Conceptions of using social networking sites as a tool to facilitate learning : a phenomenographic study of university students' and faculty members' perspectives

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This study used a phenomenographic approach to identify various ways of understanding the experience of using social networking sites as a tool to facilitate learning and engagement from the perspective of students and faculty members. The research question posed was, “What are the different ways students and faculty members experience the use of social networking sites as a means of facilitating learning and engagement?” Three different undergraduate classes from a university in Singapore participated in this study from January to May 2014. Facebook was used to supplement classroom learning for these three classes. One hundred and seventy volunteer undergraduate students participated in the survey questionnaire and 15 of them joined the focus group discussions. Additionally, the three faculty members who conducted the classes also shared their views in individual interviews. The quantitative data obtained from the survey questionnaire showed that most of the students claimed Facebook as a useful tool to facilitate learning and engagement but did not use it frequently for their classes. Other variables were believed to explain this phenomenon. The qualitative data from the individual interviews provided further insights, as well as a complete picture of the different ways that university students and faculty members experienced using Facebook for learning. The researcher hopes that these results can contribute to knowledge about: the affordances and barriers of using Facebook as a tool for learning as perceived by students and faculty members; the skills and dispositions faculty members should have to facilitate learning and engagement via Facebook; and the perceived outcomes of using Facebook as a tool for learning. The results of this study demonstrate that using social networking sites for learning requires a high commitment from faculty members and students, a clear direction and a strong sense of the connection between classroom learning and learning via a social networking site and an organised and secure technology platform.
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