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W. Bailey, C. Reynolds, A. Szabo

University of Huddersfield (UNITED KINGDOM)
When transitioning from a familiar learning culture to UK higher education (HE), there are a number of academic, cultural and linguistic challenges that international students have to face (Andrade, 2006; Coates and Dickinson, 2012; Wang, 2012). This paper, in considering the obstacles that international students experience, critically analyses the use of social media, as one strategy, to aid the academic transition of a group of postgraduate international students.

Social media is frequently defined in terms of its technical affordances, however, this paper considers a broader conception of social media that moves beyond such affordances and explores the implications of using social media as an education tool to aid academic transition. Specifically, this paper analyses the use of ‘Yammer’ to support peer collaboration and communication for these students in order to enhance their academic development. This communication and collaboration takes place within an advertisement-free, private community that keeps the focus on academic issues and reduces distractions that can be associated with certain types of social media (Reynolds, Wormald and Bailey, 2013).

Within focus groups, participants were asked to think about their motivation, technical knowledge and confidence when using Yammer. They were also asked to comment on the communicative benefits of Yammer and whether the site had encouraged them to support each another, develop friendships, and whether the experience had supported their transition to Masters level study.
Feedback suggested that social support networks were important for academic engagement and development with the paper recommending more training on the affordances of Yammer as part of the induction process, additional online tutor presence, and more ‘scaffolded’ activities to build confidence in using an academic social network.