Is Social Media an Effective Way of Enhancing Students’ Learning Experience?

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2011

73 Pages, Grade: A


nature of younger generation. This research identifies the impact of social media upon students'
overall learning experience and ways in which social media adds value to the students' learning
This study utilizes survey and interview methods for primary data collection to study a
group of student at Brunel University in UK. Based on the research findings, it is concluded that
social media usage has a significant positive impact upon enabling student's collaboration in
context of group work, enabling delivery of assessment and feedbacks and other course related
content and fostering formal communication between students and tutors. Within these broader
domains, establishing sense of community, facilitating multidisciplinary intergroup
communication, facilitating sharing of student-generated content and general discussion
between tutors and students were some of the most enabling aspects of social media usage.
Despite the positive role of social media for these purposes, the research findings also reveal that
there are several shortcomings related to social media usage which impede the effectiveness of
social media in positively affecting students' overall learning experience such as the lack of
commitment of peers to use of social media for formal communication and learning, the inability
or unwillingness of tutors/instructors to utilize social media and privacy concerns.

Abstract ... 1
List of Tables ... 5
List of Figures ... 5
Introduction ... 6
Background of the Study ... 6
Aim and Objectives ... 7
Research Questions... 8
Literature Review ... 8
Popularity of Social Networking Websites Millennials ... 8
Social Media and New Types of Learners ... 9
Connecting Students through Social Media ... 11
Types of Social Media Usage ... 14
The Importance of Research ... 18
Research Methodology ... 21
Research philosophy ... 21
Research approach ... 22
Research purpose... 23
Research strategy ... 24
Data Collection ... 25
Research design ... 25
Hypotheses ... 26
Population of the Study ... 27
Sampling Method ... 27
Ethical Considerations ... 28
Findings and Analysis ... 29
Research Findings ... 29
Reliability of the Results ... 29
Bivariate Correlation ... 32
Analysis of Interview Responses ... 35
Hypothesis Testing ... 38

Discussion ... 41
Conclusion ... 44
Research Contributions ... 44
Implications of this Research ... 44
Limitations of this Research ... 45
Suggestions for Future Research ... 46
References ... 48
Appendix A ... 55
Questionnaire ... 55
Section A ... 55
Section B ... 57
Section C ... 59
Qualitative Interview Questions ... 60
Appendix B ... 61
Appendix C ... 70
Question 1 ­ 7 ... 70
Question 8 ­ 13 ... 71
Question 14 ­ 16 ... 72
Question 17 ­ 20 ... 72
Question 21 ­ 25 ... 73

List of Tables
Table 1 Realiability Statistics Cronbach's Alpha Coefficient ... 30
Table 2 Inter-item Correlation ...
30 Table 3 Bivariate Correlation of grouped items ...
32 Table 4 Bivariate Correlation of inter-group items (Section A i)...
33 Table 5 Bivariate Correlation of inter-group items (Section A ii) ...
Table 6 Bivariate Correlation of inter-group items (Section B i) ... 33
Table 7 Bivariate Correlation of inter-group items (Section B ii) ... 33
Table 8 Bivariate Correlation of inter-group items (Section C)... 34
Table 9 Survey Results ...
59 Table 10 Distribution and Summary of Results (Question 1 - 7)...
61 Table 11 Distribution and Summary of Results (Question 8 ­ 13) ...
62 Table 12 Distribution and Summary of Results (Question 14 -16) ...
Table 13 Distribution and Summary of Results (Question 17 - 20) ... 65
Table 14 Distribution and Summary of Results (Question 21 ­ 25) ... 66
List of Figures
Figure 1 The process of deduction ... 23
Figure 2 Summary of Results (Question 1 - 7) ... 62
Figure 3 Summary of Results (Question 8 -13) ... 63
Figure 4 Summary of Results (Question 14 - 16) ... 64
Figure 5 Summary of Results (17 - 20) ... 65
Figure 6 Summary of Results (Question 21 - 25) ... 66

1. Introduction
Along with the emergence of social media, it has been estimated that the majority of
students utilize it as a facilitator and/or enhancer of learning process (Tess, 2013). This area of
study is still developing and has already received considerable interest from the scholars. Prior to
the emergence of social media, students were limited to learn in the traditional brick and mortar
surroundings. Social media has alleviated this limitation which is reflected through the popularity
of online learning activity (Davies and Graff, 2005). Social media is defined as the combination of
network tools and practices that emphasize the social aspects of Internet channel as being
reflected in the ability to communicate and interact via special platforms. There are a large
number of social networking platforms, where the most popular ones are YouTube, Twitter and
Facebook (Lusted, 2011). These platforms allow audio, video and text content sharing among the
individuals and groups of people. Recent research suggests that student's utilization of social
media has escalated between 2007 and 2010 (Tess, 2013). Along with that, the gap between the
young and older segments is decreasing. However there is still a lack of research as to how and
to what extent social media should be integrated within educational framework in order to
enhance and facilitate the learning process.
1.1. Background of the Study
Recent research suggests that modern education systems are still relying heavily on
course and management learning systems. These systems do not allow integration of social media
within the educational frameworks which implies that modern students do not have specific
social media integrated educational systems that would allow communication with the peers and
maintenance of their own learning activities and space (McGloughlin and Lee, 2010). However,
there is evidence that students themselves integrate the social media within their learning
activity on formal and informal levels. The members of academic staff of certain educational
institutions tend to encourage this activity. For instance, some teachers have been encouraging
students to utilize blogging platforms in order to develop e-portfolios, which have become quite
popular in the context of higher education (Rosen and Nelson, 2008). Rankin, (2009) suggests
that others are encouraging students to utilize Twitter in order to drive student engagement
during the lessons and/or sessions. These research suggests that social media aids in the pursuit

of excellence in the context of informal learning process (Selwyn, 2007). There is growing
attention towards the integration of social media into the formal learning process (McGloughlin
and Lee, 2010). This forms the central premise of this research as it aims to study the impact of
social media upon students' overall learning experience. To fulfill its purpose, this study focuses
on a particular higher education institution namely Brunel University.
Brunel University (informally Brunel) is a public research, campus-based university
situated in Uxbridge, West London, and is home to nearly 15,000 students from over 100
countries worldwide. Founded in 1966, its distinctive mission is to combine teaching and research
excellence with the practical and entrepreneurial approach pioneered by its namesake, Isambard
Kingdom Brunel. Brunel University is highly regarded for its engineering and design courses. In
addition to that, Brunel offers undergraduate and post graduate courses in business, computing
and mathematicss, education, social sciences (including law, economics), humanities, visual and
performing arts, sport sciences, environment, health and social care (Brunel University, 2013).
1.2. Aim and Objectives
In view of the initial literature review following are the aims and objectives followed by the
questions developed for this research:
The main research aim is:
To examine the relationship between the social media utilization and student
learning experience in higher education.
The objectives of this research are:
To determine the use of social media in student collaboration and communication
in group work.
To examine the use of social media in the delivery of assessment feedback as the
determinant of communication between the students and tutors.
To evaluate the use of social media in the context of formal versus informal
communication in higher education.

1.3. Research Questions
How social media may be utilized in order to facilitate and enhance student
collaboration and communication in the context of group work?
How can social media are used in order to facilitate the process of delivery of
assessment feedback in the context of communication between the tutors and
In what way may social media be utilized in order to develop formal
communication between the students and tutors as opposed to informal
This dissertation presents all the work undertaken as part of this study. It is divided into
five main chapters. The first chapter is the introduction which explains the background of this
research along with its aims, objectives and research questions. This chapter is followed by
literature review, which critiques upon the existing knowledge regarding social media usage
within education. Moving onwards, the research methodology chapter details the underlying
philosophy, and research approach and strategy and data collection methods of this study. The
fourth chapter presents the findings of this research along with its analysis and discussion. Finally,
the study is concluded in the last chapter which also highlights some of its implications through
recommendations and suggests future research areas.
The following chapter presents the review of literature.
2. Literature Review
2.1. Popularity of Social Networking Websites Millennials
The term Millennial is used for new generation of this era. They are also known as
"Generation Y". Terms such as "Echo Boomers," the "Net Generation" and "Generation Next" are
also used to address them. This generation was born after 1980s and immediately succeeds
"Generation X" (Francese, 2003). These people are distinguished from its preceding generation
due to its unprecedented reliance on information and communication technologies (Francese,
2003). They also continue to differentiate themselves from those who are not using digital
technologies actively (Millennials, 2010).

The Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project says that the Generation Y
and Teens are most likely than others to utilize Internet as a basic source of entertainment and
socializing with friends, family and other relatives. This young generation is more probable than
the older one to seek joy and entertainment by playing online games, downloading music and
looking up to online videos. They are also more likely to write their own blogs and read others'
personal blog. Likewise when it comes to using social media and creating personal profiles, stark
difference is found between these internet users and others. Persons between 12 -32 of age are
more likely than the older ones to use social media for creating their profiles. They create these
profiles to keep their friends updated about their lives and also keep track of their friends. They
also exchange instant messages amongst their friends more frequently than the older
generations (Jones and Fox, 2009). Recent research by Pew Research Center has reported that
83% of Americans between ages of 18 to 33 are using social media (Zickuhr, 2010). This data
indicates the popularity of social media amongst younger population. With little variation, similar
trends can be assumed for other developed nations such as UK.
Another key online activity done by generation y is content creation. Content creation
activities such as videos, audios, blogs, pictures, etc, keeps growing among the teenagers. As
many as 64% of teenagers between 12-17 of are carrying out content creation activities, up from
57% in 2004, and this trend keeps growing with time (Lenhart, et al, 2007). A recent research by
Tess (2013) reveals the latest trends in social media usage. It concludes that more and more
youngsters are using social networking websites nowadays with more than 95% of college
students in the US having some sort of social media profile or account spending between 10-30
minutes on average on social media usage. Within UK, 88.3% of youngsters aged between 18 ­
24 use one or more social networking websites (New Media Trend Watch, 2013)..
2.2. Social Media and New Types of Learners
Social media creates a very strong and important context in which a mass of people live
their daily lives. Its significance has emerged to an extent that some commentators have talked
about the `networked self', which recognizes the importance of social media as an essential
perspective of sociability and self in the lives of many people (Papacharissi, 2010). Thus, the most
crucial effect of social media upon higher educational organizations is the seemingly modifying

nature of individuals looking for admission in universities. The increasing usage of social
networking websites by these of highly connected people and their collective social media usage
manifest their growingly integrated, flexible, running, and speedy ways of living. Hence, the
usage of social media applications is deeply connected with increased propensity of young
generation in doing multitasking, for which they majorly depend upon digital technologies that
enable them to meet their daily commitments (Subrahmanyam and Smahel, 2011). Furthermore,
the young generation's increased usage of social media is being related with an improved social
independency. Young people in current times have much more control over where, when, what,
and how they perform activities they desire (Selwyn, 2011). Moreover, users of social media are
believed to have a higher ability to manage their own self and providing for themselves. Tapscott
and Williams (2007. p 52) assert that these young people "are not content to be passive
consumers, and increasingly satisfy their desire for choice, convenience, customization, and
control by designing, producing, and distributing products themselves". The behavioral changes
regarding the use of social media are usually enlisted in different generational terms, though the
aforementioned attributes could be associated to all social media users. In recent days, the young
generations, having being born in internet age, who seek to enter higher education organizations,
know nothing apart from life with internet (Bauman, 2010). Therefore, many educationists and
academicians believe that in order to connect with their students, universities and institutions
should integrate social media in their educational settings.
For example, a number of institutions are employing social media as alternative websites
through which students can get along with the university culture, socializing with their peers and
teachers over the internet (Yu et al., 2010). In most of the developed countries the educational
institutions maintain groups and profile over social networking websites like `Facebook' in order
to promote an interactive atmosphere among students and faculty members, to share resources
and information and more essentially to encourage their students and customers to express their
views. Mason and Rennie (2007: 199) observe that, "shared community spaces and inter-group
communications are a massive part of what excites young people and therefore should contribute
to [their] persistence and motivation to learn". Selwyn (2010) indicates that there are three
interconnected ideas that should promote the use of social media in higher educational

institutions. They are: firstly, the present changing nature of the students entering the
universities, who are highly connected, collective, and creative. Secondly, the learners' changed
relationships regarding knowledge construction, knowledge consumption and formal education.
Finally, the rise of "user-driven" education and deemphasize of learning which is offered in
Nevertheless, despite the realization of the significance of social media's integration in
institutional setting, unquestionably the innate top-down approach of university is not correctly
placed to be a desirable part of the students' highly individualized use of social media. Some
commentators have highlighted the ever growing digital cut-off between students and higher
education organizations (Selwyn, 2011). A number of the commentators believe that even the
finest institutions with a strong dedication for the integration of social media in institutional
setting are able to render only a trivial, constrained and controlled environment providing social
networking at their best. Resultantly, universities and other educational organizations like
schools, libraries and museums, are experiencing distrust and confronting increasing loss of faith
amongst their students and customers from the young people (Downes, 2010).
This conflict seemingly occurs because of the linear and hierarchical way in which
organizations of higher education devise their communication structure, learning procedures and
admit knowledge. As Ulbrich et al. (2011) assert that, "members of the net generation use the
web differently, they network differently, and they learn differently. When they start at
university, traditional values on how to develop knowledge collide with their values. Many of the
teaching techniques that have worked for decades do not work anymore because new students
learn differently too. The Net generation is used to networking; its members work collaboratively,
they execute several tasks simultaneously, and they use the web to acquire knowledge."
2.3. Connecting Students through Social Media
Social media can be utilized as an effective communication tool by higher education
institutions, keeping in mind its prevalent use among the young generation. Research results
regarding this shows likewise (Constantinides & Fountain, 2008; Mangold & Faulds, 2009).
Forrester Research (Young et al., 2007) predicted rapid increase in worldwide commercial
expenditure on social media technologies (43% growth per year) reaching up to $4.6 billion in

2013. This implies that social media has become an effective and powerful marketing and
communications tool across the industries. Similarly the institutions of higher education can also
benefit from the power of social media as a communication channel. Jeff Cain (2008 in
Kuppuswamy and Narayan. 2010), in the research paper "Online Social Networking Issues Within
Academia and Pharmacy Education" has discussed that social network "is a tool that aids students
in developing their identities and finding their ``fit'' within a college community. He says that
social networks help students connect, establish a network and stay in contact with old and new
friends; which is it central attraction and its significant benefit. On campus connections formed
through social networks help students feel that they belong to the institution; which may be an
important factor in student retention. Shirky (2010 in Davis et al, 2012) asserts that social media
"has provided a virtual landscape mirroring familiar elements of community as we understood
and experienced it prior to the existence of such technologies. Social media technology links
people together in ways that resemble traditional feelings of connection, belonging, loosely
defined memberships, exchange of feelings and ideas, and the reporting of experiences and
actions. Indeed, some suggest SMT has suddenly lowered the costs of collaborating, sharing, and
producing, thus providing revolutionary new forms of interaction and problem-solving". These
capabilities along with the many features of communicating with their peer make social networks
very attractive (Kuppuswamy and Narayan. 2010).
In the same manner, McLoughlin and Lee (2010) pointed out in terms of the affordances
and principles of social software as a selection for pedagogy. They claim that one of the top tenets
of social constructivism i.e. learning is controversial in its nature; involving dialogue and shared
activity (Vygotsky, 1978), can be integrated into education through social media. Typical learning
management system often fail to integrate social constructivism into higher education as "these
educational platforms serve specific instructional purposes framed by institutions and are not
designed to support user-generated content as the primary purpose of exchanges and
interactions on the platform" (Davis et al, 2012).
Parallel with social constructivism, situated learning theory also gives credence to the use
of social networks in the classroom (Hung & Yuen, 2010). The theory takes learning as set in a
participatory social context. Lave and Wenger (1991) argue that, situated learning enhances the

knowledge construction model by offering that learning is situated in a particular context and it
underlie in a specific social and physical environment. Therefore, the employment of social media
to extend the ``community of practice'' in the classroom forms a logical argument. According to
Hung and Yuen (2010) a feeling and sense of community is an important component for situated
Moreover, social networking websites can impact greatly in filling the gap between
information which the higher education students seek and the information which the institutions
offer by the means of their print of electronic marketing communications (Hemsley ­Brown &
Oplatka, 2006). Students attempt to fill this gap through several other means in their hands.
Higher education institutions and universities can appeal effectively to more students and enable
them in making more informed decisions, by improving the conditions of information and
A research conducted by the World Education Services indicates that in USA, a majority of
prospective students are prone to gain information in terms of higher education institutions; they
desire to enter, through their accounts on social media websites, prior to deciding for application.
As much as one third of the new recruits acquire information through social media websites while
only 16% use agents to get the information (Choudaha et al, 2012). More than half (56%) of the
students who resorted to social media for the information regarding higher education institution,
followed the media profile maintained by several institutions prior to decide which institution
they will choose to study in, while 37% of them followed the institutional social media profile
before accepting the admission offer of an institution (Choudaha et al, 2012).This research clearly
reveals the importance of social media as a communication tool for higher educational
institutions and the powerful impact of social media on shaping students' perspectives. The
reason behind the prevalence of social media and its success as a source of information is growing
fast on the demand side of higher education is the low level of involvement barriers connected
with it. Unlike all other sources of information, social media reaches every type of students
Although the study conducted by World Education Service admires the unbelievable reach
of social networking websites in filling the gap between the information sought by students' and

that provided by institutions, the study also points out that institutions and universities are not
utilizing social media platforms properly through effective involvement of students. Dr. Rahul
Choudaha, the research director at WES, asserts that higher education institutions should fully
embrace social media and formulate their communication strategies according to the
preferences and requirements of the younger generation. He maintains that "a lot of the time
social media usage is just reposting the links from institution's websites, but that's
not...engagement" (Choudaha et al, 2012).
A white paper (Groth & White, 2010) released by AdPearance, a Portland-based marketing
firm, suggests that the higher education has a key opportunity to engage university and college
students. The report says that: "college-age students are the most digitally connected group in
the United States. Despite the interest from their digitally connected target market, colleges and
universities fundamentally fail at using social media to engage their students and alumni and
compel them to action for the benefit of the school. The opportunity is vast. The community is
waiting. Higher education is missing their chance. In our comprehensive internal study of over
200 colleges and universities, we could not find one school using social media to effectively
engage students." (p. 1).
2.4. Types of Social Media Usage
According to Davis et al, (2012), nearly all of what is widely known about types of social
media usage in higher education points towards its utilization as communication tools for stand-
alone departments, administrative offices, and individual faculty rather than being part of a
larger, more systemic institutional commitment to the use of social media. Davis et al, (2012)
review a vast array of literature to conclude the following usages of social media in higher
· Using blogs by admissions offices to showcase current student experiences (Harris,
2008; Mattson & Barnes, 2009; Rudolph, 2007; Tucciarone, 2009; Wandel, 2008; Violino,
2009 in Davis et al, 2012)
· To create live, up-to-the-minute notices of commencement programs, homecoming
events, class reunions, and live chat sessions (Willburn, 2008 in Davis et al, 2012) as well
as campus emergency alerts (Swartzfager, 2007 in Davis et al, 2012)

· To share the work of students, faculty, visiting scholars, and alumni with the broader
· A discussion medium for faculty and students (Dunlap & Lowoenthal, 2009 in Davis et al,
· To use it as a pedagogical strategy (Brownstein & Klein, 2006; Ducate &
· Lomicka, 2005 in Davis et al, 2012),
· To use it for teacher education (Deng & Yuen, 2007; Loving, Schroeder, Kang, Shimek &
Herbert, 2007; Ray & Coulter, 2008; Stiler &Philleo, 2003; Williams, 2009 in Davis et al,
2012), and business (Williams & Jacobs, 2004 in Davis et al, 2012)
· For, Alumni affairs (Lavrusik, 2009 in Davis et al, 2012)
According to Davis et al, (2012) a recent survey of the 224 higher education institutions
revealed that the use of social media technology as a one way communication tool currently
dominates all other uses. However, there were several exceptions wherein the higher education
institutions described using social media for reasons beyond the dominant functions mentioned
above. The following table lists the ways in which social media was been used beyond the
dominant functions.

Table 1 Ways in which Social Media is been Used as Exception
Source: Davis, et al, 2012
Moreover, the survey inquired about the value of social media for the higher education
institutions. The following figure displays the key findings.
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Is Social Media an Effective Way of Enhancing Students’ Learning Experience?
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