Innovate has an interesting article (Have to go through free registration to read the full article) on use of Facebook to create an online community for students enrolled in an Organic Chemistry Lab at Iowa State University. The authors (Jacob Schroeder and Thomas Greenbowe)compared the use of WebCT and Facebook for discussions regarding the course material. While all 128 students were required to use WebCT (e.g. to get their grades), the use of Facebook was optional.
The main finding in this exploratory study was that while only about 40% of students used the Facebook discussion board, they used it in richer ways (posting photos of molecule structures, links etc) and for a longer period. The discussion group on WebCT was not used much and quickly petered out.
We don't know from the available data whether students who used Facebook were already using it socially? The authors were also not able to survey the students regarding the reasons why they used or did not use a specific tool. Thus we are left to wonder...
One guess is that if you are already using Facebook, clicking over to your Organic Chemistry Group to check something out or put in a comment would be quick and easy. Problem is getting the other 60% of students to also use this tool. Would love to know if it was their learning style, attitude towards technology, use of other social networking sites, or some other reason that prevented them from joining this discussion board. Is it even important to get them to join? What if only 10% of students had joined? What is the critical mass for something like this to be meaningful? The activity required instructor time to moderate the group. If a number of students were using another site like MySpace, would it be possible to moderate 2 groups? What about 3?
What if WebCT had a facebook widget or the other way around so both the WebCT and Facebook users could participate without having to log in some where else?