Facebook may seem like nothing other than a social app designed to waste valuable learning time for college attendees. However, many introductory and first year classes in college are populated with hundreds of students. The size of these classes can pose many challenges not only for teaching but for learning, as well. Many times the students in these large classes feel overwhelmed and anonymous. There is a tendency to feel like a spectator rather than an active participant of the class. Recently, Kevin D. Dougherty and Brita Andercheck from the Department of Sociology at Baylor University in Waco, Texa, have come up with a possible way to combat these feelings of anonymity. By cultivating a community sense through Facebook and creating a learning group, the team found that those involved tended to get better grades than their peers who did not join the group.
The class used in the study was a large sociology class consisting of over 200 students. The introductory class was taught at Baylor University which is a private research university with a current population of approximately 15,000 students. The researchers set up what is known as a closed group on Facebook and invited only those enrolled in the class to join. The students wishing to participate in the group had to request permission to and then be accepted into the group by an administrator. More than half the class joined the Facebook learning group and these students went on to get better grades. These students wrote stronger papers and did better on quizzes and exams than did their peers in the class who did not join the group.
The content on Facebook was provided in a steady stream by teaching staff and students. While the faculty members posed questions for discussion, they also provided other content. Staff members provided links to materials which could be found online and were relevant to the course material, videos of class events such as themed skits and guest lecturers, and they also provided relevant photos for topics under discussion. The content was not only provided by the teaching staff and administrators, however. Students also posted videos and photos which were related to concepts covered in the course as well as engaging in discussions brought up by staff or other classmates. Additionally, course attendees used the group to seek solutions to problems or get questions answered.
Facebook allowed students not only to interact online but also to help each other out through informal study sessions which were organized through the group. In fact, one student who missed class due to food poisoning posted a request for information on what notes were being taken. It took less than a minute for the student to receive a response from another classmate. The majority of the students were using Facebook on either their mobile phones or on portable computer tablets such as the iPad, so the group was almost always accessible to them. Researchers indicate that no student required assistance to use either app or the group created for the class.
Because the online group through Facebook was readily available to the students, the researchers believe that the classroom experience was extended. They indicate that those in the class were able to interact not only with each other but also with the course matter at those times and places of their choosing. The study researchers feel that this ability through the Facebook learning group made the classmates more active learners which in turn allowed them to get better grades.
By Dee Mueller
Follow Dee on Twitter @TuesdayDG