An Excellence Gateway case study
Published: 16 January 2009
This case study was produced by JISC RSC (Regional Support Centres) West Midlands on behalf of the Excellence Gateway
Sector relevance: Further education colleges
Keywords: Improving responsiveness to learners, improving institutional effectiveness, induction, diagnosing learning styles, buddying, retention, social networking
Warwickshire College runs a BTEC ND in Games Development. The course leader set-up an online group using the social networking site Facebook which new students are invited to join prior to enrolment. It provides a good way for students to get to know their peers before starting the course. Since setting up the group, the course leader has reported an increase in retention rates to 100%.
About Warwickshire College
Warwickshire College is one of the UK’s largest further and higher education colleges with more than 25,000 students. It is based across six main centres and two learning centres, with widespread use of around 60 community centres throughout the Warwickshire region.
The College has won numerous awards. Its most recent Ofsted inspection (January 2008) saw the College graded ‘outstanding.’
College interviews for prospective BTEC ND Games Development students usually commence in November. There is often a long period of time between successful students accepting a place on the course, leaving school and joining the College at the start of the academic year in September. This can often result in students losing momentum and in some cases, changing their minds regarding their course choice or even their decision to attend college.
Andrew Brazier, the course leader wanted the students to feel part of the College by integrating with their course peers prior to enrolment, and learn a bit more about the course in the process. Andrew also wanted the students to get to know him as he would also be the students’ personal tutor. He says:
“I wanted to introduce something that would fill the gap between accepting a place on the course, leaving school and then turning up at college in September. I wanted the students to be able to hit the ground running.”
Image1: Screenshot of Facebook
Andrew set up a group on Facebook in 2008, specifically for those who had accepted a place on the course. He then invited them to join the group and sent a list of websites for the students to familiarise themselves with privacy issues; particularly for those who were not already Facebook members.
At the same time, Andrew set the group a summer project to be completed prior to the start of the course. As the students began to use Facebook, they not only discussed interests and started building friendships, but also shared ideas about their summer project. They also talked about which computer and console games they like to play, and even created a post GCSE results forum. It was also an opportunity for the students to get to know the course leader, as Andrew was able to share information about the course and answer questions which the students had, for example, regarding equipment needed.
On his choice of social networking site, Andrew says:
“I chose Facebook as I think the design of the pages is more consistent and clean than other social networking sites. If you take MySpace for example, users tend to customise their pages with lots of graphics which makes the content very hard to read. Also, with Facebook, people tend to use their real names more than sites like MySpace and Bebo where there is a lot more use of aliases. I wanted the group to retain their own identity, rather than hiding behind a pseudonym.”
The majority of students were previously not on Facebook, yet twelve out of eighteen signed up to Andrew’s group.
The Facebook group made a noticeable difference to the enrolment day introduction process.
As Andrew explains:
“It’s a nerve wracking process which the students find scary. Usually, they are very quiet and don’t know what to expect. However, when I walked into the room, everyone was chatting and they had instantly bonded. Although they hadn’t met each other face to face before, the Facebook group users recognised each other from their profile pictures. Even the few who chose not to join the Facebook group quickly became absorbed into the main group and started forming friendships. As a result, the need for ice breaking activities during induction week was reduced to very little. It is great for students who are more reserved and shy away from such activities.”
Unfortunately, one student decided not to enrol on the course over the Summer after realising it wasn’t for him. However, as Andrew adds:
“Through the Facebook group, the student learnt a lot more about the course prior to starting in September. He realised that he wanted something with more of a computer programming element which the Games Development course doesn’t have. Although he took the decision not to go ahead, he chose a different course at the College.”
“The Facebook group was great in this respect – he found out so much information that he wouldn’t necessarily have discovered prior to starting the course. He made the decision early on not to proceed - alternatively, he may have dropped out part way through Games Development and found it more difficult to transfer to another course.”
The Facebook group has been such a success that Andrew has recorded a retention rate of 100%. He says, “The course has run since 2005 and although retention rates are generally very good, I often lose one or two students in the first couple of weeks of term as they find out that the course wasn’t suitable for them. Since setting up the Facebook group in September 2008 (to date of publication of this case study), there hasn’t been any withdrawals. In fact, the retention rate is over 100% as an extra person has joined!”
And the disadvantages? “Well nothing major”, explains Andrew. “I was hoping that the students would continue with the group once the course started, but then I did have concerns that they would use it too much in class when they should be working! This turned out to be unfounded, as the students naturally switched to using WebCT, the College’s virtual learning environment. They can do everything in WebCT that they could in Facebook – share ideas, discuss their work, post message for me and their peers. The Facebook group was really to serve as a gap filler between leaving school and starting college.”
For providers who may be thinking of setting up a social network, Andrew offers the following advice:
- Make students aware of privacy issues – there are a number of websites available that cover this in depth.
- Give the students something to talk about (ie a project or a piece of work) – if no-one is willing to talk, the network could fizzle out very quickly.
- Post discussion messages to kick start conversations.
- Don’t accept students as friends.
Andrew has shared his use of Facebook with other colleagues and hopes that more course leaders adopt a similar kind of approach. He says:
"I think the computer-oriented courses may initially be more interested in setting up something similar. The College does have a MySpace page which is used to publicise student bands and upcoming gigs but currently there is no official Facebook page. I would like to help set this up so this is perhaps something to look out for in the future.”
- Warwick College's website
- Facebook social networking website
- More information on e-learning can be found at the Information Commisioner's Office Centre - Social networking advice website.
- For more information about this case study, please email the West Midlands JISC Regional Support Centre.
Read other related case studies
- Hull City Council Adult and Community Learning: Facebook your learners for engagement and retention
- Brighton, Hove and Sussex Sixth Form College: Using social networking to get revising
- Abingdon & Witney College: Using a social network to deliver online collaboration to trainee teachers
Disclaimer: The Regional Support Centres (RSC) and the Learning and Skills Improvement Service (LSIS) support the development of educational e-learning. We may refer to specific products, processes or services. Such references are examples and are not endorsements or recommendations and should not be used for product endorsement purposes.