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E-Learners’ Perception Regarding Academic Usability of Social Networking Sites
1 AfshanAmbreen
2 AsmaZafar
3 SadiaJabeen
Abstract:Social networking sites (SNSs) are getting popularity nowadays among youth and its usage has
also been extended to other walks of life. Few of such sites target at specific interest groups while others
are general in nature. But overall, it is serving as an important tool for information sharing and resource
management. So, its importance cannot be denied in the context of knowledge sharing at different
education levels as well. This new phenomenon has become a free-of-charge tool for facilitation in every
walk of life, for every age group all around the world. With such wide spread adoption, social networking
sites (SNSs) are increasingly attracting the attention of academic researchers. Especially in the West
social networks are also being used by teachers and students as a communication tool to extend
classroom discussions. In this regard, present study was aimed at measuring the academic usability of
social networking sites in e-learning mode in indigenous culture. The focus of the study was to measure
students’ perception regarding usability of these sites in learning process of Virtual university of
Pakistan. The main objectives of the present study were to find out the perceived difference of opinion
among academic and non-academic users of social networking sites regarding knowledge sharing,
assessing the possible facilitation provided by social networking sites in learning process, different skills
enhancement and the role of a teacher as a facilitator and mentor while using social networking sites.
For the purpose of conducting present study, online survey was conducted from VU students. A
questionnaire containing close-ended questions on five-point Likert Scale was deployed as data collection
tool. Alpha coefficient was determined to indicate the internal consistency of the questionnaire. For data
analysis purposes, descriptive statistics and Independent sample t-test were applied. Study findings
suggested that those students who are the members of knowledge sharing SNSs perceived it more
academically useful as compared to non-academic users. Further, they stressed the official use of these
sites from VU platform in order to make learning process easy and more user friendly.

Key words: Social Networking Sites (SNSs), Academic Usability, Information and Communication
Technology (ICT), Perceived effectiveness

Introduction
Digital transformation of our daily life has been habituated quickly after the initiation of the Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). This transformation of technology has also influenced the course of human to human interaction and different ICT tools have been avowed as an alternative of communication (Paulus &Scherff, 2008). In this regard, ICT users have been offered a variety of prospects such as meeting with new people, participating in common interest groups, chatting, sharing photos or videos and providing personal updates to each other (Hinduja&Patchin, 2008; Lampe, Ellison, &Steinfield, 2008). This new phenomenon has become a free-of-charge contrivance for facilitation in every walk of life all around the world. Social networking sites (SNSs) are an outcome of such transformation of information technology. This transformation has brought drastic changes in every aspect of life starting from common group chat to education and professional levels. As far as professional linkages are concerned one of the best examples of a special interest group social network is LinkedIn; a very popular social network for business executives. Many other sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Friendster, MySpace etc. are also getting approval on the same lines. SNSs can also serve as inimitable platform specifically produced for educational purposes to facilitate the students and to motivate their creative knowledge (Educause Learning Initiative, 2007). Trubitt and Overholtzer (2009) denote that in contemporary cultures, social networking sites are implanted meticulously. People are customarily using Facebook, LinkedIn and twitter in their routine work in order to maintain their personal and professional relationships.Kosik (2007) claimed that most effectual educators are those who develop a casual or informal relationship with their students by using social networking sites. Therefore, it is necessary to see the possible usability of social networking sites in educational sector. Brady, Holcomb and Smith (2010) characterized educational networking as “the use of social networking technologies for educational purposes.” And Minocha (2009) also explained “the use of social networking technologies for educational purposes, to line up innovative and collaborative technology”. Lashinsky (2005) reported that virtual communities or web based programs offer users to make a network with family and friends. Instead of MySpace and Friendster, Facebook exclusively functions in academic communities. In United States, Facebook is seventh most trafficked website, about 8 million students from over 2,000 colleges and 22,000 high schools use Facebook for academic purposes. In online system where students haven’t enough opportunities of face to face communication with each other and with instructors, SNSs are critically important. Here students get connected socially and educationally to share information with each other and create intimacy through taking help from SNSs (Educause Learning Initiative, 2007). In distance education courses, especially in higher education community, 9.7% growth rate was observed in online classes at college and university students which drastically exceeded to 1.5% (Allen & Seaman, 2007). At the same time, the emergence and growth of social networking sites (SNSs) has been persistent globally (Ellison, 2007). According to a survey, the fastest SNS in the world is Facebook, with 300 million active user profiles (Roberts, 2010). Researches have also shown that distance education courses are often more successful when they develop communities of practice and encourage high level of social presence through on-line mode. Logically, to improve online teaching and learning there is need to merge two technologies (distance education and SNSs (Barab& Duffy, 2000; DeSchryver, Mishra, Koehler, & Francis, 2009). Ellison (2007) indicated that 60 percent students’ use social networking sites for educational topics to discuss and 50 percent specifically use to discuss school work. Mostly used social networking site in academic surrounds is NING that is facilitating the students in group projects. Klopfer, Osterweil, Groff and Haas (2009) have also noted that social networking sites are also used to support school work, assignments, class discussion topics and videos. Buffardi andCampbell (2008) concluded that social networking sites are tools of communication and marketing strategies for universities. They are used to communicate the students, faculty and alumni about school news via these platforms. Further, Roblyer et al. (2010) explored that students perceive social networking sites more effective in e-learning as compared to teachers. He found that students are more open to use social networking sites and such type of collaborative class rooms in order to enhance their learning. They found it supportive instrument towards class room work and home assignments. Considering the fact that large number of students are frequent user of social networking sites, its potential usage in educational discussion and groups can be effective (Shier 2005). So, keeping in mind the effectiveness of SNSs in academic realm as supported by literature this paper is intended to measure the perceived opinion of Virtual university of Pakistan students regarding academic usability of these sites in this mode of learning. Aim of the Study:
The aim of present study is to explore the e-learners’ perception regarding academic usability of social networking sites in Virtual University of Pakistan learning mode. Objectives of the Study:
Find out whether the academic users and nonacademic users of SNSs differ in terms of their perception regarding knowledge sharing in e-learning mode Examine the difference in perception of academic and nonacademic users of SNSs with reference to the process of learning through resource sharing Evaluate how academic and nonacademic users of SNSs differ in their perception regarding enhancement of different skills (social skills, technological proficiency) Assess the perceptual difference between academic and nonacademic users of SNSs in Method and Procedure.
For the purpose of conducting present study, online survey was conducted from VU students who were enrolled in the course Research Methods (STA630). Keeping in mind the fact that students of Research Methods (STA630) are well aware of the survey methodology and the number of students in this course is also encouraging to conduct an on-line survey; researchers decided to collect data from these students. A questionnaire containing close-ended questions on 0-4 scale was deployed as data collection tool. Total 2234 students were enrolled in the course in Semester Spring 2013 out of which 1896 completed the on-line survey (response rate: 85%). Out of total 1896 students 1338 students were the users of different social networking sites whereas rest of the students were not using any social networking sites. So, for the sake of data analysis only those students were considered who the users of different SNSs were. Alpha coefficientwas calculated to measure the internal consistency of the scale and sub-scales. For data analysis purposes, descriptive statistics and independent sample t-test were applied. Results.
Findings of the survey results show that majority of the respondents were enrolled in master degree program (85%) and rest of the students (15%) were graduate students. Mean age of the respondent was 26.83 year. Out of total respondents 70% were males and 30% were females. Those respondents who were users of different social networking sites among them 82% were face book users. About 37.1% of the respondents were accessing these sites several time in a day, 29.2% used these sites at least once in a day, 10.3 seldom accessed these sites whereas 22% respondents access these site one to five times in a week. Among those who use these sites. 88% also utilized these SNSs for academic purpose whereas 12% did not consider it important for academic discussions. Those who used these sites for academic purpose, out of them 70.4% had also joined some educational group for sharing information and creating discussion on semester activities. Descriptive statistics of dimensions Overall perception regarding academic usability Table 01 indicates M and SD of the four dimensions of e-learners’ perception regarding academic usability of social networking sites. The mean of knowledge sharing at learning community was 2.45 and standard deviation was .720. Dimension of facilitation in learning process through resource sharing was with 2.50 mean and .687 standard deviation. The dimension of enhancement of different skills got 2.60 mean and .678 standard deviation. Highest mean (2.62) was of the fourth dimension “Role of teacher as a mentor” while the standard deviation was .671. Student’s Perception regarding Academic Usability of SNSs Dimensions usability N=1338, SNSs= Social Networking Sites Table 02 demonstrates the percentage of e-learners’ perception of academic usability of social networking sites in each dimension of the scale. In order to have a more subtle and in-depth insight of the responses received from distance education students, subscales were collapsed from five categories to two categories; categories 1 – 3 were labeled as low and 4 – 5 were labeled as high scores. Table shows that more than 50% of the respondents, i.e., 58.7% have an opinion that SNSs can be a useful tool for knowledge sharing at community level. About 27.8% students perceived this usage of SNSs at a moderate level while 13.5 % respondents denied it. 60.8% of the respondents have a perception that SNSs can facilitate learning process through resource sharing and improve interest to new and diverse ideas through frequent interactions with class mates. 28.2% students moderately perceived it and only 11.1% disagreed. Table indicated that enhancement of different skills, i.e., social skills and technological proficiencies was positively perceived as 73.1% agreed with it whereas very few students, i.e., 10.8% disagreed. About 73.1% of the respondents positively perceived the role of a teacher as a mentor while using SNSs. 16.1% of the students moderately perceived this use and 9.2% disagreed with it. Cronbach Alpha of the sub and Total items of the Questionnaire on Academic Usability Table 03 demonstrates the internal consistency of the scale which is .867 that is significantly high. The reliability of all sub-dimensions was also found satisfactory. The reliability of first dimension knowledge sharing at learning community was .860, reliability of second dimension facilitation in learning process through resource sharing was .871, third dimension enhancement of different skills had reliability of .818 and the highest reliability .906 was found in fourth dimension role of teacher as a mentor.
Table 04
Mean, Standard Deviation, t and p Value of Educational Usage on Four Dimensions of
Note. df =1335, p>0.000, SNSs= Social Networking Sites Table 4 indicates that academic users of SNSs significantly differ from nonacademic users on the dimension of knowledge sharing (t= 8.53, p < .000), resource sharing (t=7.68, p < .000), enhancement of different skills (t=8.75, p < .000), role of teacher as mentor (t=8.48, p < .000) and academic usability (t=9.71, p < .000). Results showed that all four domains of academic usability significantly differ with respect to educational usage (yes and no). The educational users are better than non-educational users. Conclusion

The study findings leads towards the conclusion that students who use social networking sites for academic purposes have very positive opinion about the academic usability of these sites as these can be really helpful in finding their virtual class mates. They can have frequent interaction with their class mates to share different and novel ideas regarding study and other recreational activities. They can also inform other class fellows about any learning activity which is coming ahead. In case, they are facing some problem in preparing any assignment or quiz or any discussion question, they can get help from their class fellows and may have exposure to relevant learning materials, i.e., books, websites on relevant topics via these sites. They can even get feedback about the quality of content presented in their assignments after drafting. They can have a rich discussion on these activities and different aspects and ideas can be generated to prepare graded activities effectively by using social media and this practice definitely can improve their semester grades. Social networking sites can also help students to arrange meetings for sharing new and diverse ideas about their studies and can also establish study groups which will be a support for preparing different field experiments and projects. Enhancement of different expertise of students is another valuable aspect of using these sites for academic purpose. These skills can include study skills, how they socialize and particular technological proficiency. It may also enhance their ability to interact with others as well as improve their communication skills at macro level. Teacher is an important pillar of learning process and involvement of teachers in these community groups can boost the learning process of e-learners. They can open a platform for their students to discuss different issues/topics and these discussions and dialogues will enrich their students’ logical reasoning. Teachers can keep students on a right track while discussing different ideas in different forums so that they cannot deviate from basic and actual theme. They can facilitate students in applying theoretical knowledge to real life scenarios and make recent researches accessible to their students. Last but not least, they can play a role in personality building of their students by instilling ethical values in them. Overall, highly positive perception is found with reference to the academic usability of Social Networking sites. This platform can be more effective if students and teachers will be officially engaged in this activity and will also enhance its credibility and worth. References
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