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Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences 15 (2011) 14251430

WCES 2011

Dear teacher, what should I write on my wall? A case study on academic uses of Facebook
Gabriela Grossecka*, Ramona Branb, Laurentiu Tiruc

University of the West Timisoara, Faculty of Sociology and Psychology 4 Bd Vasile Parvan, 300223 Timisoara, Romania

Abstract Loved equally by the young and the not so young, the social networking site Facebook has become a significant part of students life. Consequently, more and more university teachers embrace the idea that it can also be used at an academic level and not just at a social level, and that it can be used for many different things / purposes connected to (formal) education. In this context our paper focuses on how students perceive the use of the social networking site Facebook for academic purposes and how / if they integrate it in their learning, training or other (extra) educational activities. After a short presentation of Facebooks features, well review its educational value from published research studies. In order to investigate how students are engaged in Facebook academic activities, an online questionnaire was applied to our first year students in the academic year 2010. We found that the majority of students spend significant time on Facebook more for social uses (to stay in touch with friends and family, to share / tag photos, to engage in social activism, volunteering etc.) and less for academic purposes, even if they take part in discussions about their assignments, lectures, study notes or share information about research resources etc. 2011 Published by Elsevier Ltd.
Keywords: Facebook, students, social networking, learning, university, higher education

1. The social network of Facebook Originally designed for college students in the United States in 2004 as a social networking website, Facebook later expanded to different educational settings (not only institutions from the higher education sector) from other countries too, and then to the general public (Hew, 2011). Facebook allows each user to create a profile, complete with personal information such as home address, mobile phone number, interests, religious views, and even data like relationship status. In addition to creating individual profiles, Facebook users can also designate other users as friends, send private messages, join groups, post and /or tag pictures (Jernigan & Mistree, 2009) and leave comments on these pictures as well as on either a group or an individuals wall. Members can also install and use third-party applications based on the Facebook platform, such as games, polls and quizzes or even create pages for different events. With an active users base of over 500 million, Facebook is the largest multilingual social networking site on the Internet (1 in every 13 people on earth used it), which can be accessed both on the web and through mobile devices.

* Gabriela Grosseck. Tel.: +40-256-592-266; fax: +40-245-592-320. E-mail address:

18770428 2011 Published by Elsevier Ltd. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2011.03.306


Gabriela Grosseck et al. / Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences 15 (2011) 14251430

Perhaps the most important digital medium in recent history, Facebook has a core segment of 18-24 year-old college students and this segment is now the fastest growing, at 74% year on year (digitalbuzz, 2011). Facebook has also had a rapid growth in Romania, with almost 2 million and a half user accounts created in the last two years (Manafu, 2011), out of which more than 1 million are college students. 2. Theoretical background of using Facebook in education: the students and teachers perception Although we could tackle a series of technical, social, economic or cultural aspects which make Facebook dominate social networking sites, for the purpose of this article we will only review those characteristics from the literature which recommend it as a tool that can contribute significantly to a quality educational act. Thus, Facebook allows: a) The student: To foster positive relationships among students, generally peers of similar age and interests, encompass learner motivation and engagement (West et al., 2009; Kabilan et al., 2010); To participate actively the student is both subject and partner in the social interaction (Ellison et al., 2007); To get involved in achieving the learning tasks, a successful transfer of knowledge (Madge et al., 2009); To develop a positive attitude towards learning, to improve the quality of learning (Pasek & Hargittai, 2009; Kirschner & Karpinski, 2010); To bring into effect multiple social interactions, to develop communication, cognitive and social competencies (Christofides et al., 2009; Ross et al., 2009); To develop interpersonal intelligence, as well as critical thought (Lampe et al., 2008) and to increase individual responsibility and autonomy (Joinson, 2008); To create their own learning path - students have at their disposal a varied set of instruments / applications and sources of information (almost all sites have the button f/like); therefore, even if the teacher offers the elements that form the system of knowledge, the links and connections are established by the learner (Hew, 2011); To take up and interpret different roles within the network, to cultivate tolerance and respect for diversity (Young & Quan-Haase, 2009; Ophus & Abbitt, 2009); To consolidate self-confidence and self-esteem (Bosch, 2009; Orr et al., 2009); To communicate with the teacher outside the classes (Selwyn, 2009) etc. b) The teacher: To enhance the credibility of teachers engaged in contemporary student culture (Kabilan, 2010); To provide constructive educational outcomes in a variety of fields (Pempek, 2009); To practice a differential pedagogy, in the best interests of the student (Hew, 2011); To integrate diagnostic formative evaluation in the learning process and to calibrate didactic activities accordingly (Pasek & Hargittai, 2009); To achieve a change in strategy, mentality, attitude and behaviour by using Facebook for instance, the transfer of knowledge remains one of the functions of teaching, but it is second to organizing and managing learning situations (Roblyer, 2010); To master psycho-social competencies of interaction and communication, and to establish efficient educational relations on a social network (Selwyn, 2009); To accept the student as an interaction partner (Schwartz, 2009); To analyse and compare ways of learning and the knowledge achieved by students (Roblyer, 2010); To develop knowledge and skills in order to perform efficient didactic activities (Facebook offers the appropriate social, organizational and intellectual context) (Hew, 2011);

Gabriela Grosseck et al. / Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences 15 (2011) 14251430


pp p , g )( , ); To perform mentoring (Schwartz, 2009); To expand the communicative experience with the students on didactic issues (Ophus & Abbitt, 2009); To interconnect learning experiences both the student, and the teacher gain experience and competency if they meet in a zone which they mutually agree to develop and enrich together (Mazer et al., 2009); To give up on old behavioural patterns (Young, 2009; Selwyn, 2009); To ensure a synergy between the information coming form formal/nonformal/informal sources (Bosch, 2009).

3. Study methodology. Procedures and data sources In order to understand what motivates our students to use Facebook, but also the importance with which different uses of Facebook were ascribed, the authors of this paper conducted an online survey. Participants were asked to rate how much they agreed with the statements on a five-point scale, with one being strongly disagree and five being strongly agree (3=Undecided do not agree and do not disagree). The questionnaire was a pilot one. After completing the questionnaire, students were asked to name their faculty and specialization. Furthermore, it is important to underline the fact that the statements the students were asked to evaluate were defined after some informal talks with the students and teachers / colleagues about using the new on-line media. When building our research tool we did not relate/refer to other similar studies because we tried to investigate the (relatively recent) Romanian experience in using Facebook (currently, there is no representative study for Romania as far as using Facebook in the academic field is concerned). The authors of this study asked the students from the groups they were teaching to participate in the survey. Out of almost 300 students, 131 (43,66%) have accepted the request. The first question was a filter one (whether they do or do not have a Facebook account) in order to make sure that only those with a Facebook account would fill in the questionnaire. The sample thus constituted is called a convenience sample (Gravetter & Forzano, 2009). The data is not representative for the entire college/student population, but it can be a starting point for future studies and discussions. The students involved in our research had had a Facebook account, on average, for about 9 months (8,67). This confirms the international trend of using Facebook by students. The structure of our sample is inverted to the gender structure (79,4% male and 20,6% female) within the specializations of the respondents (Social Work 9,2%, Psychology 22,9%, Political Sciences 28,2%, Sociology 30,5% and others 9,2%). Hence, majoring in these specializations is a much bigger percentage of girls than that of boys. In these circumstances we can say that boys were more receptive to our request of filling in a questionnaire on the topic of using Facebook as educational setting. Regarding the period of day in which students access Facebook, our data revealed two high points (Table 1). The first one, the time range between 18 and 22, confirms the authors expectations. Although the respondents belong to an age group that supposedly enjoys an active social life, we can notice that a rather high percentage (16,8%) of students log in to Facebook during the day (in the afternoon, between 14.00 and 18.00).


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Table 1 When do you access Facebook? Frequency Valid In the morning (08.00 - 12.00) In the afternoon (14.00 - 18.00) At lunchtime (12.00 - 14.00) In the early morning (06:00 - 08.00) At night (after 22.00) In the evening (18.00 - 22.00) Total 7 22 7 1 13 81 131 Percent 5,3 16,8 5,3 ,8 9,9 61,8 100,0 Valid Percent 5,3 16,8 5,3 ,8 9,9 61,8 100,0 Cumulative Percent 5,3 22,1 27,5 28,2 38,2 100,0

The majority of respondents, approximately 2 thirds, use Facebook daily for a relatively short period of time (one hour at the most). Even if they use it for a short time, it seems important for us to underline the fact that they do use it daily (recurrently), which can reveal a lot about a possible habit of using Facebook. Thus, it becomes part of their daily life, which may lead at some point to a certain addiction to Facebook. Because of the qualitative nature of our data (ordinal level) the gender differences were tested with the help of Mann-Whitney U (an alternative to the t test for parametric data). The results that came out after the test (all having p>.05) indicate the fact that the possible differences between the answers of the girls and those of the boys are due to hazard and not to a statistically significant difference. In conclusion, based on the Mann-Whitney U test, we assert that there are no gender differences regarding the use of Facebook as educational communication medium.

4. Results and discussions The table below shows in a descriptive way the results we obtained for each of the aspects we tried to evaluate (Table 2). As we have already mentioned above, we are not dealing with a validated methodological construct, but with a few rather dispersed aspects that came out from our informal discussions with the students (and colleagues) about their experience with using Facebook.
Tabel 2 Educational aspects of using Facebook 1 Facebook represents a much more natural learning environment than that provided by schools I use Facebook to search/discover new things I prefer Facebook in Romanian to its English version I prefer to have a personal account for friends and family and another one for educational activities I feel I belong to a community on Facebook Teachers should accept Facebook requests from students I share / recommend on Facebook (what I read, what video clip I watch etc.) Facebook groups are useful for education I follow the Facebook pages of some universities or organizations (non-governmental, students associations for example, environmental, civic, child protection etc.) 2 3 4 3,1% 5 ,0% Mean 1,57 SD ,775 1,141 1,475 1,487 1,068 1,358 1,430 1,289 1,424

57,3% 31,3% 8,4%

15,3% 14,5% 41,2% 20,6% 8,4% 2,92 44,3% 16,8% 15,3% 9,2% 14,5% 2,33 54,2% 14,5% 13,0% 2,3% 43,5% 16,8% 26,0% 22,9% 33,6% 12,2% 21,4% 27,5% 12,2% 31,3% 19,8% 22,9% 7,6% 17,6% 16,0% 16,0% 16,0% 2,11 3,1% 22,1% 16,8% 10,7% 1,93 3,16 2,76 2,64

21,4% 13,7% 24,4% 19,8% 20,6% 3,05

For some students Facebook represents a much more natural social learning environment than the real one, 57,3% prefer to receive assignments via messages or posted on the class group (if one has been created). Around 30% of the students have stated that Facebook is an environment in which they feel comfortable and motivated to research, discover, create and fulfill school assignments. Although Facebook is a relatively simple and creative communication medium, students prefer the English version (44,3%). 16,8% are convinced that on Facebook language barriers are broken and a real language is born. 54,2% of the students do not agree with the idea of having two Facebook accounts. 18,3% perceive this as an ideal pretext for some students to expose their personal passions / habits while mixing them with educational activities and not as a natural digital habitat.

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As virtual natives, students spend their on-line life as an extension of their real life, however, only a little over 10% feel they belong to a community. Paradoxically, although only 12,2% of the students claim that Facebook has made an unprecedented change in their lives, 33,6% of them have a hard time imagining life without Facebook. Coming back to the issue whether Facebook is indeed a cheap tool for promoting knowledge in higher education, 70% of the students believe it is. Thus, the teacher is pulled out of his/her comfort zone, and has to develop a personal on-line experience on Facebook (since students are more active here). In order to work successfully with his/her students, the teacher needs to find ways to initiate and manage an efficient, creative, interactive and relevant communication with them. Unfortunately, only 26,7% of the students perceive the use of Facebook in general, and of educational groups in particular, as important instruments of change in higher education, although change springs from ideas, and on Facebook there are plenty of ideas. What we do not particularly appreciate is the fact that the evaluation process is not as flexible as we had expected and the teachers intervention is needed almost permanently on the platform. This causes time management difficulties, especially since teachers need to adjust their feedback to each student. Although the majority of students claim the page of a subject / faculty adds credibility, just a little over 20% rely on the explosion of the social media profile, while 13,7% think that teachers have to adapt to this highly personal medium of interaction. 5. Conclusions The authors undertook this pilot study, meant to de explore the educational identity of the student on social networking sites, focusing on Facebook because of its boom in worldwide academia. Although the profile of the student we studied comes out as an open person, with multiple social activities, selective in using the various on-line media, the general conclusion we have reached is that at present we cannot define/speak about a Facebook Student in Romania (here Student means being preoccupied with aspects of his/her formal education). Moreover, in order to develop an efficient teacher-student communication, it is necessary for the former to know how to disguise accordingly his/her educational messages. Unless the Facebook Student receives clear messages, he/she might become irascible and perceive activities on Facebook as forced upon him/her. The aspects we have assessed were rather general because, on the one hand, the authors do not yet have their own long-term experience in analyzing the educational intake/consumption of Facebook and, on the other hand, the students are not yet loyal to the network in itself for academic purposes. Therefore we believe a limitation for our research is constituted by the fact that some of the questions were formulated too generously/general. Nonetheless, we believe that by rethinking the questions and adapting the design, in our future research we will be able to apply the questionnaire to other specializations and institutions form Romanian higher education space.


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