“just facebook me” A study of the use of Facebook in a German language course at a tertiary institution in New Zealand.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
This thesis is a study about the use of social media in language learning at a tertiary level. The social medium chosen was Facebook which was used as part of the classroom curriculum as a way to make the German language more authentic and accessible for the students and to incorporate the language into students’ everyday lives. The students were required to submit short informative posts about German culture onto the Facebook-group on a regular basis. This meaning-focused and student-driven activity afforded the students not only the ability to communicate in the target language but also to share cultural knowledge about the German speaking countries.
The aim of the use of Facebook-group was to connect the students of the language class in both a virtual and offline manner and create a tighter class community.
To learn about the perspectives and practices of teacher and students using the Facebook platform, ethnographic methods were used for data collection. Ethnographic tools, such as semi-structured interviews, fieldnotes and participant observation, were applied over a period of one semester, with a pilot study prior to this period. The data were analysed combining thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006) and activity theory (Engeström, 1987) to gain a thorough understanding of the mechanism in the Facebook-group. Activity theory helped with focusing the ethnographic narrative. Analysis of the activity systems in operation revealed interesting tensions between the participants (the students) and a) the tools (Facebook-group), b) the rules (course expectations and the conventions of Facebook use), c) the community (students, student teachers and the teacher) and d) the division of labour (power relationships within the community).
The analysis showed that the 23 undergraduate students of the intermediate level German class enjoyed using the Facebook platform for their learning. The students developed relationships in the classroom, taking the opportunity to further practise their informal written German on a social platform which greatly reduced a lot of inhibition. A drawback of the use of Facebook was the fact that the task was part of the curriculum and therefore assessed, although the teacher did only acknowledge the contributions and did not mark them. However, the students were aware of the risk of making mistakes because their contributions could be seen by everybody in class. This led to anxiety by some students who were crafting their posts carefully and did not make use of the Facebook task to improve their spontaneous more informal language production. The behaviour of the students in the Facebook-group during the semester was similar to the way they would behave on a learning management site. They took care in preparing their written contributions and lacked spontaneity. After the end of the semester a few class members continued using the Facebook-group to keep up contact with each other. They wrote messages and posted announcements in the target language.
The role of the teacher on the Facebook-platform changed during the research period. Initially, the teacher’s role was active as the designer of the assignment and the founder of the Facebook-group; eventually the students took over control of the Facebook-group administration and the teacher retreated into a more passive position. The teacher merely observed the activities on the Facebook-group but still contributed with occasional posts and regularly provided feedback to the posts of students. The feedback was perceived as positive and motivating. Students enjoyed the acknowledgement when the teacher made small corrections.
The Facebook-group as part of the language classroom was a valuable component for community-building and provided the students with an additional opportunity to use the target language. The use of Facebook-group can be recommended to practitioners.