A recent post entitled What Next, As Facebook Use in UK Universities Continues to Grow? summarised growth in institutional use of Facebook in the 20 Russell Group universities in the UK, based on the number of ‘likes’ for the official institutional Facebook page. As can be seen in the accompanying histogram, there has been significant growth since the surveys in January and September 2011. However as Tom Wright, the Digital Engagement Manager at the University of Nottingham commented “to gauge how successful universities are with Facebook you really need to look at other metrics around engagement, reach, influence, etc.”
This is certainly true, but such metrics are not always publicly available and so in order to be able to answer the question “Are universities successful in their use of Facebook?” it will clearly be advantageous to be able to see a greater range of metrics. But in addition, the metrics themselves need to relate to the intended purpose(s) of the services and institutions may be using Facebook for a range of different purposes.
In order to help gain a better understand of how Facebook is being used across the sector, Tom and I have set up a SurveyMonkey form on institutional use of Facebook which invites respondents to summarise the purposes of institutional Facebook pages and the metrics they use to monitor the effectiveness of Facebook to achieve these purposes. As Tom describes:
Understanding the roles which social networks such as Facebook can have in supporting business requirements is important for universities such as Nottingham with campuses in China and Malaysia and students from around the world. Facebook, with its international audience, has huge potential for today’s higher education institutions with their increasingly global reach, in the areas of student recruitment, marketing, internal communications and alumni support.
The survey is intended primarily for those working in institutional Web management or marketing teams in UK universities or FE colleges. However we appreciate that universities around the world will have similar interests in the role of Facebook, together with concerns regarding the sustainability of the service, privacy issues and its relevance in supporting educational needs.
Such issues have been described in a paper on “Social Networking and Education: Using Facebook As An Edusocial Space” published in the Proceedings of Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference 2011 (pp. 3330-3338). This paper is also available on Scribd. The abstract for the paper states that:
The acceptance of Facebook by school-aged users is evident, but the potential of using social networking sites for educational purposes is still being debated. This paper explores the use of Facebook within a high school science-mentoring program. Results indicate that the use of Facebook positively affected the relationships between mentors and mentees. In addition, students believed that they learned more by using Facebook and would like to use Facebook for other educational purposes.
Social networking is already one of the most common ways that communication occurs virtually. While the majority of users spend time communicating with those who they have already built relationships with in reality, it may also have the potential to build relationships virtually.
Participation of a mentor and mentee on the Facebook group page was seen to positively affect their relationship both online and offline. Students and mentors that interacted regularly, posting questions and receiving feedback through the page, were observed as having a stronger relationship than other mentor-mentee pairs.
Might this suggest that there is a role to play in the development of Facebook apps which can support such collaborative activities? Back in March 2010 in a post entitled OU Facebook Apps, Reprise Tony Hirst mentioned work at the Open University which was “looking at rebooting the OU’s Facebook strategy. With a bit of luck, this means that we’ll be doing another push on the OU Facebook apps that were developed several years ago now and which I still believe provide a sound basis for a range of community building and social learning support services“.
But although the Open University might be working in this area, what is happening in the wider sector? The concluding section on “Recommendations for future research” in the paper mentioned above described how:
Additional research is needed to explore the most beneficial design for an edusocial space. Though Facebook has been used for some educational purposes, research could explore the specific kinds of activities that are most beneficial to learners. Using social networking sites, however, is still a controversial issue with most schools blocking the site from students and faculty. Thus, it must also be understood if students can view sites like Facebook as educational spaces and be able to engage in learning activities at appropriate times.
The survey on institutional use of Facebook aims to gather information on such development activities. We intend to present the findings at UKOLN’s Institutional Web Management Workshop, IWMW 2012, in Edinburgh on 18-20 June. We hope that people within the sector will respond to this survey in order that we can gain a comprehensive picture of use of Facebook across the higher and further educational sectors.