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Evaluating the use of Facebook to increase student engagement and understanding in lecture-based classes

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Both lecture delivery and Facebook use are ubiquitous aspects of higher education from staff and student points-of-view, respectively. An attempt was made to integrate the two by setting up a Facebook group and delivering contemporary news stories in preparation for in-lecture discussion in a large-scale (1,200 students across 5 sections) Introduction to Psychology class. Each section experienced two-thirds of the class with Facebook intervention and one-third without, thereby each section served as its own control group. Overall, Facebook intervention did not yield higher self-report of course engagement or understanding for those portions of the course. Only those individuals who never viewed the Facebook postings reported lower engagement and understanding of the in-lecture discussion, in addition to a lower appreciation of the link between the Facebook content and the lecture material. Our data suggest that successful integration of social media into the classroom is a challenging one and the relative success or failure of these interventions may stand or fall on the basis of a complex interaction between a number of factors including the timing of content delivery, the integration of social media content with course assessment and the students’ own perspective on using social media for academic purposes.

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  1. Such comments were supported in a focus group that was run after the project had ended (a similar focus group was run before the project to glean the attitudes of students regarding the project). There were comments regarding Facebook as an easily available platform for discussion: “I am already on Facebook so I don’t need to go to a new website or do any searching, it’s easy because I am already there” and “The notification from the group served as a reminder that there was an article to read for class when I was on Facebook normally. I could connect with my peers.” (c.f., Hurt et al. 2012). However, comments were also expressed suggesting that Facebook may not have been the best medium due to the combination of personal and academic spheres. These concerns included: “Some people simply do not like Facebook because they feel it does not protect their privacy” and “It is easy to get sidetracked on Facebook even if you signed on to read the articles for school.” In response to the question of how to improve the project in the future, students in the focus group vocalized a variety of divergent ideas, ranging from not using Facebook: “For me the only problem is with Facebook- I see Facebook as being for entertainment and not for school. Maybe using BlackBoard (BB) would be more contained and more professional. I just don’t think that Facebook is very secure” to having participation on the Facebook site form a portion of the course mark: “I would like it to be marked because it is an easy way to get a mark and to show the instructors that you are participating.”


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The research was funded by a Ryerson Learning and Teaching Enhancement Fund. Thanks go to section leaders Alba Agostino, Brad A. Meisner and Stephen Want and the students of PSY102 for their participation in this project. We would also like to thank Pearson Education for support in establishing the post-study focus group and also two anonymous reviewers for providing helpful comments regarding earlier versions of manuscript

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Correspondence to Benjamin Dyson.

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Dyson, B., Vickers, K., Turtle, J. et al. Evaluating the use of Facebook to increase student engagement and understanding in lecture-based classes. High Educ 69, 303–313 (2015).

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