MON: What do Distance Students Learn in Social Media Study Groups? (P.Seaward)
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7 December 2014
Many university students engage in social media, and some create prolific learning dialogue (Junco 2011). This paper reports on observation of distance learning MA Education students’ use of their preferred open online, social network study group, over a one year period of one module. The lens of innovation is used as a way of understanding engagement with social media, as web native students are inhabiting new territory to satisfy unmet needs.
The study aims to understand how social media supports or disrupts studies by analysing frequencies of academic related content, and to evaluate the purpose and value of other topics discussed. Some analysis of vernacular literary practice is conducted where it is influential. While academics write public blogs, students exchange more in these microblogging communities which charts a collective stream of consciousness. There are further unexplored questions about how this dialogue and learning differs to that in the institution’s virtual learning environment.
Qualitative data is gathered from open, computer mediated textual dialogue in a naturalistic, ethnographic methodology. This new scholarly communication text of up to 200 students is used to examine patterns of activity, and analyse the textual encounters of critical incidents in more depth. The research population are OU students who engaged in one informal public social media group, formed and led by peer students. They are aged 18 and over, mostly based in the UK. Pseudonyms are used to protect individuals, in line with BERA (2011) guidance.
The findings reported in the paper and conference reveal that students use their social network study group to discuss academic related topics, and to share their experiences about study. Some frustration was experienced with the pedagogy of this module, and sharing of additional resources to aid understanding was common. Like participants in a study by Vivian et al (2014), learners were especially active online at key times in the module calendar. This was for a few weeks in advance of each assessment hand-in date, and for up to a month afterwards as participants shared their reaction to their feedback and results. Tutors were not named, and mentioned only when their behaviour contrasted with student expectations. Occasions which earned more volume and frequency of dialogue include the beginning and end of the module, and a critical incident when the university changed their rules relating to qualification achievement. Overall findings show these learners are accomplished at inhabiting and facilitating innovative, focussed crowd learning in this virtual study space (Sharples et al 2013); and the informal learning dialogue can influence student cohorts constructively.
In summary the results suggest this open, online learning environment may play an important role in the distance learning experience, module attainment and likelihood of overall qualification completion. If there are assumptions among academic staff about the content and value of student social network dialogue, then colleagues are urged to discover more evidence about the value this open platform can offer.
17:13 on 28 January 2015
BERA (2011) ‘Ethical guidelines for Educational research’, online [http://www.bera.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/BERA-Ethical-Guidelines-2011.pdf] accessed 18.08.14 09.30
Junco, R. (2011) ‘Too much face and not enough books: the relationship between multiple indices of Facebook use and academic performance’, Computers in Human Behavior, [online] Available at: http://blog.reyjunco.com/publications
Sharples, M., McAndrew, P., Weller, M., Ferguson, R., FitzGerald, E., Hirst, T., & Gaved, M. (2013). ‘Innovating Pedagogy 2012: Open University Innovation Report No. 2’, Milton Keynes: The Open University.
Vivian R, Barnes B, Greer R, Wood D (2014) ‘The academic journey of university students on Facebook: an analysis of informal academic-related activity over a semester’, Research in Learning Technology 2014, 22: 24681 - http://dx.doi.org/10.3402/rlt.v22.24681
17:18 on 28 January 2015