Monday, December 12, 2016

Experiences of Students Regarding the Use of Facebook for Mentoring: A Case of Writing Centre

Over the last 15 years, many South African universities have established Writing Centres as places to provide academic writing support to their students. The services offered are mostly free and voluntary and as such, there are no strict regulations regarding who should use them, and how often they should visit. Consequently, writing centres especially the newly established ones struggle to monitor the progress of the students they have helped once they have left the place, or even reach students in the places where they continue to write in order to offer additional support to students, which could positively influence their writing self-efficacy. 

This design-based research case study reports on an intervention run by one such writing centre where social media, specifically Facebook due to its popularity among students, was explored as a technology that can be adopted to reach and offer help to students beyond the confines of its physical space. 

The study adopted Social Cognitive Theory as its theoretical framework. Eight participants from a BTech class in the Public Relations programme were purposively selected and offered an immersive eight-week experience of blended mentoring by the researcher who is also a writing centre consultant. Qualitative data was collected before the intervention using individual semistructured interviews, and after the intervention using focus group discussions. Findings from the pre-study interviews revealed that participants were mainly concerned about the protection of their privacy if social media were to be adopted for academic purposes. They also revealed that participants mostly preferred seeking help from peers. Findings further revealed that participants based their choice to seek help from a non-peer mainly on emotional reasons - preferring to seek help mainly from people they perceived to inspire positive feelings in them. 

Post-study findings revealed a positive shift in the attitudes of participants. Firstly, they were satisfied with the security settings of a closed Facebook group especially that it guaranteed non-intrusion into their personal accounts. Secondly, the social presence of writing centre consultant on Facebook increased the number of visitations to the writing centre’s Facebook site, which also directly contributed to increased face-to-face visits with the writing consultant. Thirdly, using the Facebook wall to reflect on face-to-face consultations increased opportunities for vicarious learning experiences, and thus contributed to the overall increase in the participants’ writing self-efficacy for writing task on which they were mentored. 

This study was undertaken by Khanyisile Ngodwana from the Walter Sisulu University in South Africa as part of her Master of Eduation degree at the University of Cape Town. The full study is available on: Experiences of Students Regarding the Use of Facebook for Mentoring:

Thursday, December 1, 2016

An Investigation of Mobile-Mediated Social Learning Using Socio-Constructivism

Mobile phones are hardly used for teaching and learning in the study setting, the Polytechnic of Namibia. Formal learning that is widespread in the study setting does not allow the design of authentic learning tasks. Nevertheless, mobile learning allows the design of authentic learning tasks and enables students to construct knowledge socially in an informal learning environment that facilitates interaction and collaboration. Learning is a boundless social activity that takes place through engagement with others. As learning takes place through interaction, it cannot be confined to the classroom; it should involve transition between formal and informal learning. Learning is hence not confined to didactic methods and does not only take place through transmission of knowledge. New forms of learning are emerging whereby student interaction is enabled by technological tools, unlike formal learning that does not necessitate online tools. Mobile devices might thus be used to mediate convergence of formal and informal learning. 

This study was aimed to investigate how mobile-mediated social learning converges formal and informal learning, using a socio-constructivist approach. The study was conducted in the Department of Languages at the Polytechnic of Namibia in two phases, the pilot phase that was conducted in 2012, and the main study that was conducted in 2013. The study involved a total of ten students doing Language in Practice. 

Mobile applications, social media tools inclusive, have potential to change the traditional pattern of learning. They enable social construction of knowledge. As a social media tool, WhatsApp was used in this study as a platform for the participants in the study to exchange ideas and construct knowledge collaboratively. 

The WhatsApp tool that was used in the study is popular among students and is used both in and out of the institution and could thus be used to establish convergence of formal and informal learning. In addition to instant messaging, another key affordance of WhatsApp is its ability to form a closed group of participants that interact with other iii students, the instructor and the community at large. This tool paved the way for authentic learning that led to convergence. 

The study was a case study of qualitative nature but also drew on action research, and it adopted an interpretive approach to data analysis and interpretation. Multiple sources of evidence were used to collect data, i.e. individual open-ended guided interviews, artefacts in the form of an authentic task using WhatsApp, and focus group discussion. The study revealed that the pedagogical design of an authentic task mediated by a social media tool, WhatsApp, where a sub-community of students interact with others and the larger community results in cognitive convergence of formal and informal learning. A closed group of students using the tool has potential to converge formal and informal learning cognitively through shared understanding. Thus, using a social media tool that students find motivating in an authentic context brings in cognitive convergence of formal and informal learning if the instructor observes activities and provides guidance. 

Key words: socio-constructivism, convergence, formal learning, informal learning, mobile-learning, social learning, authentic learning.

This study by Elina Ithindi of the Namibian University of Science and Technology was part of her Master of Education degree at the University of Cape Town. The full study is available from: An Investigation of Mobile-Mediated Social Learning Using Socio-Constructivism

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