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A Student-Driven Online Community of Practice: Facebook Friends

Swapna Kumar (University of Florida, USA)
Mark Hart (University of Florida, USA)
Additional Authors
Johanna Kenney (University of Florida, USA)
Session Information
November 21, 2013 - 11:30am
Student Services and Learner Support
Areas of Special Interest: 
Social Networking
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Research Study
Institutional Level: 
Universities and Four Year Institutions
Audience Level: 
Session Type: 
Information Session
Europe 3
Session Duration: 
35 Minutes
Information Session 8

The development and analysis of a student-led community of practice using Facebook in an online graduate program.

Extended Abstract

This presentation focuses on an online doctoral cohorts’ use of Facebook as a means for building an educational community of practice. This presentation will be useful for anyone trying to build a sense of community amongst a group of learners, in an online or blended environment.


A community of practice (CoP) refers to groups of learners who have similar goals, build a sense of personal and professional identity and develop a common purpose and collective responsibility (Lave & Wenger, 1991). To be successful CoPs require three elements: domain, community, and practice (Wenger, McDermott, & Snyder, 2002). The domain is the common ground or common interest shared by the group’s members, such as a degree program. The community is formed through the active sharing of information and the subsequent building of trust. Finally, the practice evolves through the creation of new knowledge and the ensuing reexamination of the domain (Byington, 2011).

Learner-developed and learner-run CoPs give students the opportunity to control their own identity and interactions, to use existing technologies that are familiar to the users, and to create a safe environment for authentic conversation. Social media that are free of cost and easily accessible present multiple opportunities for students to collaborate and build such communities of practice, especially at a distance. This presentation describes how students in an online doctoral program used Facebook to create an educational community of practice and achieve their common goals.


Online students in a doctoral program to create a Facebook group to communicate, help recognize common challenges, lend each other support, and share goals. Sixteen of 18 students joined this group that was closed to faculty members and where students had the option of participating in any manner they pleased, i.e., peripheral, full, marginal, or contingent (Handley et al., 2006) based on their comfort level and specific contextual need. The question: ‘(In what ways) Did Facebook interactions contribute to the building of a community of practice among online doctoral students?’ was studied by a content analysis of interactions in the Facebook Group.


The three main themes that emerged from the data were knowledge sharing, support, and problem solving. Assignment clarifications, grading questions, peer feedback and resource sharing for exam preparation and assignments, and administrative issues were found to fall under knowledge sharing. All posts that offered support and encouragement about work-life balance, shared frustration, social information, involved humor or commiseration were included under support. Problem-solving involved students’ collective solving of problems as a group where various members provided bits of information, solutions, or even applied the solution and reported to the group. Examples for each of these themes will be discussed during the presentation.

Implications and conclusions

Members of this Facebook group shared their individual knowledge with peers, leading to shared knowledge, distributed cognition, changes in perceptions, and a feeling of community. Each member of the group was able to quickly and effortlessly interact with others and with the content thereby quickly moving the group from a social network to a CoP where new knowledge was created by the community. While most educators strive for faculty-created community, our research points to students’ use of Facebook to create community. We will engage the audience in a discussion about how faculty can help students create community on their own.

Lead Presenter

Swapna Kumar is a Clinical Assistant Professor at the School of Teaching and Learning, University of Florida. She is currently engaged in teaching and research in the online Ed.D. program in EducationalTechnology at the College of Education, University of Florida. Her researchfocuses on online pedagogy, online program development,Blended Learning, online communities, and the use of new technologies in higher education.