Alan Cann, University of Leicester, UK
It is difficult to overestimate the impact that social networks have had on student life. As Web-based services have pervaded academic life from the social sphere, it is commensurate on educators to ensure that graduates are digitally literate, alongside the accepted skills of traditional communication and numeracy. Used appropriately, social software can develop the collaboration and communication skills valued by employers and offer a less instructor-centred approach at a time when instructor-centred learning may be losing effectiveness due to many factors, including overcrowded curricula, declining staff-student ratios and intense exposure to peer-driven social media. To make sense of these changes, we need adequate frameworks which describe online behaviour. We have developed an analytic framework for examining student attitudes to the use of Google+ or other social networks in academic contexts.
All first year undergraduate students in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Leicester (approximately 270 students per year) undertake a key skills module that encompasses I.T. and numeracy skills. Previously we have shown that academic-related student contributions to a public social network as part of this module can be seen as a proxy for student engagement. In 2011 we moved our student network to the newly available Google+ platform. We would encourage others to utilize the framework we have developed to investigate student attitudes and behaviours when online tools are adopted.