectives on using Facebook in education were tested by asking them to rate on a Likert scale, ranging from strongly disagree to strongly agree, the following statements: (1) Facebook can be used as a suitable learning environment, (2) Facebook can be a distraction, (3) Facebook is more accessible than other ways of communication with my professor and colleagues, (4) I am aware of privacy settings on Facebook that limit access to personal information, (5) It is an inviting atmosphere that encourages me to participate.

Regarding their perceptions of using the Histology Group and HAE Page, students were asked to rate on a Likert scale their preferences for each post category, effectiveness of the Group or Page and the way the Group or Page contributed to their learning experience.

Analysis of the Results

A total of 63 students at UO and 157 students at UoS participated in the survey. The majority of students (96%) had presence on social networking sites, with a predominance of Facebook users (100%, n=63 at UO and 89%, n=139 at UoS respectively) followed by YouTube users (43%, n=27 at UO and 57%, n=89 at UoS). Twitter and Instagram came in third place at UO (31%, 30%, n=20 and 19 respectively). At UoS, Twitter also came in third place (50%, n=78). Other social networking sites followed as shown in Figure 1.