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:

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