Build it and they will come. And so it seems, with a new school-specific academic Facebook page proving a big hit for staff and students alike at the School of Information Technology.
“Our goal was to tap into the enthusiasm students have for Facebook, as a means to create a sense of belonging and community,” says Lesley Smith, Head of School.
Information Technology students’ focus is predominantly online in an immersive environment, she explains, in contrast to other students who tend to share more about themselves in a class setting, thus helping to build a sense of community. The page therefore aimed to mitigate the sense of isolation that many new students experience, while also serving as an accessible conduit between students and staff.
Once the idea of a student-specific Facebook page was mooted it became easy to track their responses and attitudes. Students responded quickly to the idea: by the third week 52 students were actively engaged in the page. There are now over 200 regularly using the site, with topics as diverse as technical support requests to posts of links to professional interest.
Staff use the page to post information on orientation, health and safety guidelines and assignment updates, while moderating discussions to keep the page topical and ethical. The page also helps them support and engage with their students on a different level.
“The page continues to be an intriguing social experiment which builds in value and interest for both the students and staff.”
The results of the Facebook experiment were presented at the Computing and Information Technology Research and Education NZ Conference in Christchurch last October in the paper ‘Can we be Friends? Building Student Communities with Social Media’, co-authored by Smith, Patricia Hayden and Professor Samuel Mann.