M.Ed. Blog Series: Research

This coming Saturday I will be defending my master’s portfolio and I wanted to share some of my hard work with others who won’t attend my defense.  We often spend so much time creating artifacts of our learning, whether it be a document, video, song, web page, etc., to only have it viewed by a relatively small number of people.  I wanted to do something different and share my work with as many people as possible, because I’ve worked hard over the last three years and have grown tremendously as an educator during that time.  So, every day (almost) this week I will post about my experiences and share my reflections, with the hope that some conversation can be created about what I’ve done over the last three years and keep our learning going well past my defense.  Tonight I’ll talk about my research portion of my portfolio.

Research was one of those things that didn’t seem to fit with me when I first started my master’s program.  I knew it was coming eventually in one of my courses, but I didn’t know what to think.  But after I went through the action research course I acquired a taste for research and have made it a part of my career.  For this portfolio, I used my action research project that examined homework completion and using a Facebook group.

As you probably can tell if you follow my blog, I have a passion for social networking software, so it only made sense to examine Facebook further.  I’m always advocating for the use of social networking software so it made sense to research one possibility.  The research was pretty basic.  I met with a teacher who I helped create a Facebook group and then a homework assignment was posted to the events section of the group every week.  I collected data through a group interview prior to the intervention and then observed any interactions online.  After the intervention students and teacher completed a survey.  Data was then coded and compiled to identify themes.

What I found were three big themes.  The first finding was around how students used Facebook.  Most students had a Facebook account and used it regularly.  Only some students had used a group before, mostly to interact with others who had similar interests.  Students were open to the idea of using Facebook in class, but there were a few that had concerns about using technology, because it was another thing they had to learn, which is why I wanted to use Facebook.  Most students in the school I completed the research at were already using Facebook.  Looking at how the Facebook Group was used, it was only being researched to examine the use of the events to help with homework completion.  However, in the first few weeks of the study, some students began posting to the group wall.  But due to low interaction from the teacher and other students, they didn’t keep adding to the wall.  While I’m not drawing any conclusions from this data, I do think there are slight indications that students want to have more social interactions about their courses through social media.  This is certainly a place where I want to investigate further.

The second theme was one that the data really supports, inconsistency.  Due to a variety of reasons, the teacher participating in the research was unable to keep posting events (homework) on a regular basis.  Unforeseen problems arose, such as dual entry of assignments for lesson plan reporting, that limit the generalizations that can be drawn from this research, but one thing that emerges is that there needs to be adequate support for teachers as they implement new initiatives.  This one was no different.  There were technical barriers, administrative barriers, and knowledge barriers that made it more difficult to implement the intervention.  However, students did indicate on the post-intervention survey that they would have liked more interactions on Facebook (67%).

The next theme was homework completion, the focus of the research.  This was one theme where generalizations need to be made cautiously due to the inconsistency.  However, what I found was that even though the amount the Facebook Group was used was inconsistent, 41% of students indicated their habits had changed because they always knew what homework needed to be completed and when.  The teacher also noted that students knew where to look for missing homework and for the assignments that were posted, they didn’t ask for the makeup work if they were gone.

The final theme that emerged from the research was that students and teacher thought that Facebook was a beneficial tool.  The majority of students thought that Facebook was a useful tool for the classroom.  The teacher also thought the tool was useful for her students, but reiterated the need for more support, both technical and administrative, to make the intervention easier to implement.

My research portion of the portfolio wasn’t anything steller, but it is certainly a start and has now hooked me by leaving me with more questions than answers.  What do you think about using Facebook or other social networking software in the classroom?  Do you have any social networking educational research to share?  Do you want to assist with additional research using Facebook and other social media tools?  If so, leave a message or contact me to see if we can work something out!

Facebook Groups and Homework Completion…Are You Sure?

This past fall I conducted an action research project that looked at the effect a Facebook Group has on homework completion.  What really interested me was whether or not an event posted to the group would help students to remember to do their homework.  So for about two months this fall a teacher who has taught for more than 20 years began using a Facebook Group and events with her class to post her homework assignments.  All the students were members of the group and would receive notifications when a homework was assigned via an event.  The event would then reappear once the deadline approached.  I didn’t look at too much as this was my first attempt at action research and I’m all about taking baby steps!

Here are the highlights of what I found:

  1. Consistency: Due to some unforeseen new initiatives and additional time commitments, consistency was difficult for the instructor.  This led the teacher to not use the Facebook Group consistency.  41% of students were unhappy with the lack of Facebook use in the class with 67% wanting more interactions using Facebook. Students stated in the post intervention survey that they wanted to have all their assignments posted to Facebook with additional reminders beyond the event showing up on their homepage. Looking back on the action research, this is truly an important aspect of implementing any innovation. If the innovation is going to succeed, then it has to be used regularly to show that it is an important feature of the course
  2. Homework completion: As I coded and compiled data, 45% of students indicated that the Facebook Group did help them remember to do their homework more often.  This result almost blew me away, because I expected a much lower number due to the inconsistency of use with the Facebook Group and events.  According to the teacher in this study, the students responded well to the Facebook Group and knew where to look for their homework when it was used, leading me to believe Facebook can be used effectively in education.
  3. Beneficial tool: When asked if Facebook was a beneficial tool, both the students and their instructor felt it was a useful tool.  However, the usefulness of a tool alone will not be enough to motivate students to complete their work.  This is sometimes forgotten when technology is introduced into the learning environment.  While there may be value to using a tool or even a set of tools, if the underlying assignment isn’t engaging or fails to motivate students, then the impact of that tool on student achievement will be minimal at best.  The problem this action research sought to address was the lack of homework completion students in a history course had.  Going in, my assumption was that no matter how much we remind students to do their homework, if they aren’t motivated to do the task or if they don’t see the value in the task, then most likely they won’t do it.  I think this action research helped point to that as only about a third of students flet they were more accountable for completing their homework because it was posted to Facebook.

What’s Next?

Looking at where I could go with this, I think the next step for me is to expand the number of items I want to investigate with Facebook.  Homework completion is certainly an important topic, but there has to be a deeper look at the potentials of Facebook.  Sure many of us have our opinions of what Facebook can provide, but until we actually research and examine closely the effects on X due to the use of Facebook will we really know what Facebook can provide.  Opinion only goes so far until research is needed to convince others this is something we should be excited and advocating about.

Facebook, and more broadly social networking software, is something I truly believe can make a meaningful impact in education, but I want to put it to the test.  I want to additional rounds of research on Facebook, so if there is anyone interested in examining how Facebook can impact an aspect of your student’s education let me know.  I need a partner teacher or teachers to work with me to implement further research.

If you are interested in reading the entire action research, click here: http://bit.ly/gOuxX0