Facebook & Blackboard: comparison of learner perspectives
Parslow, P., Williams, S., Evans, M., Øster Lundqvist, K., Porter-Daniels, E. and Ashton, R. (2007) Facebook & Blackboard: comparison of learner perspectives. In: The Eighth Annual Durham Blackboard Users’ Conference, 13-14th December 2007, Durham University.
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Different systems, different purposes – but how do they compare as learning environments? We undertook a survey of students at the University, asking whether they learned from their use of the systems, whether they made contact with other students through them, and how often they used them. Although it was a small scale survey, the results are quite enlightening and quite surprising. Blackboard is populated with learning material, has all the students on a module signed up to it, a safe environment (in terms of Acceptable Use and some degree of staff monitoring) and provides privacy within the learning group (plus lecturer and relevant support staff). Facebook, on the other hand, has no learning material, only some of the students using the system, and on the face of it, it has the opportunity for slips in privacy and potential bullying because the Acceptable Use policy is more lax than an institutional one, and breaches must be dealt with on an exception basis, when reported. So why do more students find people on their courses through Facebook than Blackboard? And why are up to 50% of students reporting that they have learned from using Facebook? Interviews indicate that students in subjects which use seminars are using Facebook to facilitate working groups – they can set up private groups which give them privacy to discuss ideas in an environment which perceived as safer than Blackboard can provide. No staff interference, unless they choose to invite them in, and the opportunity to select who in the class can engage. The other striking finding is the difference in use between the genders. Males are using blackboard more frequently than females, whilst the reverse is true for Facebook. Interviews suggest that this may have something to do with needing to access lecture notes… Overall, though, it appears that there is little relationship between the time spent engaging with Blackboard and reports that students have learned from it. Because Blackboard is our central repository for notes, any contact is likely to result in some learning. Facebook, however, shows a clear relationship between frequency of use and perception of learning – and our students post frequently to Facebook. Whilst much of this is probably trivia and social chit chat, the educational elements of it are, de facto, contructivist in nature. Further questions need to be answered - Is the reason the students learn from Facebook because they are creating content which others will see and comment on? Is it because they can engage in a dialogue, without the risk of interruption by others?
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