As part of my Pinterest project (blogged about previously here and here) I carried out a couple of focus groups this week with my students to explore their use of social media in general, their use of these tools in their learning and the pinterest resource that was created to help their learning on my Anthropology class. I thought it would be a good idea to blog some early thoughts from the process as it might be of interest to others, and it will be a while before it all gets written up and properly disseminated.
I should probably make a couple of methodological comments. I carried out two focus groups (with 6 and 7 participants) from students who had previously taken my anthropology class last term. In each focus group the students were all from the same class and knew each other well, which really helped the discussion flow. Whereas for my previous youtube project I used somebody unknown to the group to conduct the focus groups (my collaborator @elainertan) this time i decided to moderate the groups myself. This was a lot of fun and I think the groups went well (I already had a good rapport with them from teaching them the previous term), but it’s worth mentioning as if students had any negative experiences they might have been less keen to offer these views.
The first striking thing was that I asked to tell me the range of social media and online tools that they use, and there was a massive range! Aside from the usual suspects (facebook and twitter, although neither was universal) there were some suprising blasts from the past with MySpace and Bebo getting mentions. There was also some mention of country specific networks such as RenRen and Weibo (I’m working on a project looking at weibo which I’ve blogged about ). There was also a couple of networks which I’d not heard of such as Xanga and the Japenese mixi.
Another suprising (well to me at least) finding was the popularity of mobile based apps. Instagram got a brief mention, but both groups talked a lot about Whatsapp which was used to keep in touch with people, sharing text and photos for free (the free bit was mentioned a lot). The anthropologist Danny Miller recently blogged about the popularity of Whatsapp in Trinidad suggesting that trinidad is ahead of the game. Perhaps Danny and I are just late to the whatsapp party? anyway it’s always good to hear about new tools that students are using.
These social media were being used to help with their learning. Youtube got a few mentions in this regard, and online forums as well. Even our much maligned VLE (Blackboard) got quite a few positive mentions! I know!
For the purposes of my project, and research interests, the really interesting stuff was all the stories of how students shared the stuff they found. One student had friends at other universities who would send him articles that they found, other students would share videos and webpages that they had found, but only with close friends. Another student told how they would take a picture of the whiteboard for a student who was absent (yes there would have been an interactive whiteboard in the room, unused! *this wasn’t me*) and share it with them, but not with anybody else, this hadn’t occurred to them.
This got me thinking about how we might be able to encourage this sharing that is already taking place, and try to help students share these resources with the whole group. One way to perhaps do this is to encourage sharing to take place within the classroom (possibly through the use of their smartphones)? I think that this idea has potential.
The pinterest resources were very popular, especially during revision, although i should probably treat this enthusiasm with some scepticism as ‘the pinterest project’ was paying for their lunch! The students liked the way that the resources were grouped together by topic, and included videos and websites etc. They also liked the visual nature of Pinterest. Interestingly though they didn’t really interact with Pinterest as a social media, so there was little (if any) repinning or commenting on the resources – which I guess feeds into the discussion of the previous paragraph.). This also reflects my experience of student use of slideshare (where I post all my lecture slides).
Anyway I will do some more analysis and write this all up into some kind of report/ paper, but I’d be interested to hear any comments or responses.