Monday, September 28, 2009

The Informal use of Social Networking Sites for Collaboration on Initial Teacher Training Programmes (#ecer 2009)

The Informal use of Social Networking Sites for Collaboration on Initial Teacher Training Programmes.

Coles, Anthony: Birmingham City University, United Kingdom

The researcher's university pushed staff to create Facebook presence since students were already there and using tools like Facebook for academic purposes. Not all staff were comfortable with this. The researcher gathered data from his students to see what their views were.

In the past, the course has had some issues with professionalism, i.e. inappropriate discussion on the universities Moodle discussion forum. However, in general, the feeling was that communication should be improved because there's time for thought, allows simultaneous contributions and it is inherently democratic (see Joiner 2004). But lack of social cues may lead to less socialisation, lack of pedagogic strategies and lack of elearning skills.

The majority use social networking sites (mostly Facebook) and most used it daily. There were distinct group: one group had 70% plus of their network friends coming from their course but a similar sized group had less that 10% of friends from the course.

What academic work did the students discuss online? Issues discussed? Number 1 was assignments in progress. Also discussed placement (both non-teaching and teaching issues), taught sessions, tutors (which is what concerns some academics), future career, other students...

Focus group said they used their social networks to organise meetings with other students. They said they saw the university VLE as a place to catch up on classes not a place to network. They found Facebook etc. was god for general support, e.g. simply by changing online status you can find out others are stressed by assignments too. They said that often part of meeting new students was to swap Facebook pages. They also liked that their own networks were controllable {I think this is in terms of skins etc. - DM} unlike the university's Moodle.

The researcher find that attempts to improve the social structures of the university have not been particularly successful. However, informal social networks do grow up around courses. The familiar nature of the tools (for the students) is one of the perceived advantages. It also allows them to draw their own boundaries and embody their own identity. However, it could lead to a blurring of professional/personal divide.

Point was made in the post presentation discussion that there are some students you would go for coffee with and others you wouldn't - same with online contact. :-) You don't have to respond positively to every friend request! It may be useful to know how students use these spaces to support their learning but it may not be necessary to participate in order to encourage educational benefits.

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