Friday, 12 October 2012

the VLE vs Facebook - what do students think?

As the first term progresses it is interesting to see how students are coping with the Virtual Learning Environment. We do a lot of handwringing here about whether or not our VLE is fit for purpose - often mainly focusing on how easy (or not) it is for academics to use.

So two weeks in to the course, what do our students think? (response rate: 62 students or 60% of those enrolled)

86% are staisfied/very satisfied with the ease with which they can find module and  assessment information
85% are saistfied/very satisfied with the way learning materials are organised
90% are satisfied/very satisfied with the module news and messages from tutors
87% are satisfied/very satisfied with the range of links to other web based resources or links to other resources within the University.

Some comments:

  • I think its a great way of using technology and effective communication - its a quick and easy way of finding the modules.
  • very easy to understand and really liked the layout
  • I particularly like how the sessions are set out in weeks and terms as it makes it easier for me to access the specific session I am after. [NB not all Learning Rooms are set out this way]
  • I like the fact that not only for this module but for every module it has the hand book, that is useful for me to keep looking at and getting my head around it
  • the layout of information was a bit confusing but I'm becoming more confident the more I use it.
Difficulties include: syncing the timetable to their mobile phone using ical (most manage it OK); accessing from home; difficulty downloading some documents and some issues about navigation, given that every module is laid out in a slightly different way.

As part of my investigation into the use of Facebook in my module, I have also been getting their feedback on that too. They have completed an online survey and also responded to a blog post about Facebook in a learning context, via a short essay.

93% of those responding had a Facebook account before coming to university and they use it predominantly for keeping in touch with friends and family (85% rated this as important or very important). However, 65% felt it was also important/very important  to join the Facebook group to interact with other students on their course and over 70% felt it was important/very important to access the Facebook Study Support page run by their tutors.

85% of students responding to the survey had visited the Study Support Facebook page and of these, they expressed 85-90% satisfaction with the links, posts and resources it contains. Suggestions for improvement included posts by course reps and more interaction with other students.

In the short essays, students predominantly come down AGAINST using Facebook for learning, replicating pretty much the dominant conclusion from last year's assignment on this theme. The main reasons cited are:

1) worries about privacy and cyber bullying (reason not to have FB at all)
2) worries about getting distracted from the real work of studying
3) lack of tools to support learning
4) the fact that not everyone has or wants a FB account

On the positive side there is this quote:

"Bringing education in to something that we use day to day, I believe, encourages education."
and another 

 "Since starting university, facebook has become a learning method for me as I was introduced to the Health and Social Care study support group. This I have found very helpful as everyone from the course can comment and help each other out from something as small as the room for our next lecture to advice on our latest essay." ( I think this student is referring here to the students-only group, rather than the tutor-led Page, which singulalry lacks any student comments or posts) 

So whilst not conclusive this again provides some evidence to add to the debate about using social networking in education. Early thoughts: social media definitely add to the experience of coming to University and maybe help with early engagement, but the VLE ain't dead yet......


    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.