Over the last year, I’ve conducted or collaborated on a number of studies examining the use of social media in the classroom. One thing has been clear from our observations in those studies: when given the choice of a number of social technologies to use as part of a course, students will overwhelmingly choose Facebook. This week, I finished analyzing new data showing this to be the case.
These data are from a follow-up to a Twitter study we conducted a few years ago using first-year students. We interviewed these students a year after the original study. While we found some interesting things about their preferences for technology use including their use of learning management systems, I don’t want to spoil the surprise as we’re writing those results up for an upcoming paper. When we asked students what they thought about using Twitter or Ning in their courses, they overwhelmingly responded with the ideas exemplified in these quotes:
I think [using Facebook] would’ve been easier and a little more comfortable for people because I think pretty much everyone in my class had a Facebook and nobody had either one of these things.
I think that [Facebook] is a lot easier for people to use and since people generally get on there every day they are going to see the stuff and invites a lot quicker than others.
Many of them went on to say how they independently used Facebook to organize study groups, to ask questions of fellow classmates, and to catch up on missed work.
Why do students prefer Facebook over other technologies?
Almost every student in our sample gave us a variant of the same answer: all their friends/classmates are on Facebook, and it’s easy to use. In other words, Facebook has the user base in order to make academic conversations useful. Plus, since students are “always” on Facebook, it’s easy to see when new comments are made to a post from a class. Some of my research has shown that how students use Facebook is sometimes more important than time spent on the site in terms of grades and student engagement. Therefore, college faculty have an opportunity to engage students using Facebook and to help them use the site for educational good.
One way to use Facebook as part of a course.
I encourage faculty members who want to integrate Facebook into their courses to set up a Facebook group and use the group to continue class discussions, allow students to ask questions, and encourage students to post and comment on class-related links (news articles, etc.). In a paper that will be published shortly, we make the case for faculty to actively participate in such groups to increase student involvement and improve course performance.
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