Washington | Facebook may help keep more students engaged and enrolled to massive open online courses or MOOCs, a new study has found. In a study that compared MOOC student use of the course’s Facebook groups to use of the built-in course message boards and forums, researchers said students were more engaged on the Facebook groups and also admitted to the researchers that they preferred interacting more on the social media site than through the course tools.
In previous studies we found that the real challenge for MOOC developers and instructors is trying to keep students engaged and enrolled in the course, said Saijing Zheng, a former doctoral student at Pennsylvania State University in US.
In this study, we are finding that social media tools may be one way to keep students engaged in a MOOC, said Zheng, who is currently a research scientist at Microsoft. She said that 90 per cent of the thousands of MOOC students who enroll in a course leave it after only two weeks. The researchers suggest that Facebook’s interface has several features that most MOOC courses, as yet, cannot match.
Current MOOC platforms do not include collaborative features for students to work together, or good conversation channels between students and between students and teachers, Zheng said. Social media may provide another communication channel for the students, she said. According to the researchers, one of the advantages of Facebook groups is that users tend to sign up with their real names while students can create fake personas on course message boards and forums.
Real names give other students the idea that they are talking to a real person and that, perhaps, helps build a sense of community and they trust that type of environment more, said Zheng. Students appreciate that Facebook offers several ways to contact the course professor, she said. They can reply to a post, like a post, and even send a private message.
While MOOC courses only last a few weeks, students on Facebook groups can meet and chat weeks before the course starts and, in some cases, long after it ends. Facebook replies and posts also tend to be better organised than message board conversations, which can easily become buried among other posts, according to the researchers.
For the study, the researchers collected data from three different courses on Coursera, a platform that hosts MOOCS, and from Facebook groups. The researchers used a Facebook application that allowed them to collect data on student activities on the site. They were then able to analyse various activities, such as likes, replies and comments, for students on both sites.
Although Facebook groups, which are treated as a second communication channel for the students, had fewer members than the actual course site, they had more engaged users. Fewer than 10 per cent of Coursera users posted content, while 28 per cent of Facebook users, on average, were active in the three course groups.