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Social Media and Physical Education

written by Matthew Cummiskey, West Chester University, and Joanne Leight, Slippery Rock University

Relevance of Social Media to PE

The use of technology in physical education has increased considerably in recent years with such devices as pedometers, heart rate monitors and exergaming, to name just a few. One area that has yet to be explored is the use of social media such as Facebook and Google+ in physical education.

In the age of technology, social media plays a huge part in the lives of our students. According to a recent report from the Pew Research Center, 73 percent of teens between the ages of 12 and 17 use social networking. This number is up from 55 percent just four years ago (Jackson, 2011).

Due to the prevalence of students using social networks, Facebook and Google+ represent an opportunity to connect with students online in ways that promote physical activity offline. Students can learn how to create group profiles related to physical activity, to view instructional photos and videos, to plan events, and to connect with others who share similar physical activity interests. In doing so, students will learn to use social media as more than just a social tool but as a health and physical activity tool.

Defining Social Media

Social media or social networking sites are "web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system" (Boyd & Ellison, 2007, 211). Social media allows individuals to connect with others publicly or privately on any topic of interest.

The most common social media site was Facebook, with 96% of college students using the popular site (Capano, Deris, & Desjardins, n.d.). There are other social network sites like Hi5, Friendster, Xanga and DeviantArt, but they are used to a lesser extent. Google, known mostly for being a search engine, launched its own social networking site called Google+. It remains to be seen if Google+ will compete with Facebook in the social network arena as Facebook is the second most popular internet site behind Google. (Alexa, n.d.). Due to its popularity versus other social media sites, this article will focus more on Facebook.

What is Facebook?

Each Facebook page has five sections: Wall, Info, Photos, Notes, and Friends. The Wall is the first to open; users can share a status update, upload photos, share a link or video, pose a question or survey their friends. From here, users can view a friend’s profile including who they have friended. Think of the Wall as the homepage for a Facebook profile.

Each user also has an Info page, which is set up by the user to reveal as much or as little as desired. Here information is posted regarding education, employer, favorite movies, music, and more. Users can make this information private by allowing only friends to view it. In order to become a friend, the user sends a friend request and waits for it to be accepted. Once accepted the entire profile is available for viewing.

Individuals may use Facebook to keep family and friends up to date with any or all daily activities. In physical education, students could post their favorite fitness activity, comment on what they did in class, or share a great new nutritious snack. Classmates could then make comments or give a thumbs up (signifying that you like the post), providing the interaction that draws many people to Facebook.

Facebook can also be used to send private messages to friends, much like email but without clogging up an email inbox. In addition to creating an individual profile, users may also create a group profile. Groups can be open for anyone to join, or private with members only selected by the administrator of the profile. Groups are able to use Facebook as a tool to keep everyone informed without the need to send numerous emails.

Uses of Social Media in Physical Education

There are a myriad of ways to use social media in physical education. One of the easiest and most straight forward is to create individual teacher profiles. These profiles should be publicly accessible and aligned with the philosophy of the department. For example, teachers may post their physical activity interests, reasons for becoming a physical educator, pictures being active, favorite links, and contact information. These profiles may also serve as models to younger students of an appropriate page of a professional adult (Eberhardt, 2007).

Teachers may upload videos of skills being performed, and require that students view them and practice the skills as a part of an assessment. Teachers may post information about a specific sport or activity, such as the rules of tennis and its history. In many ways, social media profiles can take the place of traditional webpages and the skills required to build them. Another option would be to create a webquest on the Notes page requiring students to complete a series of tasks using the internet. In addition, teachers may simply post videos of student having fun in PE.

These functions are not entirely different from what is possible on a departmental website with two major exceptions. First, social media profiles are more adaptable and responsive to individual teachers. As many teachers know, having a school district web manager or IT professional update webpages in a timely and frequent manner is not always possible. Second, using Facebook, Google+ and others harnesses the power of social media in ways that are more impactful. If a student sees an entertaining video of a friend snowboarding in class, and gives it the thumbs up sign, that change will be posted on their wall and become viewable by all their friends. That individual may additionally share the link with their friends. Teachers may choose to post links for snowboarding resources near their school or clubs related to snowboarding, all of which is oriented towards getting students more active.

Physical Education Departments May Create Group Profiles

First determine the purpose and scope of the intended profile (Ewbank, Foulger & Carter, 2010). Departmental profiles provide more global information, such as its mission, grading policies, and curriculum summaries. It is recommended that departments disable the ability of others to post on the Wall because physical educators cannot approve the comments before they are posted.

To do so, uncheck the box next to the "Friends can post to my wall" (Facebook, 2011). The Events page can be used to highlight department-wide events such as Jump Rope for Heart or Open House night. Pictures can be posted of events concluded or student participating in various fun activities in PE. As with any photos of students, seek permission first.

Social media makes teachers more accessible, and also allows them to connect more easily with alumni and parents. Teachers could recruit and coordinate volunteers to assist in class or extra-curricular activities. Fundraising events could be publicized through profiles, or donations solicited. In some cases, PE programs have created issue-driven profiles aimed at forestalling cuts in physical education. These efforts have included publicizing the quality of program, organizing petition drives, and soliciting parental support. In general, profiles that portray physical education in a positive light advocate for the profession.

Social media allows new and existing students to learn about their physical education program before even stepping into the gym (Luo, 2009). This reduces apprehension, helps students become better acquainted with their teachers, and allows students to learn the rules and procedures of the program (Mazer, Murphy & Simonds, 2007). Teachers also have the opportunity to learn about individual students, particularly those with whom they may be having behavioral problems. By knowing information about a student's family, likes and dislikes, or recent events (Coldplay concert, dirt bike race), teachers can more easily build rapport. This in turn may increase appropriate behavior in PE.

Creating profiles is relatively easy. Driving traffic to them is more challenging. Use a logo and make the page aesthetically attractive. Periodically update the photos and videos, and note it on the Wall. Create lively discussions by asking students what activities are their favorites, and is dodgeball an appropriate PE activity (Ewbank, Foulger & Carter, 2010, 2010)? For example, one school surveyed students as to whether PE should be taught in school – 93% agreed.

Initiate contests such as the best t-shirt design for the required PE uniform, or best picture being active over break. Have "celebrity" appearances by former alumni talking about how they use the skills learned in PE as adults. Host giveaways where the first students to post a comment about an updated photos gets a prize. Invite students to post a quote related to fitness, physical activity, or health. Continually endeavor to maintain a vibrant and active profile which keeps students engaged, and simultaneously promotes health and physical activity. If your profile is rarely visited, make changes that attract students.

In addition to traditional teacher centered profiles, incorporate strategies that promote students connecting with other students through social media. Some students will be less apprehensive to join social networks led by their peers as opposed to teachers. For example, teachers may require that all intramural teams create group profiles, post pictures and a schedule of events. This encourages students to connect online through a shared interest, thus building friendship, camaraderie, and positive associations with team play and physical activity (Madgea, Meekb, Wellensc, & Hooleyd, 2009).

Teams may also post friendly banter on other team's profiles and teachers should periodically monitor the discourse for civility. Some profiles will flourish while others languish, but ultimately participants will be more engaged in their teams and the intramural program. In addition to intramurals, require student clubs (volleyball, paintball, break dancing) to form profiles as a means to recruit new members and publicize their activities.

Social media can be a great tool for advocating for physical education. There is a Facebook page named "Advocate Physical Education in our Schools!" and another one promoting "Quality Physical Education." Social media is a quick and easy way to reach large numbers of people in a highly efficient and productive manner. Teachers can use it to promote the positive activities that are occurring in the classroom. They can inform parents, students, and community members of special events that are occurring, such as Open House, Field Day or the annual Dance Competition.

As more and more physical education class time is reduced, or cut altogether, it is imperative that physical educators advocate for their programs. Social media permits users to do just that in a free, easily accessible forum for all to see. The ability to network with others, and to share pages with friends who then share with their friends, allows your page to be viewed by more than just individual friends. This networking is what makes social media so attractive to its users, and can provide a powerful advocacy platform for physical educators.

Getting Started and Privacy

Prior to using social media with students experiment with it on a personal basis, and when comfortable use it with students. Always remember that any information sent electronically cannot be recalled; it is out there for everyone (Fodeman & Monroe, 2009). Therefore, use caution. Maintain professional standards in all cases, and keep all communications to school related issues or events. Not personal ones. Remember that Facebook policies prohibit students under the age of 13 from creating an account so restrict usage to high school only (Facebook, 2011).

Be aware that some social media features are better received by students than others (Teclehaimanot & Hickman, 2011). Students are generally more comfortable with passive activities such as reading profiles, posting status updates, and viewing pictures. Students were less comfortable with more active interactions such as pokes and comments to individual users. Some features may mirror those provided by your school district. In such instances, use official channels. For example, use your school district provided email account as opposed to the one provided via Facebook.

When creating a profile, decide whether you want it to be professional only, a mixture of friends, colleagues and students with filtering, or accessible to everyone (Rego, 2009). A professional-only profile viewable by everyone is recommended since users can focus the message more precisely on physical education and physical activity. Teachers can set professional profiles so that anyone, regardless of friend or not, may view the profile.

When creating a profile, do not automatically accept the default user settings (Rego, 2009). Adjust the privacy controls so that students may not see photographs tagged by other users besides the teacher. This enables profile owners to more strictly control access to photographs taken by friends. Adjust the permissions for tagged videos in the same manner. Finally, do not allow students to write on the wall as it is difficult to screen comments in a timely manner.

Policies and Cautions

There has been a large amount of discussion and fallout recently regarding social media use by teachers. Some states enacted legislation significantly restricting teacher activities on social media websites. As with new technologies, there will be a period of adjustment and clarification. Many school districts and states are developing appropriate use policies (AUPs) regarding social networks and other forms of electronic communication (texts, tweets etc.). If there is an AUP pertinent to your job location, please familiarize yourself with its contents.

In the absence of an appropriate use policy, play it safe. Teachers should not "friend" students as this may conflict with school district policy, and eliminates the possibility of friending some students but not others. In addition, teachers should not initiate or reply one-on-one with students. All activities should be publicly viewable. Absolutely refrain from making any disparaging remarks about students, your job, the department, the school and the district. Teachers should continually model positive, appropriate adult interactions.

If you maintain a personal Facebook or Google+ profile, make it private but never assume the information is truly private. Friends have the ability to copy and forward information to others. Do not discuss work on personal accounts.

Prior to using social media, lay the groundwork for a successful endeavor. This means contacting administrators and making them aware of your plans, and if necessary seeking permission (Dickerson & Schad, 2010). This may include discussing how it will be used, and allowing for questions or issues to be raised. If teachers are planning to require, not in a voluntary format, that students use Facebook or Google+ as part of physical education, tutorial documents and trainings should be provided. Physical educators should also review the Facebook page devoted entirely to Facebook in Education.


Facebook, Google+ and others are emerging, yet already enormously popular forms of social media. They represent an opportunity to build communities that value and engage in physical activity and fitness (Ewbank, Foulger & Carter, 2010). Physical educators therefore have a responsibility to learn about this new technology and embrace it in their physical education program. Students will always find peers to play with at the local park or ball field, but in the future they will also find them online - only if we teach them how.


Matthew Cummiskey is an assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology at West Chester University (PA). He has written extensively on technology in physical education including both JOPERD and PSAHPERD Journal articles and has presented two technology-focuses sessions at the AAHPERD national convention. Matthew maintains an extensive website of physical education resources; the web address is

Joanne Leight is in her 16th year at Slippery Rock University where she is an Associate Professor and Assistant Chairperson in the Physical Education Department. She developed and teaches the course Technology for Physical Education Teacher Education, and has written and presented on using technology in Physical Education.

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