Using Social Networks for Teaching and Learning: An Interview with Süleyman Nihat ŞAD

Being a member of a social network can create many benefits for learners - an important one is peer feedback. (Image from flickr commons)

Being a member of a social network can create many benefits for learners – an important one is peer feedback. (Image from flickr commons)

For the majority of students, the profile in a social networking community is a natural part of their everyday communication portfolio – just as indispensable as the cell phone, and possibly more important than the e-mail address. Online social networking strengthens informal ties by disseminating a wide mix of personal content, professional journalistic media, blog posts, images, art, educational content, and other types of information among loosely connected people. Many lifelong learners leverage their personal network for work-related tasks. Examples include simplifying workflows (“cutting through the red tape”), passing on strategic information and mentoring network members in their professional development. Should teachers leave the social networking playground to students or should they actively engage in social networking practices to open up a new communication channel?

To discuss this question, I reached out to Dr. Süleyman Nihat Şad, professor of curriculum and instruction at Inonu University, Turkey. With his colleague Yasemin Ersöz, Dr. Şad recently investigated Facebook as a peer assessment tool in art education (Ersöz and Şad, 2015).

Please tell us more about your use of Facebook as a peer assessment tool. How did the idea come up? What was the role of the instructors? How many students were involved?

Actually, this practice of peer assessment of peers’ paintings on facebook was not a formal part of a course, neither initiated by any instructors. This was a practice initiated by students as its own. During her course “Instructional Technologies and Material Design” with students from visual-art education department at İnönü University, my colleague Yasemin realized that some students regularly use facebook to share the photos of their paintings before or after they finish them. Then, we decided to take this opportunity and investigate it as case study.  Ten visual art education students were asked to describe their experiences and feelings about the practice through focus group interview. Also we analyzed the authentic digital documents including photographs and relevant comments on.

What was the motivation to try new ways of conducting peer assessment?

As I mentioned before, using facebook for peer assessment purpose was not either my or the course teachers’ idea. It was a naturally occurring practice among a group of art education students, which has become popular in time. The informal nature of the practice appealed me the most, because for the last few years I have tried to integrate Facebook into my lessons within the context of teacher training. I have attempted to create seamless learning opportunities for the students attending my courses about educational measurement and evaluation, technology use in education, professional development etc. My intention has been to provide a continuity of student learning between formal classroom setting and informal online social media settings. I shared critical cases, caricatures, quotes, or posed questions or ideas to start a discussion on the subject matter they have learnt recently or previously. I have encouraged them to submit their assignments in special groups. However, in most cases the learners’ levels of participation was very low. I have noticed that from time to time students take it for serious only when I direct them to these facebook tasks formally as an assignment to be graded as a part of their achievement scores. Unfortunately, this destroys the underlying learning-based formative intention. When it comes to the case under question, students were not directed by any instructors or given it as an assignment to get better grades.

As for the students’ motivation to use facebook, we understood from our study that generally students think facebook-based  peer assessment is beneficial, since it helps them notice their deficiencies, they are able to look at their work from a different perspective, which helps improve their artistic skills. While these are common to face-to-face peer assessment, innovative part of facebook is the advantage of ubiquity: peer assessment is not restricted to the lesson time or studio, and they enjoy feedback from students from upper grades or from the art departments of other national or international universities without any limitation of time or space.

Did students like or dislike the practice?

We found that the answer to this question is controversial. While most students generally had positive attitudes towards this practice thanks to its advantages mentioned above, there were serious criticisms against the practice. They were mostly critical about the subjective comments biased according to the degree of friendship, and also destructive comments demotivating and discouraging the students from sharing their paintings.  Poor quality of the photos of some paintings was another limitation.

 Overall, based on your experiences, is Facebook an effective peer assessment tool?

I believe it is effective mainly because it is a self-motivated activity. Secondly its ubiquitous nature makes it independent of space and time, thus providing some continuity between formal and informal learning settings. This refers to the new concept of seamless learning. Some of the limitations can be overcome by taking some simple precautions. For example, some clear instructions or principles (regarding objectivity, making constructive assessment not destructive, avoiding humiliation etc.) about criticizing group members’ paintings or works should be announced regularly. Several reliable, objective and popular students should serve as moderators or administrators of the group.

How can social media be a part of formal education? What is your vision of a perfect integration?

In general, an instructor should for sure use students’ real life experiences, genuine interest and authentic materials in teaching. And as a reality of our daily lives, social media tools exactly fit in this definition. Instructors should involve social media smoothly, not invading the students’ territories of freedom. As I have mentioned earlier, in my experience and context, I was not able to integrate social media into formal education. Especially forcing students to use social media for study or assessment purposes may not prove productive. I believe letting the practice be an informal part of the lesson may preserve the formative function of peer-assessment as against its summative function. Therefore the instructor should not get so much involved in the process. Students can be asked to produce project ideas integrating social media into the lesson in line with the curricular objectives.


Süleyman Nihat ŞAD is an associate professor at Curriculum and Instruction department at Inonu University in Malatya, Turkey. His main research interests include curriculum and instruction, technology integration into education, material design, language teaching, measurement and evaluation, qualitative research methods. He has authored several articles, conference papers, and projects on technology integration in education, teacher training, mobile learning, parental involvement, teaching foreign languages.


Further Information

Ersöz, Y. & Şad, S.N. (2015, 13-15 May). Facebook as a Peer Assessment Tool: Does it Work in Visual Art Education. Paper presented at International Congress on Education for the Future: Issues and Challenges (ICEFIC 2015), Ankara University, Turkey.

Grawe, C. & Kourotchkina, A. (2016). Potentials and possibilities of using social media by universities – the case of Facebook used by the University of Hagen. In Proceedings of Global Learn 2016 (pp. 21-27). Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).

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