Research Project

I have not been working in the area of online education for a very long time and the situation in which I work is not with a third level institution or a commercial online education provider. Nor am I a teacher in the traditional sense. My role is more technical and concerned with the research and development of new online tools and resources for teachers to use and to help teachers and students get the most out of the technology at their disposal.

So when it came to choosing an area of research for my MSc final project I had to search for something that was going to sustain my interest and hopefully provide new and informative findings that would improve the educational provision I provide. iScoil is a small not-for-profit online education provider targeting young people between the ages of 13-16 who have dropped out of mainstream school before completing the Junior Certificate exam. iScoil supplies them with the means to access their course content online and support from online teachers. Form iScoil’s conception there has been a concern that this format of education will not provide the natural socialisation young people in mainstream school receive. Already in most cases vulnerable it has been believed that isolating our students should be avoided and that a means of providing an environment where students and teachers could socialise with each other as they might in school should be developed. When I joined the organisation in 2010 there were a number of forums dedicated to stimulating student engagement and interaction. A dedicated teacher was assigned to populate this forum with a range of topics based on interests captured from our student’s profiles. A great deal of energy, time and resources were being channelled into making this forum system work but there were very few metrics by which it could have been judged a success as students would not engage with the material, the teacher or each other, all while they diligently worked through their online course material.


Click here to read my Research propoal: Can Facebook help engage young people in online learning?

Research questions

  1. Is there a link between student interaction in a Facebook group and time spent on Moodle?
  2. Is there a link between student interaction in a Facebook group and academic achievement?
  3. Is there a link between student interaction in a Facebook group and student satisfaction with the iScoil?
  4. Is there a link between student interaction in a Facebook group and  student retention?

 Why is this important?

It is the weakest factor in iScoil’s teaching model and one that could result in a very positive outcomes in terms of student accreditation and student retention.

Why not use Moodle?

Short bit of iScoil history.

Notschool Ireland -> iScoil

Firstclass -> Moodle

There have been efforts to engage students through student forums, online chats, group projects and face to face workshops, but there has been little success.

Moodle does not provide the intuitive and highly interactive space that other social network sites do.

In the past we have focused resources into changing Moodle to more closely resemble Facebook but with no noticeable success.

Organisational lock-in has resulted in a situation where changing the course layout and student enrollments to facilitate student interaction is very difficult.

Ethical considerations had made using Facebook an unpopular move amongst management but it was eventually deemed worthy of investigation. I took this opportunity to use this as a research project in my MSc studies.

Why Facebook?

In a recent student survey, 90% of student said they mainly use Facebook!

It provides closed groups which satisfy ethical considerations and the students have a safe space to communicate and provide a lot of functionality.

It is a neutral space unlike our VLE which is managed by iScoil so more negotiation between instructor and student on how it is used.

It’s free and easy to use.

Screen shot 2013-11-26 at 16.13.35

Project Plan

Offer students membership to closed Facebook group.

Provide students with a short online survey asking them:

  1. Do you interact with other iScoil students online? Yes / No
  2. If yes how often? Daily, weekly, monthly
  3. Do you use iScoil to interact or some other website?
  4. Do you think it is easy to contact other students on iScoil? Yes / NoScreen shot 2013-11-26 at 14.53.02

This will be hosted on Surveymonkey.

As group moderator I will try to promote student interaction based on student interests  using action research methodology and create a safe space where students can interact with each other.

On completion of study, provide students with exit survey asking the same questions as initial questionnaire.

Collect data and write up resulting paper.

Ethics Considerations

All students are under 18 and can be classified as vulnerable. I am awaiting feedback from the Ethics Commitee.

Target Journal

My target journal for submission is Interactive Learning Environments
Requires 2,000 and 6,000 words.

Individual learning

  • Innovative learning situations, including adaptive systems, intelligent tutoring, conversational and advisory systems
  • Tools to aid learning and tools for studying and modelling learners
  • Cognitive, social, developmental and motivational aspects of how learning comes about
  • Principles of course design for effective learning, authoring tools
  • Self-organised learning and learning to learn

Group Activity

  • Informal knowledge exchange networks
  • Participation in on-line discussion
  • Computer supported teamwork projects
  • Collaborative learning processes
  • Peer tutoring and mentoring in computer mediated learning
  • Self assessment and peer assessment in virtual classrooms
  • Interactive video and audio technologies

Social and organisational issues

  • Facilitating and managing organisational change
  • Integrating e-learning with other business processes
  • The interface between e-learning and knowledge management


In the context of student learning, Astin (1984) defined engagement as “the amount of

physical and psychological energy that the students devote to the academic experience”
(p. 297). Today, engagement refers to the amount of time and effort that students spend
on educational activities that are related to college academic work (Kuh, 2009).
Chickering and Gamson (1987) offer 7 principles for improving undergraduate education
based on research on exemplary teaching and learning in colleges and universities. All of
these are related to student engagement, including:

  1.  encourages contact between students and faculty,
  2.  develops reciprocity and cooperation among students,
  3.  encourages active learning,
  4.  provides prompt feedback,
  5.  emphasizes time on task,
  6.  communicates high expectations,
  7.  respects diverse talents and ways of learning (Washington Center News, 1987).A closed Facebook group made up of myself and other students can provide an environment where these conditions could be met.Cite:Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education-TOJDE January 2013 ISSN 1302-6488 Volume: 14 Number: 1 Article 26
  8. Wang, Jenny; Lin, Chun-Fu C.; Yu, Wei-Chieh W.; Wu, Emily
    Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education, v14 n1 p302-322 Jan 2013


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