Sunday, 27 January 2013

A review of a paper looking at using social networks in higher education

"A Characterization of Social Networks for Effective Communication and Collaboration in Computing Education" by G. Gannod and K. Bachman

This is the 5th post in my blog series reviewing a bunch of education literautre. The other posts can be found here:
  1. "When good teaching leads to bad results: The disasters of well taught Mathematics courses" by Alan Schoenfeld
  2. "A quick-start guide to the moore method" by Mahavier et al.
  3. "The inverted classroom in a large enrolment introductory physics course: a case study" by Simon Bates and Ross Galloway
  4. "Approaches to Learning: A Guide for Teachers" by Jordan et al. 
I'm a huge G+ fan. Ever since a friend of mine got me an invite (in the early days it was invite only) I've been an active user. I've written a blog post about my use of G+ from the point of view of an academic and it can be found here. I use G+ to talk about research but I've also recently started to use it in teaching, happily enjoying some interactions with students on their and finding it an easy way to share relevant content with my class (in my last class more than 60% of my students viewed my posts on G+ before class).

This paper offers a comparison of the educational potential for 3 social networks:
  • Facebook (which I'm no longer on since G+ came about)
  • Twitter
  • G+
The paper starts by describing some prior research looking at social media and education, for example a study by Junco et al. showed that students who engaged with twitter for various 'academic related discussions' achieved amongst other things better gpas.

A table is offered comparing the various social networks. It is noted that Facebook and G+ offer various similarities (as opposed twitter). In particular highlighting that they both have "recipient control". I haven't used Facebook for a while so not too sure what is now in place to offer that but G+ is entirely about controlling who sees what (which is why it's my particular social network of choice).
The paper carries on to describe a variety of interactions that were had through G+ between teachers and students but also students and students. The paper briefly discusses the use of Hangouts for virtual office hours.

The paper ends by describing some recommendations for the use of social networks in a teaching environment:
  • "Establish guidelines for using social media within your course" (Help the students make use of the service)
  • "Define acceptable policies" (Set boundaries for what is legitimate collaboration)
  • "Model desirable behaviour and usage" (Teachers should be active: paving the way)


I thought this paper was pretty good. From a biased point of view (again I'm a huge G+ fan) it was nice to see G+ in educational literature. On a disappointing note, the ever changing face of social networks means that this paper is slightly outdated already. For example the recent introduction of 'communities' in G+ is not considered in the paper. I plan on using communities in my next class as a way of directing open information.

Here's my "PCUTL Mark" out of 10 which I'm using to say how useful this piece of literature is to me in the scheme of my pcutl portfolio (so it's not meant as a reflection of the quality of the paper which is subjective):

PCUTL Mark: 8

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