Saturday, November 24, 2012

Learning by Facebook

facebook by English106, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  English106

Many learning management systems today try to make their discussion forums resemble Facebook  since that has become the default social network of the vast majority of students and teachers. It's logical then to try and see if a Facebook group could be used as a replacement for the LMS at least on a course basis. That's exactly what a group of Israeli university teachers have written about in a new article in IRRODL (International review of research in open and distance learning), Facebook groups as LMS: A case study (Hagit Meishar-Tal, Gila Kurtz, and Efrat Pieterse).

"This paper describes a pilot study in using Facebook as an alternative to a learning management system (LMS). The paper reviews the current research on the use of Facebook in academia and analyzes the differences between a Facebook group and a regular LMS. The paper reports on a precedent–setting attempt to use a Facebook group as a course website, serving as a platform for delivering content and maintaining interactions among the students and between the students and the lecturer. The paper presents findings from the students’ self-assessments and reflections on their experience. The students expressed satisfaction with learning in Facebook and willingness to continue using these groups in future courses."

They decided to replace the university LMS with Facebook and added Google Docs for collaborative writing, presentations and assignments. The Facebook group was a closed one which meant that students and teachers did not also have to be friends in Facebook as a whole in order to interact in the group. Although Facebook is less ordered and controlled than a standard LMS, the study suggests that student interaction increases significantly and the communication became less hierarchical than in a traditional LMS.

"An interesting finding emerged from the research which is the student’s perception of the Facebook group as a stimulator of participation, both proactive or reactive. Students felt that Facebook encouraged them to express themselves. Even passive students had the ability to express their presence on the Facebook group by indicating “like” on chosen posts."

One major objection to using platforms like Facebook is that the course is the property of a company and is stored by that company. It is also debateable whether a university can demand that students sign up to a commercial platform in order to take a particular course. However, studies like this show that courses can be successfully run outside the walled garden of the LMS and that there may be significant advantages of letting the discussion and interaction take place outside the LMS.

Maybe the LMS is becoming a white dwarf rather than a red giant. A white dwarf which looks after course administration, examination and assessment, all of which are governed by legal requirements on the university, but where the interaction and creative work takes place on other platforms and tools.

Facebook groups as LMS: A case study, Hagit Meishar-Tal, Gila Kurtz, Efrat Pieterse (IRRODL, Vol 13, no. 4, 2012) 

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