The paper explores students’ Facebook activity over 22 weeks of a university semester, identifying that many students are leaving traces of their academic experience in their online personal spaces and that intensity of use fluctuates with key events the university calendar. The paper concludes that, “While it may be possible for lecturers to find ways to include social networking sites [in their course]… such as by creating Facebook ‘groups’ or encouraging students to create their own groups, is it the role of universities to initiate informal student spaces or should students be left to initiate their own learning in social spaces, if they require it?”.
In my research I saw both the benefits (such as comradeship, ad-hoc support, exam preparation) and the challenges (such as the site being distracting) associated with students’ use of social network sites. Many ask if universities should create Facebook Groups for students, and indeed there are some lecturers who do or students who create the spaces themselves for their peers. Yet, academic conversations are not only happening in Facebook and students may be leaving traces of their academic experience or seeking support across a number of different platforms today. Regardless, universities should be aware that these interactions are taking place in online social spaces. However, the impact such use has on learning and peer relationships is not really clear and warrants further exploration.
In the presentation I also told of a story of one of the students who was part of the research study. We happened to bump into each other and the student had mentioned that she was in my study. She told me that the Facebook group, that at the time she shared with me in the study, was still actively used for communicating with one another – even now that they are in their professional roles, they are using it for professional support. When students are undertaking their degrees, to what extent are we helping them to form bonds (online and face-to-face) that may support them when they are in the professional world? Further, the findings demonstrate the value, not only in facilitating on-campus relationships between students, but that potentially facilitating online networks between students can support them in their university experience.
The discussion post-presentation was very interesting and some UK academics shared that there is now ‘political’ tension arising with who is the person to create the first official university Facebook Group for a particular course or cohort. Some academics expressed concerns over the control some students have over the group and peer censorship. How can we ensure that all students are welcome in these ‘Groups’, regardless of the platform and how can we ensure use is fair and respectful with minimal interference?
The rich discussion emerging from the presentation regarding use of ‘Groups’ and ethical considerations suggests that there is still a lot for research to explore in this area!
The full journal paper can be found here.
(Post also published on our CSER site).