Many of you will know about and/or have participated in the History department’s current URB@N project, which has been focused on online interactions within the department. What we wanted to know was how students related online with History both before coming, and during their period of study. Codi Hart (current 2nd year), and Emma Tyler (current 1st year) were recruited to work with lecturers Paul Jackson and Nikki Cooper to gauge student use of social media and online interaction with the department.
On Tuesday 15 May 2018 the URB@N team attended a lunchtime session at the University’s Learning and Teaching Conference where all this year’s participants presented a poster of their research findings.
Codi and Emma’s preliminary analysis of their findings is below
URB@N Analysis: History Students and use of Blogs and Social Media, Codi Hart and Emma Tyler
- The most used form of the social media by the history students we contacted is Facebook with 92.5% of participants using it. The next 2 most popular social media sites are Snapchat with 56.6% of participates stating they use the platform regularly and Twitter with 54.7%. This was out of the 98.1% of students who highlighted they use social media.
- Throughout the research process, it was illustrated to us that the issue of how students gain information in regards to the university and the history department itself is an concern of many students. In the questionnaire 73.6% of students stated that they use social media to gain information in general. Many of the history students, who took part in the questionnaire, already use social media to interact with the University of Northampton. Once again, Facebook was the most popular platform (75.5% of students) with Twitter being the second most popular (28.3%). The participants were also asked what this interaction was used for. Of those answers which were applicable, the most common were to gain information and to interact with societies. The responses to the long questions on the questionnaire show that students from all three year groups think that the departments social media should be used to give information.
- In the focus group with four 2nd years, there was a discussion into similar issues. The general consensus was that the history department social media should be used to give information, rather than try and build a community online. The first years also highlighted that they liked the social media pages shown to them which gave information, especially about things such as events. They also highlighted that this form of social information should be expressed through social media, whereas any subject information about important articles or lecturer’s work should be posted on the blog. The first years also discussed that the experience of past students or employment advice would also be a good addition to the history blog.
- History Department social media does not just have to be used by current students. Of those who answered the questionnaire, 45% used the University of Northampton Freshers Facebook page. It should be noted this result was affected as 10.1% of students did not know that the page existed. Of those who used the Facebook page, 85% found it useful. This makes clear that social media as a source of information for upcoming students is important and useful. However, upcoming students must be made aware of the page for it be used to its fullest. This is further supported by the 2nd year focus group. It was made clear in the discussion that as this year group did not have the full choice of modules, updates on social media would have made the experience easier for the upcoming students, especially as the course website had not been updated. The focus group indicated that communication between lectures and upcoming students can also be improved using social media, as writing an email to lecturer can be daunting to new students who do not know university protocol or may not want to appear rude. As mentioned in the long answer questions of the focus group, this could also be a way to advertise the course to potential students. There is other advice which could be included on the history blog, or which could be given via social media. One of the first years in the focus group does not live in Britain, and he expressed that a place to ask how life in university in Britain works would have made the move to university much easier and less stressful.
- An issue with social media is that not everyone uses it. This was highlighted in the data from the questionnaire and also in the 2nd year focus group. In order to get a form of comparison and more information, questionnaire participants were asked about their use of NILE and emails, the standard forms of communication between the history department and students. Of the students asked, just under half (49.1%) check their email more than once of day, with 32% checking them once a day. In contrast, the questionnaire only recorded 28.3% of students checking NILE more than once a day, with 41% of students checking once a day. This highlights an issue, that last minute notices posted on NILE may not be seen by students in time. Even with an email stating that there is a NILE post, it can take hours or a whole day for the email to come through for a student or for them to read it. As suggested in the 2nd year focus group, updates and information should use social media and NILE or emails in tandem in order to reach the entirety of the history cohort.
- One of the focus’ of the URB@N research project was in relation to student interaction with the history department’s blog. Only 22.6% of students were aware of the blog. However, once they been made aware of it, the majority of students asked stated they would interested in reading the department’s blog. There are a number of decisions to be made in regards to whether the history blog includes work just by members of staff, or includes some work by students too. 37.7% of participates of the questionnaire answered that they would prefer to have both staff and students work on the history blog, with a further 33.9% stating that they would too, if the work was split into a staff section and a student section.
- With staff, most if not all of the blog posts would be around lecturers, the historical community or their work. The questionnaire asked what sort of posts students would like to see, and there was a mixture of answers, some wanting posts only about lecture topics and some wanting to expand this to other parts of history.
Recommendations for the Department
- Ensure that the information available to potential students is accurate on the course page, blog and social media.
- Have a department Twitter feed or Facebook page which is controlled by the lecturers, and use this alongside NILE/email when giving announcements and other information.
- Create a more informal way of communicating between lecturers and potential students using the blog or social media. Include a system which can allow selected students to answer questions too.
- Create a staff section of the blog, where lecturers can post about their research or the historical community in general. Information about the lecture topics should be posted, and a system of deciding what other periods of history to write about should be created.
- In the student section of the blog, students should be able to post about their experiences of placements, after university, the transaction process etc. These articles may need to be checked by lecturers, but this needs to be decided after a trial run.
- Any decisions made should be advertised and made clear to potential, upcoming and current students.
- The department may want to incorporate the history social into the blog or social media, but these talks need to be organised once the new society cabinet has been confirmed this summer.
- Important. Change policy in regards to use of students photos on blog posts or on social media. Suggestions on how to implement this include student signed forms given out at the start of the year and more clarity in when photos will be put online.