Mount Royal researchers spent months examining Facebook comments, reactions and posts. This wasn’t their chosen method of procrastination, it was the subject of their recently published paper that challenges post-secondary institutions to understand the popular online platforms where undergraduate students engage with teaching and learning topics.
A Facebook page that solicits anonymous submissions about all things related to Mount Royal University was the subject of a full year investigation into the information behaviour of undergraduate students in need of academic help. Richard Hayman is an Associate Professor and Librarian at MRU Library, and Erika E. Smith is an Assistant Professor and Faculty Development Consultant with the Academic Development Centre. Both work under the same roof on campus, with each of their departments being in the Riddell Library and Learning Centre, and are co-authors on the publication Information behaviour of undergraduate students using Facebook Confessions for educational purposes along with recently graduated Psychology (Honours) alumna Hannah Storrs.
The trio used a mixed-method content analysis approach to track posts on MRU Confessions—a public Facebook page, geared toward students, that accepts anonymous posts through an online form before published by the page administrator. Using specialized mixed methods software to work with a large social media dataset, they analyzed over 2,700 confessions posted during the 2016/17 academic year and found that a notable portion of the posts, just over 26 per cent, were directly related to student’s learning experiences. The data revealed that students were venting about day-to-day issues related to their university student lives while also turning to each other to find and learn about specific on-campus resources.
“I think the most impactful confessions were the ones where the need for help was tangible,” explains Hayman who refers to a specific post where a first-year student confesses that they are overwhelmed and asks for advice on where to go for help.
“While our university offers many support services, the fact that students can’t easily find them means that we need to do better. We can make these services more accessible, and do more to identify and connect students in need so that they don’t have to turn to places like Facebook Confessions to get help,” adds Hayman.
Smith, whose research background includes digital literacies and social media, says there’s lots of research demonstrating how social media is used in formal learning, but considerably less research on social media as an informal learning environment.
“Our findings demonstrate that students actually do use these informal social media spaces to support their learning in meaningful ways, interacting to meet their own needs, or to assist others outside of their formal classes,” says Smith.
The authors emphasize that the takeaway from the study isn’t that post-secondary administrators should try to interact with students on these unaffiliated forums. Instead, they can be a way for colleges and universities to better understand the needs of their students.
“Students will always want their own spaces to interact outside of the formal learning environment. Our research provides administrators, librarians, educators, and staff with key insights into not only the types of help and information that students seek, but also when these common areas of need arise,” says Smith.
Storrs reviewed the Facebook posts as a co-author of the study while she was navigating post-secondary life and a member of the MRU Confessions page. As she reflects on the experience, Storrs recalls that many of the questions asked in confessions were ones that she also didn’t know the answers to.
Storrs graduated from MRU with a Bachelor of Arts degree this past year and entered this project with an impressive work history as a research assistant on several other projects. The alumna, who plans to apply to graduate school, says she recalls immediately knowing that this research would be of great interest to her when she went into the interview for the research assistant position with Smith.
“I found it fascinating and felt I would be able to learn a lot from this opportunity while also being able to bring my voice and experience to the table,” explains Storrs. “My previous research experience was really quantitative focused but this project allowed me to learn and develop my skills with qualitative analysis and mixed methods research.”
Hayman, Smith, and Storrs presented this scholarship at national and international conferences this past year, including the Canadian Association for Information Science (CAIS) where their research was awarded Best Practitioner Paper. The team plans to expand their data and weave in new observations, including the changing nature of social media that has led to a drop in activity on Facebook Confessions but has channeled similar activity to other forums like Instagram and Reddit.
Mount Royal Library continuously works to improve services and resources to meet the needs of students, faculty and the general community. We are conducting a survey that will help us to understand how we are doing as a library and how we can improve.
Select students and faculty will be sent an email invitation to complete the LibQUAL + Satisfaction Survey but we encourage all current students and faculty to participate. The survey takes 15 to 20 minutes to complete and has been a way for us to implement meaningful changes to the library over the years. Past survey feedback has led to changes such as adjusting our hours of operation, enhancing services, and website updates.
Participants will have a chance to enter a draw to receive gift cards valued up to $300.
Questions about this survey can be directed to Brian Jackson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 403-440-5032. Please share this notice with others who might be interested in participating.
MRU Library is excited to announce that a mobile app that translates Blackfoot signage in the Riddell Library and Learning Centre (RLLC) into English is now available! DeciphAR uses augmented reality to provide audio and visual information about Blackfoot signage available throughout the RLLC. This project is a collaboration with Red Crow Community College in Lethbridge, and translations are provided by Elder Leo Fox. The audio information includes pronunciations of the Blackfoot phrases on the signs, while the Info cards offer an explanation of the translation. We are so pleased to offer a way for all RLLC visitors to better engage with way-finding signs and share important details of each Blackfoot translation.
DeciphAR was developed by third-year information design student, Chase Schraeder, who started in the Junior AR Developer position on the Library Visualization team this summer.
“Essentially all you do when you see a Blackfoot sign is point your phone at it,” explains Schraeder. “It will start scanning and what we dubbed an ‘info card’ will pop up. The cards provide the explanation, the English, the Blackfoot, and the button to listen to the pronunciation.”
We invite you to download DeciphAR and try it out. A table will also be set up at the West Entrance of the RLLC this Thursday (October 10) from 8:30am-4:30pm. Anyone interested is encouraged to stop by and the team that led the app development will be available for questions.
You can learn more about this project from an article recently published on mru.ca called Wayfinding in Blackfoot.
Libraries are where you go to access information and Indigenous systems of knowledge should be considered and applied to historical documents and new material. MRU Library is pleased to feature a guest lecture with Dr. Sandra Littletree, PhD who will offer insight on how to make space for Indigenous perspectives in institutions. Honouring Relationality: Centering Indigenous Perspectives in Library Services will take place on Tuesday, May 28 at 2pm and is open to the public. Register today!