Social Network Sites as an Academic Induction Tool

This post provides an annotated bibliography of some work on using social media (in particular Facebook) as a pre-registration/pre-university/induction tool. The references given can also be found at my Delicious site. Some examples of the use of Facebook for induction purposes are given at the end.

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Facebook, social integration and informal learning at university: ‘It is more for socialising and talking to friends about work than for actually doing work’ [Link]

This is a really interesting paper on the use of Facebook as a pre-university networking tool. The study was carried out in the University of Leicester and respondents to the online survey in the study were drawn from all academic disciplines in the university (20% science; 28% social science; 19% arts). The paper looked at several aspects:
– the use of Facebook pre-registration
– the role of Facebook in social integration during university
– potential role of Facebook for university support services and academic departments.

Pre-Registration:

The survey found that many students had Facebook prior to/on joining university and used the site specifically to make new face-to-face friends at university (especially people in the same hall/course). Facebook, rather than other social network sites, was associated with university level education. Simultaneously, students were joining Facebook at this stae to keep in touh with current face-to-face friends who they would not now see as much.

Social integration at university:

Towards the end of the first academic year, the most common number of university friends per respondent was 30. 3/4 students agreed that they used Facebook more than they did on starting university, with usage including keeping in touch with pre-university friends; planning university social events and making social links at university. The paper discusses each of these, along with providing some respondents thoughts on use of Facebook for formal and informal learning (outside the remit of this annotation, but students saw Facebook as a social rather than academic space).

A Study on the Effective Use of Social Software by Further and Higher Education in the UK to Support Student Learning and Engagement [Link to PDF, see page 22-26]

This is a smaller scale study to the Leicester study, but from a practitioner point of view is more useful. It describes the introduction of a Facebook group for students enrolling on a particular degree programme (BA English) at a Birmingham university. The stated purpose of the pilot project was to east the transition from second to third level. The course director’s research interests are already in the area of content analysis of Facebook posts, and found that much content related to college work.

Implementation:

The group was established and information sent out to incoming students, with clear guidelines on what the group was for (asking questions and getting to know each other). By the end of induction week, 2/3 of the lass had joined the group.

Content:

Topics discussed and posted onto the Wall included queries about the reading list, introduction to fellow students and details about their accommodation.

Evaluation:

Students identified the main benefit as being meeting people before course starting (51%) followed by ability to access information (24%). Staff benefits included being able to identify and address induction queries/concerns and improving social cohesion between staff and students.

Issues Identified:

– Some students did not join Facebook.
– Both staff and students raised concerns about the group being “Open”.
– Apart from addressing academic induction queries, the course director did not identify the group as an academic space.

The group ceased to be used after Induction week, probably because the students identified other personal virtual and real life spaces to interact, without the need for this portal.

Evaluating Systematic Transition to Higher Education [Link]

This study did not use Facebook, but used Ning in a very nice way – students enrolling into first year completed this pre-enrollment induction programme covering both social events and some generic skills information. Ning was chosen over Facebook because
“The most important feature of the site is the ability for students to meet other students at the University in a safe environment where, unlike other social networks such as FaceBook, everyone is part of the same community”

I think Facebook groups gets around this problem, but as a concept, this example has a lot of information to offer.

The Use of Social Networking by Students and Staff in Higher Education [Link to PDF]

This study discusses the use of a purpose built Facebook style social network site at the University of Westminster called Connect. The authors argue that the advantage of such a site over a formal (Corporate) VLE is that the user can decide “what they wish to discuss and who they wish to work with” and that such sites can complement the more formal academic environment of a VLE. They consider that such sites have a major role to play in induction. The results of the study included the fact that more first years (undergrad and postgrad) accessed and interacted with the site than other years; although does not describe whether and how it was used in induction activities.

How can technology be used to improve the learner experience at points of transition [Link to PDF – pages 14 – 16]

This is a recently published review of the area of using technology to support transition points in education, including the school to university transition. It mentions several examples aiming to help students to “settle in, adjust, reduce anxiety, deal with change and learn generic skills”. Several examples are discussed, including initiatives at Sunderland, Manchester, Bournemouth, Bradford, Brighton, Lincoln, Leeds, and Sydney.

The following quote indicates the power of the use of social media for induction:

“Keenan (2009b) notes that offering information and resources before students arrive, in students’ own space and time, spreads the load, helps them to absorb information, gain confidence and can help develop early commitment, engagement and perseverance. Students can find induction week overwhelming and therefore such ‘transition mechanisms’ (Keenan 2006) are important and access prior to induction – to other students, to the course and to the university – is seen as a key step towards providing a successful student transitional experience.”

Examples of Universities using Facebook for induction purposes:

  • Queen Margaret University MSc (pre-registration) Physiotherapy: This example is a “Page” consisting mainly of announcements from programme coordinators, and librarians.
  • University of Leicester Law Freshers 2009: This example is a “Group”, with a lot of interaction from students with posts about texts, timetables etc. It’s not clear whether the site is student generated or has an official role.
  • University of Gloucestershire FCH Induction: This example is a group, but acted only to signpost the members to a university page. There are some posts in the discussion from students wondering about where others are based for accommodation.
  • Learning, Teaching and Enhancement Office, University of Bath: This is not an example but describes the use of facebook sites for academic induction, mentioning that a number of departments have set up site for students accepted onto their programme to provide information on courses, and to create a network to allow students to communicate before arrival.

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