Online Social Networking and University – Why it may or may not work

When I started University in 2009, there were many new and fascinating ways to communicate that High School didn’t have. At the centre of all University communication, outside of email, was Blackboard, an online space for each Unit you were studying where you could find information and also post requests for help and support as well as just talk to your peers about the Unit and check that you were on the same page as everyone else.

Two and a half years later, not much has changed in terms of online communication between Universities and its students despite the massive growth of online social networking.  Although most University based clubs and societies use social networking sites such as Facebook, and to a lesser extent Twitter, in promoting events and garnering support, Universities have been reculant to use social networking sites for academic specific purposes.

The closest Monash University, which I attend, has gotten to combining academics with social networking is its Facebook page, which again acts mainly as a way to promote events rather than a tool for students to use as a contact point for help with academics.

In an attempt to be more specific, the Faculty of Information Technology has broken away from the rest of Monash and created its own space on Facebook to cater more exclusively to its students.

In contrast to Monash University, I’ve noticed many of my friends from Tunku Abdul Rahman College in Malaysia being tagged in posts specifically from their faculties and unit coordinators, reminding them of upcoming exams and assessments and in certain cases, where I believe they have permitted, alerting them of their grades.

However, the move to not use social networking as a main area of communication could be a move more than welcomed by its students.

Kok Fai Loke, a student from Monash University, believes that using social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter could possibly even hinder the relationship between Universities and its students. “It may drive students away. Most students don’t associate Facebook with work/studies. It’s more of an avenue of leisure and social activity,” he said.

However, he suggests that Google+ could tackle the communication issues that Facebook and Twitter face. “Should Google+ catch on I believe that’s one avenue that can be pursued, since you can group your notifications/people/organizations. So, if one wants to read Monash announcements, all they have to do is sniff that circle. Google+’s Hangout feature also makes it easy for remote tutorials/consultations.”

Certainly social networking could provide faster help to students, especially if students were able to chat with tutors rather than posting a question on Blackboard and waiting for a reply.

However, as Kok Fai pointed out, it could also steal away from the joys of social networking acting as a means of escaping reality, and to students, as escape from assessments and exams.

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