This paper reports on an observation of 70 university students’ use of their personal social network site, Facebook, over a 22-week university semester. The study sought to determine the extent that university students use their personal social network sites to support learning by exploring frequencies of academic-related content and topics being discussed. Students used their personal social network sites to discuss academic-related topics, particularly to share experiences about doing work or procrastinating, course content and grades. Mapping academic-related activity frequencies over the 22 weeks revealed that around certain points in the semester, particularly times when students’ assignments or exams were nearing, academic activity increased. This paper indicates that personal networks provide a means for students to seek and provide informal academic support and that social network site activity often went hand-in-hand with particular points in the academic calendar. Despite claims that social media are disruptive; these findings indicate that students today are leaving traces of their academic journey in online environments and that social media play an important role in their experience. The big challenge now is to determine how universities can harness this online experience and use it to improve the experience for all students, particularly for online courses.
Rebecca Vivian, Alan Barnes, Ruth Geer, Denise Wood