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  5. Online Presence for Learning and Employability: students' use of profiles in social networking environments

Online Presence for Learning and Employability: students' use of profiles in social networking environments

Project leader(s): 
Karen Kear

The widespread use of social network sites means that ‘online presence’ is becoming increasingly important for social, educational and employment purposes. The most obvious examples of users’ online presence can be found in the personal profiles on sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn. Personal profiles are also available in educational online environments such as Moodle. The literature on online learning advocates the use of personal profiles and photos to help participants in online communities learn something about each other and feel more connected. This project investigated the extent to which personal profiles were used and valued by Open University learners.

Data were gathered from two tutor groups on the Level 1 Computing and IT module My Digital Life (TU100). The methods used were: an online survey; online focus groups via web conferencing; and observation of students’ Moodle profiles at two points during the module presentation. The findings suggest that personal profiles and photos in Moodle forums helped some students to feel in touch with each other. Others, however, did not feel the need for these facilities, had privacy concerns or preferred to focus on the forum postings. Students also had privacy concerns in relation to social network sites, although their concerns were allayed somewhat after studying material on social networking in TU100.

These findings are in line with literature which suggests that forum participants may not find it helpful to share personal details via profiles, as they might on a social network site (Tanis & Postmes, 2007; Schwammlein & Wodzicki, 2012). The project highlights the need to find other ways to increase participants’ sense of community in online environments, particularly those used for distance learning. 

Related resources

Kear, K., Chetwynd, F. and Jefferis, H. (2014) ‘Online presence for learning and employability: students’ use of profiles in social networking environments’, eSTEeM Final Report. (PDF)

Chetwynd, F., Kear, K., Jefferis, H. and Woodthorpe, J. (2012) ‘Students’ online profiles for employability and community’, HEA STEM: Enhancing the Employability of Computing Students through a Professional Online Presence, 8 June 2012, Birmingham City University. (PowerPoint)

Jefferis, H. Chetwynd, F., Kear, K. and Woodthorpe, J. (2012)‘Putting a face to a name: students’ use of profiles in Moodle VLE forums’, eSTEeM conference 2012, The Open University. (PowerPoint)

Kear, K., Chetwynd, F., and Jefferis, H. (2013) ‘Personal profiles in VLE forums: do students use them?, eSTEeM conference 2013, The Open University. (PowerPoint)

Kear, K., Chetwynd, F., and Jefferis, H. (2013) “To give a better understanding of who I am”: the role of personal profiles in online learning. The Difference that Makes a Difference, 8-10 April 2013, The Open University, Milton Keynes. (PowerPoint)

Kear, K., Chetwynd, F., and Jefferis, H. (2013) ‘Social presence in online learning communities: the role of personal profiles’ (journal paper submitted to Research in Learning Technology; in second stage of review). (PDF)

Kear, Chetwynd and Jefferis poster (PDF)

Scholarship Shorts - video highlighting the activities, findings and impact of Karen's eSTEeM project.

Video length: 7 mins 9 secs

Download transcript