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Case Study - Scocial Networking - Academic Skills - UoD

General information
.Level (age of students) 16+ (approximate mean age – 25)
.Discipline / subject / course ‘Learning Xtra' A compulsory academic skills module on the Discover Learning At Dundee (DLAD) online access course.
.Number of participants 88
.Category of the tool Social Networking
.Tool / resource Facebook group
.Country Scotland
.Language of the tool or resource English
.Time plan start date Start date: September 2012
.Time plan finish date Finish date: Ongoing (but for the purposes of this case study: July 2013)
.Did you use an example scenario from the initial phase of the eLene2learn project as an inspiration? No
Specific information about given case
.Aim To build a Facebook group open to all current and past DLAD students where they can connect socially as well as share their own learning experiences. The aim is for students to bounce ideas off each other and for previous Learning Xtra students to act as informal ‘mentors' to current students.
.Objectives To build a better sense of cohort identity and community in students who take part in the Learning Xtra module, thus increasing their confidence and motivation, and at the same time, reducing their feelings of isolation.
.Learning to learning (L2L) competences to be achieved • Communication
• Motivation
• Confidence
• Collaboration
.Proposed activities The learners engage in a full range of academic skills learning activities delivered via the University of Dundee's virtual learning environment (VLE). The learners are also encouraged to engage with the Learning Xtra Facebook group to chat about their learning with their peers and enter into discussion on various aspects of what is expected/required of learners in higher education.
Most discussion topics are set by the tutor, but some are instigated by the students themselves.
The Facebook activities are purely opt-in, but students are encouraged to join in. Completion of the learning units and assessments, delivered via the VLE, are compulsory.
.Pedagogical approach taken In contrast to the formal learning activities and assessments delivered through the VLE, the Facebook page was deliberately designed to be an online space where students could discuss all aspects of their learning; their hopes and ambitions, their perceived strengths and weaknesses, etc. in an informal, chatty manner. The topics for discussion were often introduced by the tutor through the medium of You Tube videos, newspaper articles etc. posted on the Facebook Wall and students were invited to discuss the topics. The tutor aimed to loosely align the Facebook discussion topics with the VLE learning units, but apart from gently ‘steering' the discussion, the tutor tried to remain in the background as much as possible in order to allow an environment of peer interaction and support to develop.
.Methods of evaluation 1.Questionnaire aimed at ‘pre-Facebook' cohorts, evaluating their sense of community and/or isolation while on the course
2.Questionnaire aimed at ‘post-Facebook' cohorts, evaluating the same as above.
3.Questionnaire aimed at ‘pre-Facebook' cohorts, evaluating which learning competencies they felt they developed on the 'Learning Xtra' module.
4.Questionnaire aimed at ‘post-Facebook' cohorts, evaluating which learning competencies they felt they developed on the 'Learning Xtra' module.
5.Focus group of current undergraduate students who entered university through the DLAD programme (this will take place in the new academic year, i.e. after September 2013)
All questionnaires were developed on Survey Monkey and distributed via email to students' university email accounts.
.Ethical statement The ethical guidelines provided by the University of Dundee were followed. Participants were fully informed about the use of the data for the improvement and development of the Learning Xtra module and for the elene2learn Life Long Learning Project. Participants were fully informed that all data collected would be anonymised. Participants were also informed that the results of the evaluation would be shared with them.

"This very brief questionnaire asks you to think about which learning competencies you developed on the 'Learning Xtra' module.
Your responses will be used to inform the development of the module for future cohorts.
Data will also be used to complete a Case Study for a European wide lifelong learning project (elene2learn).
The Case Studies will be published on the project's website: http://www.elene2learn.eu/
Data collected in this survey will be anonymous. Institutions and participants taking part in the survey will not be identified.
Your participation is very important and greatly appreciated."
Evaluation of the outcomes and impact for learners (summaries of feedback)
(with particular attention paid to the initial aims and objectives of the implementation plan and the key competencies developed)
.Summary of student feedback - Usage (max 200 words) Of all the students in the post-Facebook groups, 86% reported that they felt the Facebook group was a useful resource.
Not all students actively took part in the Facebook group, but they reported that they knew they could if they felt the need.
The students who felt it was not a useful resource stated the following reasons for their responses:
-did not have a Facebook account and did not feel the need to sign up for one for the purposes of this module
-had a Facebook account but preferred to use it for non-educational purposes
-felt it would add to the workload
-did not see the point of social networking
.Summary of student feedback - Benefits (max 200 words) The results (in the section below) from the feedback suggest that the introduction of a Facebook group for the Learning Xtra module has, on the whole, been of benefit to the students. The students in the ‘post-Facebook' cohorts report significantly higher levels of development of communication skills, collaboration, motivation and confidence when compared to the pre-Facebook cohorts.
In their open responses, several students stated that they have been keeping in touch with their fellow students out-with the Learning Xtra Facebook page and plan to meet up when they are on campus. Many commented that they found the Learning Xtra group to be a useful ‘lauchpad' for other University of Dundee Facebook groups (e.g. CASS, School of Nursing, DJCAD, DUSA, various groups and societies etc,.) and this has helped to make them feel part of the University community.
.Summary of student feedback - Development of competencies (max 200 words) 1.Sense of cohort identity in pre-Facebook cohorts:
Did you feel part of a group or cohort with your fellow students on the Learning Xtra module?
Yes: 25%
No: 75%


2.Sense of cohort identity in post-Facebook cohorts:
Did you feel part of a group or cohort with your fellow students on the Learning Xtra module?
Yes: 90%
No: 10%

Data demonstrated a perceived growth by the students in each of learn to learn competences.
.Summary of student feedback - Challenges or barriers (max 200 words) Not evaluated yet. This will be explored in more depth with the focus group.
.Summary of student feedback - Improvements that can be made to the activity or the application (max 200 words) Not evaluated yet. This will be explored in more depth with the focus group.
.Summary of tutor observation - Usage (max 200 words) I felt the uptake was reasonably high given the opt-in nature of the activity. Some students joined the group but did not participate in discussions. Other students have been active from the onset and continue to be active even though they have completed the module.
.Summary of tutor observation - Benefits (max 200 words) As stated above, the students in the ‘post-Facebook' cohorts reported significantly higher levels of perceived development of communication, collaboration, motivation and confidence, as well as a better sense of cohort identity, when compared to the pre-Facebook cohorts.
I can see that many students are still interacting with the Learning Xtra Facebook group even though they are no longer students on the course. This is slowly beginning to develop into an informal peer-mentor support function, with previous students offering advice and encouragement to current students.
The Facebook group has transformed what was a rather solitary learning experience in to a more social and interactive one which, in a sense, better reflects the realities of on-campus learning.
.Summary of tutor observation - Development of competencies (max 200 words) The introduction of the Facebook group had a significant impact on the students' development of communication skills, collaboration, motivation and confidence. See case study template.
.Summary of tutor observation - Challenges or barriers (max 200 words) •Due to the nature of the delivery of the Learning Xtra module (asynchronous distance-learning delivered via the VLE) it was necessary to find a tool for increasing the sense of community within the students that did not rely on ‘real-time' interaction. It is important to note that most of the students on the course are eligible through established widening access criteria, which includes limited income. Therefore, it is a condition of the programme that all IT requirements are kept to a minimum. It can not be presumed that the students have access to anything more than the most basic of IT requirements. Therefore, it was necessary to find a tool or resource that was internet-based, free, non-downloadable; and moreover, did not rely on ‘real-time' interaction in order to cope with the asynchronous distance-learning delivery of the module.
•It was difficult and time-consuming distributing the questionnaires and collecting responses. Many students were not in the habit of checking their University email accounts regularly due to the time of year (Summer) and the fact that many of them, especially those who have fully completed the access course, perceive their learning experience with the Unversity to be ‘on hold' until they start first year.
•The questionnaires were sent out retrospectively which posed the concern that the Learning Xtra experience might not be fresh in the minds of the respondents.
.Summary of tutor observation - Improvements that can be made to the activity or the application (max 200 words) Although the majority of students engaged with the Facebook page to some degree, a small minority did not like the idea of social networking or felt that they preferred not to blur the lines between networking for social purposes and educational purposes. During the last iteration of the module (not yet evaluated and therefore not included in this study) a Wiki was piloted which proved to be successful. The students entered in to discussions and debates on various aspects of learning in much the same way as the Facebook group and it seemed to appeal to all, including those students who were not keen on Facebook or social networking. Wikis potentially have the power to support collaborative learning as well as foster a sense of connectedness and community, so it been decided that the Wiki and the Facebook page will run concurrently for the time being.
Reflection and recommendations regarding the activity and approach used by the teacher, tutor or trainer
.What worked well? (max 250 words) The introduction of the Facebook group seemed to provide a social element that was lacking in the module. The level of engagement was fairly high given that it was an opt-in activity. The peer-mentor relationships that begun to evolve once the Facebook group became more established was a particularly positive outcome. Overall, I think the main success of the activity has been the students' increased sense of connectedness to each other and to the wider University community.
.What would be done differently? (max 250 words) 1.It is unclear whether the marked increase in levels of confidence, motivation etc. are related to the students' perceptions of their academic capabilities or the fact that the Facebook group helped them to feel part of a student community. The open responses suggest that it may be the latter, but this is a difference that should have been made clear in the questionnaires.
2.Ideally, the questionnaires should have been distributed directly after the students had finished the module, rather than trying to seek permission and collect data retrospectively.
.Recommendations for other practitioners who may consider using this approach (max 250 words) See above.