Adding to the mix: Students use of Facebook groups and blackboard discussion forums in higher education
This paper reports on a case study of the use of Facebook in learning and teaching in higher education. Facebook was used as a venue for online discussion to support the existing Learning Management System (in this case Blackboard) in the unit Internet Collaboration and Organisation as part of the Internet Communications degree taught fully online through Open Universities Australia (OUA). Students’ posts to both Facebook and the Blackboard discussion forum were analysed for content, length, and when throughout the study period they were posted. This is significant as much of the previous work in this area has relied on students self-reporting, rather than direct observation of student behaviour. These results were then compared to earlier instances of the same unit that ran within the previous twelve months, one fully online with OUA only using the Blackboard discussion group, and a second taught at Curtin University with both blended learning for students at the University’s Bentley campus as well as fully online for external students, that utilised both Blackboard and Facebook. The results show that Facebook greatly increases the level of student activity in online discussions, both absolutely and in the level of sustained activity across the unit’s study period. Facebook groups also had a different pattern of content from Blackboard. In Blackboard discussion is more focused on the set unit learning content, in Facebook students were using the groups to discuss administration and assignments and also bring in additional material from outside the units set learning materials. Facebook posts, while more sustained over the semester, were shorter in length. This study found that the addition of a Facebook discussion forum does not noticeably impact on the use of Blackboard’s discussion forum, but rather adds a new dimension to the mix of online interaction. The paper concludes that there is value in using both of these forums for student interaction, but unit design needs to take into account the different affordances of each to maximise their utility.