Facebook: Social integration and informal learning experiences

Continuing the theme of using social media, I thought I would give a plug to a project on ‘Enhancing Student Engagement in Curriculum Development’ here at the University of Reading. Amongst other things, the project explores the use of Facebook for student communication, to capture current practice, plans for the future, and staff and student perceptions of limitations and opportunities.

The project, which is funded by the University’s Teaching and Learning Development Fund (TLDF), is directed by Matthew Almond, School Director of Teaching & Learning for Chemistry, Food and Pharmacy, and supported by a student working group, Student Engagement Champion Joy Collier, and Digitally Ready.

A recent study on ‘Facebook, social integration and social learning at university’ illustrates that Faceboook has an important role to play as part of the ‘social glue’ that helps students settle into university life. Students taking part in the study reported that Facebook was used first and foremost for social reasons, not for formal teaching purposes, although it was sometimes used informally for learning purposes.

Here are some of the research question posed by Philip Smither, one of the students working with Matthew Almond on the curriculum development project at Reading:

  • What is currently happening with regard to the use of Facebook and other social media?
  • What were the motivations/rationale for this?
  • Whose responsibility is it to maintain/upload content to these sites?
  • How successful have these activities been? What is working well/not so well?

Philip says, ‘Recently our department has boomed in student interaction in extra curricular activities with staff using the [Facebook] Classics Society page. Also one of our lecturers has set up a group on Facebook for her class of 24. Within 30 minutes of the group being set up she had 8 students on the page. I feel it’s a medium that can be used in tandem with Blackboard and email.’

In March, after attending a training session on using Twitter on behalf of the university, I compiled a list of ‘official’ social media accounts here at Reading – some 40 Twitter and Facebook pages each at the time, not counting any private accounts or closed groups that staff and students may be using. The curriculum development project should give us a better picture of the ways in which use of these social media sites impact on the student experience at Reading.

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