SOCIAL MEDIA AS AN INSTRUCTIONAL TOOL TO ENHANCE COMMUNITIES OF PRACTICE

N. Bourke, M. Tharpe, T.B. Shelley

Auburn University at Montgomery (UNITED STATES)
This mixed-methods study investigated the effects of utilizing social networking technology, specifically a class Facebook page, in a face-to-face traditional instructional methods college course.

Conceptual Framework:
Situated learning theory (Lave) framed this study advancing the concept that learning is embedded within activity, context, and culture and in which learning is a process of participation in the social world. Consideration was given to Lave and Wenger’s (1991) research related to a Community of Practice. This study is based on the previous research of Hunga and Yuen (2010) that investigated how social networking technology was used to supplement face-to-face courses as a way to enhance a sense of community among learners and to encourage classroom communities of practice in the higher education classroom.

Methodology:
As part of a undergraduate level college course, the investigators created a Facebook page for students to share ideas, ask questions, and develop discussion forums related to the coursework and a 30 hour teaching experience. Pre and post surveys were administered to the group of 18 student participants assessing their experiences with social media and perceptions of the classroom community. Surveys were analyzed quantitatively and descriptive statistics were generated. In addition to the surveys, a random sample of 5 students participated in semi-structured interviews to assess their perceptions regarding the utilization of social media and the effect the use of the tool had on the classroom community and other areas of learning. Interviews were analyzed qualitatively, and themes were generated.

Findings and Implications:
Results of the study revealed that the use of the class Facebook page enhanced the classroom community of practice. Students expressed that they felt a sense of connection and felt they were a part of a community where resources and ideas could be shared easily and expediently. Students also felt that their access to the course instructor and other classmates for questions and announcements was greatly enhanced.

This study illustrates how social media tools can be used effectively to enhance the experience of students enrolled in face-to-face college courses. Analysis of the study results revealed important implications for structuring and facilitating the use of social media tools in schools and universities as well as the benefits and limitations of these educational experiences.

In addition to sharing the results and implications of this study, the researchers will allow participants to view the course Facebook page created for this study and its contents. Participants will also receive a handout summarizing findings and "lessons learned" related to utilizing social media to supplement classroom instruction.