While the curriculum, lecturers and tutors teaching Internet Communications via Open Universities Australia (OUA) have been engaging with students for several years using Twitter (see Leaver, 2012), in the past Facebook had been largely left alone since this was viewed as a more casual space where students might interact with each other, but not with teaching staff. However, in the last two years, more and more students have created groups to use Facebook as a discussion space about their units, often attracting a significant proportion of students from that unit. While these groups are important, of even more interest is the establishment of the group called the ‘Uni Coffee Shop’. Unlike the unit-specific groups, the Coffee Shop group, established by two Internet Communications students but open to anyone studying online via OUA, affords group support, social connectivity and a persistent online space for conversation which does not disappear or grow stagnant when students complete a specific unit.
This paper will outline an investigation into the effectiveness of the Uni Coffee Shop group as a student-created space for engagement and informal learning. Three modes of inquiry were used: a textual analysis of the common topics of discussion in the group over several months; a quantitative survey of members of the Coffee Shop group; and several follow-up qualitative interviews with Coffee Shop group members, including the two students who administer the group. In addition, the paper includes the perspectives of teaching staff who have been invited to join the group by students and who, at times, answer specific questions and engage with students in a less formal manner. In detailing the results of these mechanisms, this paper will argue that fostering student-run spaces of engagement using Facebook can be a very effective means to create spaces of engagement and informal learning (Krause & Coates, 2008; Greenhow & Robelia, 2009); the support students give each other can persist over the length of an entire degree; and teaching staff engaging with students in their space, often on their terms, can create a better rapport and a stronger sense of connectivity over the length of a student’s entire degree (and potentially beyond). A student-run Facebook group also provide a space where teaching staff and students can interact using the affordances of Facebook without staff having to explicitly ‘friend’ students (something many staff are reluctant to do for a range of reasons).
Greenhow, C., & Robelia, B. (2009). Informal learning and identity formation in online social networks. Learning, Media and Technology, 34(2), 119 - 140.
Krause, K., & Coates, H. (2008). Students’ engagement in first‐year university. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 33(5), 493-505. doi:10.1080/02602930701698892
Leaver, T. (2012). Twittering informal learning and student engagement in first-year units.
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