I have been thinking lately about how the power of social media can help support students personally and in their studies in order to help them stick with their course when they might otherwise think of leaving.
Alongside their public Facebook pages, the University of Brighton are running four campus based closed groups on Facebook this summer. The groups are for current students and especially applicants to socialise and ask questions prior to arriving at university. The response to these groups is amazing, it's certainly something the students are embracing with open arms. But does Facebook actually make a difference?
Here are two resources I have spotted recently:
9 Signs Social Engagement Helps Student Retention
This blog post from OnlineUniversities.com looks at how social engagement can improve retention. One point it makes, that rings true with my experience, is how important the relationships made in the first year are to continued success. Social media is a great way to build relationships early, especially student/tutor relationships. The post also talks about the transition into university, and the Facebook groups I mention above are a good way of making sure that students have started building a support network for themselves before they even arrive, something not possible just a few years ago.
Northampton University first to use Facebook as student portal
This article describes the decision to use Facebook rather than a local system for communicating with students, and also improving communication with parents, alumni and applicants. In their words: "the new platform is designed to function as the first port of call for communicating with students, providing them with any necessary information that previously would have only been accessible through the university website." Although not explicit in the article I assume the rationale is that Facebook is where the students are already so why not go to them there?
I agree Facebook can be incredibly useful as a communication channel, but think there probably needs to be a line of where it is most effective ie don't use it for everything just yet! Learning Environments such as Blackboard or Moodle have all the features built in to support learning and teaching and Facebook cannot replace these, but it is excellent at providing socialising opportunities. Some things somehow have more credibility when hosted internally. By using the tools available in appropriate ways and integrating the best features we can hopefully provide an optimal experience. Something we're working on!