Beware IT crowd: Facebook hubs may influence grades

Lecturers urged to consider impact of informal support groups for courses

September 25, 2014

The creation of unofficial Facebook support groups for undergraduate courses, and which type of students will choose to set up and operate them, can have a huge impact on student performance.

This is according to Justin Steele-Davies, special projects manager at the University of Southampton’s Institute for Learning Innovation and Development, who told Times Higher Education that academics need to be aware of the types of support groups for their courses that will be appearing on social networking sites over the coming weeks.

According to separate research, 97 per cent of UK students now have some form of academic-related activity on their Facebook profiles.

At the start of term there is “a big rush” to create the most popular Facebook site for each course, Dr Steele-Davies said, pointing out it is likely that a number of students will attempt to set up a Facebook group designed to act as the online hub for students on a particular degree.

“You may not be aware, but this can actually have a massive effect on the performance of the [student] cohort,” he said. “If the wrong students set up [the most popular] group, and that’s the one everyone goes on, the amount of control they have…is massive.”

He continued: “If the group is set up by students so that only they can post and nobody else, they can censor discussions.

“The social ‘it crowd’ can then end up running the group, and it can extend to cyberbullying [of other students].”

Acknowledging and considering so-called third space learning (learning that takes place outside the normal working environment) was now an important aspect of lecturers’ work, Dr Steele-Davies said.

“If academics are not having this conversation you can end up with massive variations in cohort performance purely because of what is going on in that space,” he added.

Dr Steele-Davies was speaking to THE after the Association for Learning Technology Conference at the University of Warwick earlier this month. At the event, Rebecca Vivian, research associate in the department of computer science, presented the findings of a paper she co-authored that explores the increasing role of social networking sites in students’ academic lives.

According to “The academic journey of university students on Facebook: an analysis of informal academic-related activity over a semester”, published earlier this year in the Research in Learning Technology journal, more than 97 per cent of students have some type of public academic-related activity on their Facebook profiles.

However, the paper advises caution to academics who might look to exert greater control over Facebook activity relating to their course.

“While it may be possible for lecturers to find ways to include social networking sites [in their course]… such as by creating Facebook ‘groups’ or encouraging students to create their own groups, is it the role of universities to initiate informal student spaces or should students be left to initiate their own learning in social spaces, if they require it?,” it asks.

chris.parr@tesglobal.com

Times Higher Education free 30-day trial

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Administrative Assistant UNIVERSITY OF BRISTOL
Dental Clinical Skills Assistant UNIVERSITY OF BRISTOL
Education Liaison Lead UNIVERSITY OF GREENWICH

Most Commented

question marks PhD study

Selecting the right doctorate is crucial for success. Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O'Gorman share top 10 tips on how to pick a PhD

India, UK, flag

Sir Keith Burnett reflects on what he learned about international students while in India with the UK prime minister

Pencil lying on open diary

Requesting a log of daily activity means that trust between the institution and the scholar has broken down, says Toby Miller

Application for graduate job
Universities producing the most employable graduates have been ranked by companies around the world in the Global University Employability Ranking 2016
Construction workers erecting barriers

Directly linking non-EU recruitment to award levels in teaching assessment has also been under consideration, sources suggest