[Air-L] question about use of Facebook in classroom

Fred Stutzman fred at metalab.unc.edu
Thu Aug 21 06:53:59 PDT 2008


I've also used Facebook in my class - we created a private group and hosted 
our online reading discussions in the group.  I felt this turned out well - 
participation was opt-in, no one was compelled - but I also worried about 
the ethics of such an exercise, particularly the incursion of "school" into 
a primarily social place.

The particular exercise you describe is slightly worrisome.  Particularly, 
asking/compelling students to change their profile.  Due to the many, mixed 
contexts of Facebook, such change could have significant implications for 
the subject or their friend group.  And there's certainly a question of 
whether the students would be comfortable with such self-experimentation to 

The data collection, on the other hand, sounds like an interesting hands-on 
research opportunity.  Perhaps instead of asking the students to change 
their own profiles, you might think about creating a few dummy accounts of 
different age/gender for pooled use by the class?

For my class this semester, we're moving our discussions out of Facebook 
and into Ning.  In the end, I decided that moving school into the social 
space created some issues, and a site like Ning could deliver the 
affordances without all of the contextual issues.  We'll see how that 


On Wed, 20 Aug 2008, Stephanie Tuszynski wrote:

> Hello all-
> I'm teaching an "intro to advertising" class this fall and I was 
> considering using Facebook in class to talk about targeted ads. A few 
> weeks ago I was reading a discussion about the rather unpleasant weight 
> loss ads that seem to pop up to anyone identifying as female on FB and I 
> switched my profile to have an unspecified gender and made my age 
> something like 99 years old to see what happened. What I want to do is 
> have the students make notes for a couple weeks on what ads they were 
> getting on FB and then have them replicate the same thing - change gender 
> and age status and see what happens for the next couple weeks, then we'll 
> compare the data in class to talk about what kinds of ads are targeted to 
> who, etc.
> I am NOT requiring students to get a FB account for the class. Those who 
> don't have one would collect the information provided by those who do and 
> do some analysis. Also this is not research, it's a course exercise, so 
> HSRB isn't a factor.
> But still, I wanted to run this concept by the people who deal with these 
> kinds of exercises and have spent more time thinking about the ethics of 
> this kind of thing than I or any of my colleagues. Does this sound 
> acceptable, from an ethical standpoint?
> Dr. Stephanie Tuszynski
> Assistant Professor of Communication
> Bethany College
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Fred Stutzman
fred at metalab.unc.edu

Co-Founder and Developer, ClaimID.com
Ph.D. Student, Teaching and Research Fellow, SILS UNC-Chapel Hill

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