Facebook as Professional Development?

Rutherford, C. (2010). Facebook as a source of informal teacher professional development. In Education. Retrieved from http://ineducation.ca/index.php/ineducation/article/view/76/512.


For professional development (PD) to be considered effective, it must meet four criteria. These criteria characterize PD as: 1) Sustained, on-going, and intensive; 2) Practical and directly related to local classroom practice and student learning; 3) Collaborative and involving the sharing of knowledge, and; 4) Participant driven and constructivist in nature (Rutherford, 2010, p.62). In the journal article, Facebook as a Source of Informal Teacher Professional Development, author Camille Rutherford seeks to ascertain whether discussions that happen between teachers and other educational professionals on social media can be considered professional development and if such informal conversations meet the above four criteria for effective PD.

Rutherford (2010) begins her article by giving a historical context as to the seven different categories that form the knowledge base for teaching; such categorization serves to, “simplify the otherwise outrageously complex activity of teaching” (Rutherford, 2010, p. 61). These seven categories are not meant to be taken as a reduction of the teaching profession to a list of criteria, but rather form contextual categories that help synthesize the diverse areas that professional development can be offered. These seven categories, as first defined by Shulman (1987) are: 1) general pedagogical knowledge; 2) curriculum knowledge; 3) pedagogical content knowledge; 4) knowledge of learners and their characteristics; 5) knowledge of educational contexts [e.g. different styles of education], and; 7) knowledge of educational ends, purposes, and values [e.g. historical perspectives] (Shulman, 1987, p.7).

In order to determine whether teachers’ conversations on social media met the criteria to be considered effective PD, Rutherford monitored the postings on a Facebook group for teachers in Ontario, Canada. She cites that Facebook has the perception of being an, “adolescent playground ripe with juvenile gossip and social bullying,” however, despite this reality, she notes that Facebook has become a space for professionals who seek opportunities to network and exchange ideas and resources to gather (Rutherford, 2010).  In her monitoring of the Ontario Teachers – Resource and Idea Sharing group, which, at the time (2010), had more than 8,000 members, she used both qualitative and quantitative examinations of the discussion topics.

Over the course of the 2007-08 school year, she found that 278 new and unique topics of discussion were created, generating 1,867 posts from 384 different Facebook users (Rutherford, 2010). Any post that didn’t garner more than 2 responses, were excluded from the study, as, without another’s input, it cannot be considered a discussion. Any post that was also deemed too sales-y, or geared toward promoting an item, product, or service was also excluded from the study. Next, two independent “coders” went through the posts and categorized them into one (or more) of the seven different categories of teacher knowledge (see above). The coders then eliminated any posts that were considered too sales-y, or geared toward promoting an item, product, or service for fee (Rutherford, 2010).

The study found that the majority of the posts were related to Pedagogical Content Knowledge (strategies, tips, and tricks to help out in the classroom), representing just more than a quarter of all total posts (Rutherford, 2010). The next category was a surprising one, as it didn’t fit into any of the categories in Shulman’s conceptual framework for teacher knowledge, so Rutherford created a new category: Employment (opportunities and/or related questions). Posts categorized in this area made up the 22.5% of all posts analyzed (Rutherford, 2010). The final category, representing greater than 10% of total posts (19.8%), included discussions of Curriculum Knowledge. All other categories were comprised of less than 10% of total posts (Rutherford, 2010).

One of the essential features of effective professional development is that it be collaborative, on-going, practical, and participant driven. Rutherford (2010) found that the average number of months that users were actively engaged in discussion was less than 2 months (1.79 months) and the average user made only 4.2 posts during that span. These data suggest that discussions happening on Facebook, while certainly constructivist, collaborative, and participant-driven in nature, were lacking the essential “on-going” feature necessary for effective professional development.

In my situational context, as a professional development provider to schools across the state, we’ve tried to integrate more online components into our professional development portfolio offerings, only to find that teachers generally have not utilized them to the extent we were hoping. I see this evidenced in my own practice as well. When I reflect on my own professional development, both as a teacher, and in my current role as a trainer, I’ve been asked to “continue the conversation” on Edmodo, a social media site similar in platform to Facebook, but dedicated to educators and education. I found the steps of creating a username and password, confirming my email, setting up a profile, requesting access to the page, and waiting to be granted access as very cumbersome steps that did streamline the continuation of learning. In my writing of this blog post, I went back to those pages, only to find that there had only been one post in the 8 months the group had been around.

In my own learning experiences, like my Master’s degree, for example, I found the process of online modules, classes, and activities to be an ineffective medium to facilitate true learning, as the “flow” of a conversation was very unnatural and not conducive to insightful reflections and discussions on practice and pedagogy. While I’m sure that some people may enjoy and find value in the convenience of the online style to meet their varying schedules and time constraints, there is, however, something incredibly valuable for me about having that in-person, face-to-face interactions when learning from and with other people. It becomes much easier, in person, to hear the other person’s tone, read their body language, and ask follow up questions in a meaningful and timely manner, things that are lost through virtual communication. Because of these sentiments, I generally agree with Rutherford’s assessment, when she said, “Facebook teacher groups and similar forms of social media should be seen as an effective supplement [emphasis added] to traditional teacher professional development” (Rutherford, 2010, p.69). The idea that online modules could ever replace in-person professional development is not one I could support, but it certainly has a role to play as a free, low-risk, and convenient medium for teachers to collaborate and learn from one another.


Additional works cited:

Shulman, L. S. (1987). Knowledge and teaching: foundations of the new reform. Harvard Educational Review, 57(1), 1-22

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