This study explores the role that social networking sites play in the learning of post-graduate trainee teachers. It is part of a larger study that explored the role that technologies played in student learning via a Networked Learning framework. It draws upon the content posted to closed groups on social network sites, such as Facebook and WhatsApp, to explore two aspects of the impact these groups have.
Firstly, the impact on social cohesion; in other words, how the social network site groups support interaction online and subsequently, face-to-face interactions. Secondly, the impact on learning that interactions in these groups has. It uses a threefold analysis strategy: the temporal distribution of usage, the context for interactions and the topic of interactions.
It finds that there is a strong social element to student interactions which includes interactions relating to social activities but also interactions which provide moral support and encouragement as well as elements of humour. In addition to this are learning related interactions. These are widespread and cover both academic and professional learning. However, this is largely limited to interactions related to details, support, help and guidance rather than profound theoretical discussions.
The survey combines the analysis of the content and context of interactions with a temporal analysis of interactions to explore how the use of these interactions changes in relation to key events in the course such as assignment submissions or school placements. It finds that the participants are discerning users who adopt a functional approach to social network interactions. They make extensive use of such sites prior to assignment submissions or the release of assignment feedback. But, on the other hand, at times of high workload, such as school placements, they will prioritise activity with the greatest potential impact on their success. In other words, they do not allow themselves to be overly distracted by social networking.
It concludes that the social network site groups play an important role in supporting students to succeed on a busy and stressful course. Also, that students draw on social media in equal measure for social cohesion and learning related interactions. However, it must be noted that the learning interactions are typically around-task interactions rather than interactions at the heart of their learning.