Sian Evans is a Senior Lecturer on CSM’s BA Jewellery Design course. An avid social networker herself, Sian likes to keep in contact with her students when she is not in college and saw Facebook as a way to boost interactivity between them and her. The page – Jewellers Compendium – has been running for two and a half years and has a current grand total of 4,236 friends made up of students, alumni and industry professionals. As a news feed, an aggregator of course information and as a networking tool, Sian says the project has been “very successful” and advocates the use of Facebook in this way across all disciplines. Here, she explains why and talks through the details of the project.
What problems did you perceive before setting up the Jewellers Compendium?
The problem I have being a 0.5 at CSM is that I’m not at college a lot of the time, and I felt that that can cause disjunction between me and my students. I don’t like that, I like to be close, to have the ability to get in contact with them easily. Blackboard and emailing are really lumpy; they take up too much time. The way Blackboard is set up is sort of didactic – information comes from the tutor to the student, and there isn’t a way back for the student.
In addition, the student group varies in size from about 35 to 50, so setting up email groups – and also talking to smaller groups or interested parties within those groups – is difficult. You also have to then choose what email you’re going to use. College email is the preferred one but lots of students don’t actually use it so they don’t see any messages.
So a) they don’t really use Blackboard very much and b) they don’t really use email.
Being a Facebook user, what I’ve learnt over the years is that even though my friends are all different ages, most of them – even my mum, who’s in her seventies – are on Facebook. And all of my students are. So I thought that I’d try a project that would utilise my understanding of Facebook and who that could communicate with. I’m a blogger and I use Twitter and Facebook for my own jewellery design practice; it works really effectively at helping my profile to build and I thought actually having a CSM Jewellery profile page could not only help to improve the profile of the course, but it could be a news sheet or aggregator of things that happen within the course such as success stories. It could be a way of keeping in contact with alumni very easily, as they’re all on Facebook. And also just putting up interesting things that an academic might put up on a page within Blackboard; and even just random news items that are related to the discipline.
What was your approach to creating the page?
The initial focus was to gather friends to a Facebook page who were industry-related, who the Facebook page would then speak to and just make the course look really cool due to the way it was being done. It was also a way for alumni to keep in contact with the course.
Then much more privately, an adjunct to that, there’s a way on Facebook to set up private groups and for my students to have a private group for each of the years, where I could have a much more personal course-related discussion with them. Which is extremely easy, updatable and is completely two-way and private. That’s the main thing; you can set groups to be public or private.
Who are the learners?
In this instance, we’re proposing that the academics become the learners. That they set up an autonomous profile that’s not their own profile, but a college profile using the college website address which will allow them to do something similar in their course to give them access to their students in the way that I have. My course is quite small so what I suggest is that those academics, those learners, set up a course page, and then if they’ve got big groups, which they split up into seminar groups or different pathways, that they set those private groups up and the tutor who in charge of that pathway is in charge of that group on Facebook.
Keeping in touch with alumni
The project started two and a half years ago and I’m second year tutor so that now means that we’ve got one year group who are now alumni, but they still use this page to keep in contact with us and to keep in contact with each other. It is amazing because they’re all going off and getting jobs and we’re posting job opportunities for them. We get fed an awful lot of job opportunities through the Jewellers Compendium site and that’s because it’s got four and a half thousand friends who are all in industry; a lot of them are alumni going back not just the ten years I’ve been here but 20, 30, 40 years – some of them are ancient! And they’re in positions of power and they can see the value in getting in contact, and it’s very easy to get in contact. It is slightly more informal than perhaps historically people have done.
What sort of opposition is there to using Facebook as an educational tool?
It’s down to the willingness or the experience of the academics to use Facebook or see its value. The problem is people not seeing what its potential is. Yes people do use it to put up drunken party pictures on their personal pages but that’s not what I’m suggesting, what’s set up for the course is completely separate from any personal pages, there’s no link between them at all.
Why is setting up a Facebook page so easy?
For some academics, they might need an induction into Facebook. It started off very simple and it’s had lots of things added so perhaps somebody who’s coming in fresh might a bit of an orientation through it.
But otherwise, the sign up process is incredibly easily, just with an email address. An email address, a profile name, and a picture of your choice. Oh and a cover picture – which is a fancier picture – which you can upload and customise your page with. And you need some names or some email addresses of some friends or contacts to add or invite to add to your profile page. That’s pretty much it.
Do you think it helps students’ learning process?
I think it does. I think it opens up conversations between them and myself that wouldn’t happen otherwise. It also opens up conversations amongst their peer group as well. So they’re clarifying things through those conversations. Occasionally they might go off on a weird tangent and I can say ‘probably not that way, but that way is better’, so it also stops rumours about how to do something.
Do you think a Facebook presence could benefit any course?
Yes I do! I think certain courses might find some reluctant students who want to stay more private, away from their tutors because actually it does mean that if their profile is set to public you can see what they’ve been doing – doing Dalston on a Saturday night! They could set their profile so that the academic can’t see their profile, but they can still be a friend and a member of a private group. I don’t think I can imagine any other way of actually having that much information flowing around different sized groups: an industry-wide group and then three year groups and it will shortly be four year groups.