Whilst the majority of students have Facebook profiles, potential to support academic institutions was seen in its features. This paper provides a generalization of several case studies about the utilisation of Facebook in several universities. It offers an overview of the advantages, constraints and limitations of the suggested practices. The report shows that although Facebook implementation faced partial success, most of the respondents strongly believed that it should remain a forum only for social networking, not a platform for formal academic information.
2. Terms of reference.
Social networking sites, especially Facebook, have gained wide popularity in the last few years. They provide a variety of options such as group setting, live chat and online discussion forum. This structure made it possible to expand and go beyond the boundaries of being tools utilised only for marketing and social interaction. Bearing in mind that their main users are individuals at the age of 18-24, they offer a good potential for academic and educational purposes. Owing to the growing interest to the topic, I have been commissioned by the Senior Management Group of the University to investigate whether academic institutions use them in order to interact with students. The purpose of this report is to find out evidence and outcomes of such implementation in the academic community. Although the collected results appear to be somehow contradictory, the dilemma whether Facebook can be both a social and academic forum seems to have a straightforward answer.
To analyse the university strategies regarding social platforms, a review of library evidence and instances was conducted. In order to retrieve materials of high quality and authority, the search was conducted in Google Scholar and Library Catalogue Plus. Since much more research is done on the social aspects and privacy issues regarding Facebook, advanced searching was used in order to ignore the irrelevant information. Due to the recent nature of the topic, the scope of the articles and journals was limited to publications from the past five years, 2007-2012. The findings are overviews of case studies based on the practices in USA, Italy and South Africa with prevailing number of undergraduates as main respondents. Because of the variety of social networking sites, the study is primarily focused on Facebook since it has its roots in the academic environment and in this way it is distinctive from the rest of its kind (Bosh 2009, p.191).
Academic institutions realised that Facebook is a pervasive element in every student’s life (Roodt et al. 2009, 16). Adopting this new approach of getting in touch with their target audiences was a challenging way to increase engagement. The literature review shows that the official presence of universities on Facebook has recently increased. Not only is the presence on Facebook important for attracting potential students, but it also provides advantages for enrolled ones. They already have the experience and the knowledge how to use it, which leads to easy incorporation for the purpose of distributing academic information (Bosh 2009, p.191). Apart from being a powerful marketing tool, Facebook is used as a mechanism for:
* Online discussion on topics covered in lectures
* Administrative and departmental arrangements
* Module information
4.1 Online discussion forum.
Overall, no empirical evidence was found about Facebook used as a sole platform for academic interaction. It was used as a complement to the existing learning management systems (LMS) – web sites, Blackboard, etc. The established Blackboards have proved to be successful tools for information retrieval. Most of them have a discussion forum, but it has rarely been used for communication (Hrastinski & Aghaee 2011, p.453). Case studies in a Comprehensive Disease Management course and at University of Cape Town reveal that the respondents seldom have a look at the discussion board. Due to its features allowing immediate responses, Facebook offers potential to overcome the lack of dialogue among students. However, there were opponents to this idea who strongly believed that the existing LMS was useful and were unwilling to have discussions in a separate forum (Wang et al. 2012, p.431).
This was not an impediment since participation was optional. As a result, learners became more engaged since formulating thoughts online was easier and topics could be discussed more in depth (Cain & Policastri 2011, p.7). Many students struggle to raise questions and participate actively during lectures and tutorials. Therefore, social platforms facilitate and promote the development of analytical skills allowing everyone to take part. The improved level of communication had impact on the classroom climate leading to higher motivation (Loving & Ochoa 2011, p.129). This transition from passive learner to active participant is beneficial (Selwyn 2009, p.158).
It raises student motivation and engagement. Nevertheless, many like Bosh (2009) argue that it does not promote critical thinking since the so-called “Google generation” assumes social platforms primarily as a way of entertainment. Another drawback of online discussions is that responds are listed in a chronological order, not in threads, which makes it difficult to follow the logical links between comments (Wang et al. 2012, p.436).
4.2 Administrative and departmental arrangements.
According to Malesky & Peters (2011), given the large number of students on social networks, multiple university departments and faculties use social platforms to disseminate information to learners. A large number of youngsters have permanent Internet connection on their smartphones and checks their profiles quite often. Therefore, Facebook is utilised for relaying last-minute information about schedules and venues because students are more likely to be on Facebook rather than to check their email (Selwyn 2009, p.163). Important issue to be taken into account here is the authority of the information. It will be assumed as reliable only if it is posted by a member of the academic staff. In addition, departmental pages are good way to get in touch with students, especially during holidays when the existing LMS is rarely visited (Bosh 2009, p. p.187).
For example, at Northeastern University of Boston the initial skepticism of viewing course-related posts in a platform primarily used for social interaction faded away and at the end 57% of the respondents were convinced it was useful (DiVall & Kirwin 2012, p.4). Another important implication of faculty pages is that they create a virtual campus environment where all students can communicate and learn from each other (Bosh 2009, p.195). It is beneficial especially for current students who have the chance to talk and exchange experience with the alumni and graduates they will never meet.
Maintaining good student-faculty relationship through Facebook also reflects on student satisfaction about the quality of the service provided. However, time-constraints and costs of such implementation should be carefully considered before integration since the staff is already maintaining the other course management software (DiVall & Kirwin 2012, p.2). It is a powerful tool for small institutions which cannot afford to purchase a Blackboard (Wang et al. 2012, p.434), but its limitations such as safety and partial participation prevent it from being used as a main tool for information dissemination.
4.3 Information about modules.
Module information was posted in a specially established Facebook groups. This format was chosen instead of a page because of the option to set up a closed community. It was perceived as controlled environment since the lecturer was the one who could add and remove members (Wang et al. 2012, p.436). Generally, feedback about this practice was positive. Apart from communication about assignments, research findings and current affairs, the group wall was a suitable platform for resource and materials sharing – videos, photos, links to external articles were uploaded which were useful for those willing to extend their knowledge beyond the lecture material (Estus 2010, p.3). However, it was not considered as a complete success due to the inability to support resources in other formats (Wang et al. 2012, p.434). To overcome this problem, additional applications such as Google Docs were used in order to extend Facebook capabilities.
Despite this, lectures preferred the traditional Blackboard due to the ease of use. Another advantage of this practice was the positive impact on student-lecturer communication. The virtual office hours allowed learners to contact tutors and lecturers in a less pressured environment (Bosh 2009, p.195). This is important for the better understanding of the matter since learners felt more comfortable to raise their questions on the platform. In addition, lectures’ profiles could enhance their credibility because students see the similarities between the lecturer and themselves (Wang et al. 2012, p.437).
Taking into account that it is a dual-side communication process, the other party (students) revealed that they did not want to be contacted by tutors because it is a social forum for getting in touch with peers and they try to separate social life from education (Madge et al. 2009, 150). Friendship with lecturers was possible but it seldom happened because students were cautious that this could affect their ability to be objective (Malesky & Peters 2012, p.138). Further weaknesses of Facebook here were the inability to support grade notification, assignment uploading and online testing (Loving & Ochoa 2011, p.129).
5. Conclusion and recommendation.
Although literature provides not enough empirical evidence, it is clear that students prefer to keep the divide between their social and academic space. Facebook has suitable affordances, which allow its utilisation as an educational platform as well. Successful practices were found where it has been used as supplement to the existing learning management system for resource sharing and module and academic information dissemination. However, further research has to be done to investigate the links and synergies between both in order to find the best way they could successfully work together. When it comes to the implementation of Facebook practices in a particular university, it should be carefully considered whether weaknesses are outweighted by potential advantages.
Since the literature review shows that Facebook brings a little contribution to the functions of the existing Blackboard, Loughborough University should not invest time and efforts into setting up pages and groups. It is perceived as an intrusive invasion into a place students feel as “theirs” (Loving & Ochoa 2011, p.124). LEARN and student emails already successfully execute the functions Facebook could be used for. Lectures, tutors and academic staff could be contacted at any time and the discussion forum is well-developed. Therefore, a possible integration of Facebook is not worth efforts. Even though it has a potential, it should remain a place for social interaction and not for formal university practices.
6. Word count.
The report contains 1504 words.
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Appendix 1Search strategy
Existing literature about Facebook is focused more on social networking and privacy issues. Since the study needed more education-oriented materials, the initial search in Google and Wikipedia was not useful enough because it led to more general results. The main information retrieval tools used during the investigation were Google Scholar, Library Catalogue Plus and some additional databases found through the Select Database option. In order to avoid a large amount of inappropriate materials, only databases from the “Education” category were selected. The most useful of them was ScienceDirect. In addition to the materials which exactly fitted the search criteria, a number of related articles was suggested, which was very helpful. In all of the information retrieval tools advanced searching strategies were applied in order to narrow the results and sift out the most relevant ones.