Social networking sites allow individuals to use technology to connect, collaborate and share over a variety of platforms. Although social networking is not a new form of communication, a rise in the use of these platforms by educators in recent times has been observed. Social networking sites are used to find people with similar interests and build relationships with them through discussions around these interests (King, 2015a).
The justification behind the use of social networks as a tool for communication and professional learning includes the idea that many educators will use popular media such as Facebook (Pilgrim & Bledsloe, 2011).
Upon determining that there was a lack of social networking support for New South Wales Biology teachers, a Facebook group was developed with the aim to provide these educators with a place to communicate, collaborate and learn from one another. A Facebook group was chosen as this allows the development of relationships between users (Nussbaum-Beach & Hall, 2011) which will help to open the lines of communication between newly appointed Biology teachers and those with more experience
Over time, the group will be monitored to determine how it is being used and by who. This will be done through the use of a survey created with Google Forms and the use of online analytics software that monitors the Facebook Group’s usage.
The Nature of the Project - NSW Biology Teachers Facebook Group
The New South Wales Biology syllabus is about to be overhauled with a number of changes to be made. Although content is not going to be overly different to the current syllabus, the way that it is packaged and expected to be taught may be very different for some. This social networking group was created to help Biology teachers across New South Wales connect with each other to share ideas as well as collaborate on teaching and learning programmes and resources.
The introduction of a depth study to the Stage 6 Biology syllabus will require students to complete projects that are of interest to them and possibly different to those undertaken by other students in their class. The creation of this Facebook group will also help to connect classes so that students who are conducting similar depth studies can communicate and collaborate with each other, as well as providing students with an authentic audience beyond the students within their own classroom.
This social network would also be helpful for beginning teachers to connect with more experienced teachers to find a mentor to help them through those first few months/years of teaching Biology in New South Wales. The social networking group will also provide information for all teachers in regards to opportunities for professional learning/development that are advertised by local providers for teachers of Biology.
A Facebook group was chosen over the use of any other social media outlet as Facebook allows for teachers across all of New South Wales to develop relationships, which is one of the things that technology makes possible (Nussbaum-Beach & Hall, 2011). Twitter simply allows for microblogging, where individuals can post a short message of up to 140 characters that allows users to be in constant contact, however, does not allow these messages to remain static as they continue through the Twitter ‘feed’ (Tang & Hew, 2016).
The justification behind the use of social networks as a tool for professional learning includes the idea that many educators will use popular social media outlets such as Facebook for the purpose of communication and collaboration. Facebook provides one tool where educators can access multiple organisations at the one time. Educators can follow the Facebook group’s feed to find information regarding their profession and group members may respond and interact with other members, just as they can interact socially with their friends on Facebook. As educators, one goal is to develop a love of learning in students that is lifelong. The use of Facebook helps educators to continue their own learning, at their own convenience, by joining groups that they are interested in through their own personal Facebook page (Pilgrim & Bledsloe, 2011).
The familiarity of the Facebook platform for many people is another factor that helped to finalise the choice to go with this platform as opposed to any other social networking site. The self-contained community that has been created will allow for asynchronous and eventually synchronous interactions between educators while also allowing users to share information, documents, pictures and links to outside websites with other members. The open nature of a Facebook group also provides a convenient platform for collaborative and/or cooperative learning (Miron & Ravid, 2015).
Asynchronous interactions involve those where educators are able to access the Facebook group at any time from anywhere (Aggarwal, Turoff, Legon, Hackbarth & Fowler, 2008). This mode of delivery helps to supplement the discussions and learning that the educators take part in within their everyday lives, with colleagues at school.
The Process Involved in the Creation of NSW Biology Teachers Facebook Group
Before deciding upon the social networking group to create, an search of both Twitter and Facebook was carried out to ensure that a similar group had not already been created. It was found that a number of generic science teacher social networking groups already exist, however, none exist that specifically cater for teachers of stage 6 Biology in New South Wales.
After establishing that the need was evident, the Facebook group was created and the name 'NSW Biology Teachers' was assigned (Appendix 1). This name was chosen as it was short and to the point, ensuring that there was no confusion about who the group was intended to be for.
The group was created in Facebook, rather than Twitter, as one of the main objectives of the group is to allow educators to share resources as the new syllabus approaches. Facebook groups engage users and allow for files to be uploaded and links to be shared in a location that remain static (Wankel, 2011), unlike Twitter, where users would need to be searching for hashtags or other users to be able to find what they are looking for. Facebook also allows for the creation of polls and an easier means of developing relationships between members.
The cover photo for the group was created using Canva, a free online graphic design program that is easy to use to create eye catching designs for a range of applications (Appendix 2). Canva has templates available that allow users to create a range of images for a number social networking sites including cover images for Facebook profiles and group images. A simple and clean design was created that was visually appealing and added as the group’s cover image.
Once the group was created it was advertised firstly on Twitter using the hashtag #aussieED. This hashtag was used as it is associated with one of the largest Australian professional learning communities on Twitter. The tweet that was created on December 10 has been retweeted a number of times with almost 1000 impressions. This has allowed the information regarding the Facebook group to reach a wide range of educators throughout not only NSW but the whole of Australia. Other hashtags were also used including #HSCBiology and #NSWBiology in an attempt to target those specific educators who use Twitter (Appendix 3).
The group was also advertised in another Facebook group titled 'Awesome Science Teachers', which caters for 1277 science teachers in Australia and around the world (Appendix 4) along with 'The Australian Flipped Learning Network' Facebook group. This group has 106 of members from a range of key learning areas and was created during September of 2016 (Appendix 5).
The use of these two platforms to advertise the group led to the membership growing to 189 educators within twelve days of its conception (Appendix 6). The number of participants rose very quickly within the first few days, reaching ninety-six members in the first twenty-four hours. Requests to add members then began to plateau as the end of the New South Wales school term approached. When school returns in 2017, the group will be advertised again with the hope of continuing its growth as teachers return to school.
Before the end of the term, a number of polls were created to begin to get members to interact with one another. These polls helped to create some discussion around class sizes, the use of textbooks and patterns of study. Each of the polls have had a fairly good rate of response, however, the number of people adding further discussion has decreased as the date has moved closer to Christmas (Appendix 7).
On December 19th, a survey was created to gauge how users were finding the Facebook group and what it had to offer them (Appendix 8). This survey was created using Google Forms and consisted of eight general questions to gather information regarding the demographics of the Facebook group members as well as nine questions that ask about their general social networking site use, both professionally and personally. The survey then concluded with six questions that were specifically about the ‘NSW Biology Teachers’ Facebook group including whether or not members were finding the group to be beneficial and whether they would be interested in continuing their interaction with the group in 2017. One question was also included to determine whether members had any specific feedback for the group and how it may further benefit them as Biology teachers in the future.
On December 24th, group analytics were investigated using sociograph.io and gyrtics.com. Sociograph provides basic data with no cost on a range of features that the Facebook group provides including the number of members who have joined each day, the type and range of posts that have been made and the types of interactions that have been carried out by members. Gyrtics provides much more detailed analytics on the group’s usage, however, there is a minimum cost of $12/month to use this services. Thankfully, a free-trial is provided for users to explore what the website has to offer before committing to this cost. The information extracted from both of these services will provide data on how the group has been used since its development on December 10th.
Critical Evaluation of NSW Biology Teachers Facebook Group
The use of group analytics has helped to gather an understanding of the peak times of when the group was used by educators. In particular, engagement metrics provide the developers of social networking sites with valuable information about what group members are actually doing with the site to ensure that the user’s needs are being met (King, 2015.b).
From the analytics provided by grytics.com it was noted that out of 189 members, only 50 of these have been active (Appendix 9) with majority of the interactions (85% of posts) on the site being the creation of status-like posts (Appendix 10). This data is understandable considering the group has only been in existence for two weeks and members are still simply introducing themselves to others and getting a feel for the group. This low level of engagement could also be attributed to the fact that the New South Wales school term was wrapping up and educators were less likely to be engaging in school-related activities on social networking sites as noted by the decline in activity in the group shown by analytics provided by Sociograph (Appendix 11).
In order to gather feedback from educators who have signed up to the group a survey was created using Google Forms (Appendix 8). The survey questions asked users about their usual social media use to connect with educators as well as their feelings about how the group is travelling. Other questions also asked users for suggestions for how the group may better suit their needs in the future and whether or not they would be interested in attending a face to face meet up with other members of the group.
On surveying the members of the Facebook group, it was interesting to note that out of the 32 respondents, 24.2% of them stated that they usually do not use Facebook as a means to communicate with other educators (Appendix 12). They stated that they would prefer to use Twitter or LinkedIn for this and save Facebook for more personal use (Appendix 13). This difference in percentage may be due to the fact that more educators believe that Facebook is better suited for students rather than teachers and that Facebook is quite an informal social networking tool (Wankel, 2011).
Twitter is ranked within the top two social networking tools that teachers would be willing to use in their classrooms, ranking higher than Facebook (Tang & Hew, 2016). A number of educators find it much easier to create a professional learning community using Twitter than they do Facebook as it does not require as much investment of time as Facebook to create the short posts of only 140 characters (Tang & Hew, 2016).
Although almost 50% of the respondents feel that they have not found the group to be overly helpful as yet (Appendix 14), 100% of educators who took the survey plan to continue to interact with the group in 2017 (Appendix 15).
When asking for specific feedback in regards to what the users would like to see from the group in the future the three most consistent responses included:
- Sharing of resources
- Forum discussions on the upcoming new syllabus documents
- Information on professional learning/development opportunities
This feedback will allow for the continual growth of the group moving forward. In response to the request for a place to share resources, a Google Drive folder will be created to allow group members to upload their resources as well as allowing others to search these resources for anything they may require.
Once the 2017 school year has started, there will be posts that are created that specifically relate to the new syllabus so that group members can discuss their queries and concerns prior to the implementation of the syllabus. This will also allow those teachers who are designing programs and learning resources for the new syllabus to collaborate as well as to share ideas and resources.
Lastly, information on professional learning/development can be advertised through the use of the events feature in Facebook. This will allow members to keep up to date with upcoming events that will allow educators to access these professional learning/development experiences.
Overall, the creation of the ‘NSW Biology Teachers’ group has provided Biology educators with a means to communicate and collaborate effectively through the use of the social networking site, Facebook. The group will continue to grow in size and engagement once the 2017 school year commences with members being able to share ideas and resources to help others with their understanding and teaching of the Stage 6 Biology syllabus.
Aggarwal, A., Turoff, M., Legon, R., Hackbarth, G., & Fowler, D. (2008). Asynchronous Learning: Emerging Issues for the 21st Century. In L. Esnault (Ed.), Web-Based Education and Pedagogical Technologies: Solutions for Learning Applications (pp. 206-225). Hershey, PA: IGI Global. doi:10.4018/978-1-59904-525-2.ch011
King, D. (2015)a. Why Use Social Media. Managing Your Library’S Social Media Channels, 51(1), 6-9. http://dx.doi.org/http://dx.doi.org/10.5860/ltr.51n1
King, D. (2015) b. Analytics, Goals and Strategy for Social Media. Managing Your Library’S Social Media Channels, 51(1), 26-32. http://dx.doi.org/http://dx.doi.org/10.5860/ltr.51n1
Miron, E., & Ravid, G. (2015). Facebook groups as an academic teaching aid: Case study and recommendations for educators. Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 18(4), 371-384. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.csu.edu.au/docview/1736895969?accountid=10344
Nussbaum-Beach, S. & Hall, L. (2011). The Connected Educator (1st ed.). Bloomington: Solution Tree Press.
Pilgrim, J., & Bledsoe, C. (2011). Learning through facebook: A potential tool for educators. Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin, 78(1), 38-42. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.csu.edu.au/docview/905840093?accountid=10344
Tang, Y. & Hew, K. (2016). Using Twitter for education: Beneficial or simply a waste of time?. Computers & Education, 106, 97-118. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2016.12.004
Wankel, C. (2011). Educating Educators with Social Media. : Emerald Group Publishing Limited. Retrieved from http://www.ebrary.com.ezproxy.csu.edu.au
Appendix 1 – Image – Creation of NSW Biology Teachers Facebook Group
Appendix 9 – Image – Analytics summary provided by grytics.com including total known and active members