Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Face to Face(book)

So term has started and the Facebook page is launched and active. Since it launched early in August, in anticipation of Welcome Week, 67 of our students have "liked" the page. That represents 70% of the enrolled student body. Furthermore - due the magic of Facebook "insights"  - since we reached 30 "likes", it has been possible to get data on how many people specific posts have reached and the demographics of our audience.

One of the things you will notice from the demographics is that on our course we have a percentage of students who are outside the normal age range for a "digital native". Some of these mature students have ventured onto FB for the first time in order to be able to access this page and the student led group. In answer to a survey of new students, 92% said they had a Facebook account, so this is definitely a good place to go and meet them.

However, in all the time the page has been available, only two students have posted any message on the wall, and one of those was as a comment on a post of mine. One further student has "liked" a post and a poll asking for votes on the adoption of a new logo received another 3 "likes".

As part of Welcome Week we ran a  treasure hunt with prizes promised for pictures posted. Nada. When questioned, students said they had posted pictures by mistake to "the other FB group" i.e the closed group run by students, for students.

This is all very interesting and supports completely the new report published by Educause last week.

To quote:

"Students want multiple communication options, and they prefer different modes for different purposes and audiences.
1. Students want to connect with one another through social networks but are cautious of mixing academic and social lives. Provide students with networking opportunities that support their academic work but that are one step removed from faculty oversight or involvement."

To be honest, if I were a student, I'd feel the same.

Am I down hearted? No. It was never my intention to create a space where student and "faculty" buddied up. This was mainly intended as a vehicle for transmitting information in a way that is more appealing than is possible on the VLE, has more chance of reaching a wider audience than the VLE (because it tends to be "always on") and because it leads nicely into the assessment task for the module which is to explore how social media can be used as an educational vehicle. I guess I did hope that students might post questions here or that we could use it for some module activities that required a discussion forum but reflecting on this now, I imagine an open page is unlikely to be used in that way.

(This week I have managed to get over 30 replies so far on a Discussion Board activity on our VLE, so at least I know it's not that they don't want to talk to me!!)

The other unsurprising "insight" is that other staff members continue to stay away in droves, despite encouragement, training sessions, promises or pleading. It's basically just me and the Librarian (I DO love librarians!!)

to quote from Educause again:

Technology is important to students in terms of how they access course materials
and how instructors use technology to engage them in the learning process. Students
prefer courses with some online components, and they expect their instructors to
seamlessly integrate technology in their pedagogical practices. It is important to
students that their instructors know how to use technology to facilitate and support

The report goes on to say that most students felt their instructors did use technology effectively but as   a different source asserts:

"Overall, the higher education system is failing to prepare students with the needed digital and social skill set in any meaningful way"

It really is time to get with the programme guys!! Social networking is widely used in business (and that includes the "business" of improving health and well being) to communicate brand, to educate and to shape opinion and it can only be helpful if we ensure that our students graduate knowing how to use it responsibly and effectively.

Having said all that, students appear still to prefer face to face communication with tutors (again, according to the Educause report), closely followed by email. Phew! Good to know I won't be replaced by a chatterbot anytime soon.

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