Facebook as the Social Learning Environment
“Nobody can buy a hat without gossiping.”
― Diana Wynne Jones, Howl’s Moving Castle
Humans, I’ve found, like to take on a deeper level of learning to gain better insight.
The social learning environment is a place where individuals can work and learn together collaboratively (both formally and informally) with others – in course groups, study groups or in project and team spaces.
The virtual learning environment is designed to enhance a student’s learning experience by including computers and the Internet in the learning process.
Social networking platforms and online communities are now an integral part of student’s everyday lives and increasingly, albeit informally, their educational experience.
My work engaging with students outside of class, was within a social media setting. We deepened their understandings of the topics we presented in class as we would engage in conversations, once the student had left the building, when the more informal questions arose.
Typically questions like, “What did he mean when he said xyz?” “What did you understand that to mean?” etc. These informal conversations and discussions naturally occur in everyday life and in everyday settings like in coffee shops or at the family dinner table. In class, not all students raise their hands to ask these questions, but also, in class, not all students digest and process the information to be able to ask the question there and then.
And it’s true, there are many different learning styles found within one classroom. Similar, there are many different social learning styles outside of the classroom. Quite often students know what type of learner they are (formally and informally) because someone has told them, or they figured it out for themselves.
Outside the classroom, social media has been designed and has grown into a phenomenon that creates and enables new modes of social interaction in the way information is shared between participants. My continuing work demonstrates that using social media breaks down barriers between formal and informal education and learning, and between lecturer and student, providing a support environment or community encouraging the creative side of the student to “come out and play”.
Social learning philosophies have been used for a while internationally; however we have been brave to tackle within the Facebook setting. Traditional opinions shied away from such a “frivolous” setting for university education. However, my stance has been, why would we separate ourselves from the crowd? It is very much where the students “hang” and Facebook is as much a part of our life as what learning is.
This environment provides a fluid interaction between the student and lecturer.
By using the Unearthing Ideas Facebook Page, we tapped into an existing network or community of people, on a platform where we assumed over 80% of students would have access and an understanding of how to use (note: in fact there were over 98% of students). The Facebook Page itself had grown to over 900 members since its inception, coming from the university community, the broader Adelaidian community, as well as many professionals and creative people who are based worldwide.
Facebook Pages really come to life when people engage and have conversations. Messages can reach a broader group of people who like, share, or comment on posts. This then creates an instant online social and virtual learning environment that reaches a broader community for engagement, essentially taking the classroom to the world for mentoring and further knowledge and contribution.
Social media provides the platform to provide instant feedback and support.
Our methods encompassed using Facebook Notes and Events – for more formal discussions, collaborations and engagements; with wall postings, images and photo albums for more general conversations. All students and members of the Unearthing Ideas Facebook Page were encouraged to post and comment. In the end the environment provided more than social learning style discussions. I found it also provided motivation among the students to “do better”.
What emerged from our approach was that students were conversing and sharing ideas gaining better results.