Saturday, May 14, 2016

How useful is Facebook as an educational tool at university level?

Educators and researchers are in two minds when it comes to the pedagogical, social and technological benefits of social media, particularly Facebook. Some say it can provide a platform for learning and allow students to collaborate and communicate with each other. Yet other educators say Facebook has little educational value and does not serve any academic purpose. In the worst-case scenario, it could even impact negatively on individual performance.
by Pauline Bugler
Ayotola Aremu is an Associate Professor of Educational Technology at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria where she has been teaching the design and use of educational media and resources at both undergraduate and post-graduate level for 14 years.
A bottleneck of students registering on the university’s learning management system meant that access problems loomed, most of which could only be resolved after a lengthy wait. On top of that, a lack of class space and technological facilities prevented all the students from attending lectures at the same time. Classes were akin to a caravan moving from room to room in search of space. Other responsibilities frequently took Aremu, who is the main facilitator, away from classes.
This difficult situation prompted some four facilitators to redesign a course called Educational Media and Technologies – a teacher education course for post-graduate students – using Facebook. Their choice fell on this particular social networking tool partly because of its popularity. When the course got underway, eight groups of students received instruction involving face-to-face classes between every two weeks online.
Aremu describes an example of an assignment: students were told to imagine the scene on arrival at a school for their first job as a teacher at a poorly equipped educational technology laboratory. Their task was to draw up an inventory of equipment needed and to write about how other teachers could use one listed item.
Students at Ibadan could then post their comments on Facebook from the comfort of their homes. The facilitators were keen to determine whether the social media platform could help provide a variety of media for different learning styles, interaction and authentic learning. Another crucial goal was engaging and developing students’ critical thinking.
But can a medium designed for informal purposes really take on such an important role in formal education?
On balance, the facilitators felt that the goal of content sharing and providing media rich resources was achieved to a great extent. But ultimately, the social media platform remained a social rather than an academically engaging platform. The objective of critical thinking and authentic learning was not achieved to any considerable extent.
However, Aremu said: “The facilitators were convinced that with more effort made on the instructional design, the Facebook page could actually achieve the objectives of all the five areas of consideration.”
Facilitators also found thata lot of commitment is needed to engage students on such platforms continuously. Their performances have to be monitored in terms of responses and activities.
Alternative social networking platforms in education now allow students to look up assignments or quizzes set by their teachers and include a deadline. Unlike Facebook, some of these sites are spelling sensitive and students cannot post on each other’s pages.  Teachers can also upload attachments for the assignments.
The online project had a positive effect on students in Ibadan as many used the platform for the first time and improved their technology skills in the process. It’s worth bearing in mind that the majority had completed an undergraduate course where they most likely never used technology for learning purposes.
Many students felt classroom demonstrations on using the social media platform beforehand would have been helpful and called for a collective summary of all weekly activities after all submissions and posts had been received. Excited by the possibilities of using technology in learning, students said they would use social media platforms for teaching in future, if the facilities were available.
Aremu and her colleagues intend to continue social networking tools and integrate students’ suggestions while looking out for other social media platforms.


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