END 2018 – International Conference on Education and New Developments

Intervento di Marco Perini, Chiara BarileMonica Pentassuglia al convegno “END 2018 – International Conference on Education and New Developments“- Budapest (Ungheria)

Social networks as new places for informal learning: a grounded theory analysis in higher education student communities

Facebook has been recognized as one of the most used tools in supporting undergraduates’ informal learning (Akcaoglu & Bowman, 2016). Furthermore, students seem to prefer Facebook rather than the E-Learning tool provided by their University to achieve their learning goals (Eger, 2015). Although Social Networks (SN) have been recognised as fertile environments for informal learning (Mao, 2014), especially in encouraging knowledge exchange (Forkosh-Baruch & Hershkovitz, 2012), the empirical research activity about this topic is still lacking (Sackey, Nguyen, & Grabill, 2015). This study aims to explore the undergraduates’ point of view on the informal learning processes, which take place on SN. The main research questions are as follows: 1) how do undergraduates use SN for supporting learning activities? 2) How do students leverage these resources? 3) Which are the social dynamics and roles involved in these informal learning communities? 34 members of 13 Facebook groups (FBG) have been involved. The participants were recruited posting an informal invitation on several Italian undergraduates FG. The students were interviewed with a semi-structured questionnaire that was developed according to the indications of Patton (2002). The data analysis followed a grounded theory approach (Charmaz, 2014) in order to maintain a strict adherence between students’ voices and results. The analysis also included the use of Nvivo 11 (qualitative data analysis software). Results suggest that undergraduates create communities for “help matters”; the aid can be addressed to themselves or other people. In both cases, the FG creation could represent the best compromise to face a new university path. Students mainly use online communities to know each other, exchange textbooks, make decisions together or share learning materials. Online activities are often regulated by norms, which may be explicit or implicit. The crucial role of these informal learning environments is covered by the admin, who create, manage, and support the communities of students. Furthermore, several roles seem to emerge, like the co-workers, the lurkers and the information’ guarantors, and the providers. The majority of participants recognises the key role of these informal groups for their own university path, especially for creating networks and gathering information (or learning materials); all of these information are mediated by the user-friendliness of the tool. These results might suggest new ways to improve students’ learning; official communications between university and students could be easier on SN.

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