Where Micronesian college students are found in cyberspace

This term I have been seeking new ways to connect to my increasingly tech-savvy and tech-equipped students. This note looks at the ways in which the students have chosen to interact using technology. The study is an informal study consisting of a convenience sample of students in MS 150 Statistics. The study seeks to provide preliminary information on the ways and cyberspace places that our students choose to connect to their world.

Questions asked


1. If you have a cell phone, about how many text messages do you send per day?
2. Do you Twitter? [http://twitter.com/danaleeling]
3. Do you blog? [http://danaleeling.blogspot.com]
4. Do you have a MySpace, FaceBook, Bebo, or other social networking Site? If yes, which one?

The questions appeared on quiz three given in the A204 computer laboratory on 23 January 2009. The students were working at Internet connected computers. The web addresses were provided so that students who did not understand questions two and three could access the site to clarify the meaning of Twitter and blog. Questions two and three were based on anecdotal reports of use of these two technologies by instructors and their classes in colleges in the United States.

Email

The college issues email addresses to all students. The informal survey did not probe email use, although anecdotal evidence suggests that email is an important means of communication among students.

Cell Phones

In an earlier survey of 44 students in the statistics class, 17 voluntarily shared their cell phone number. This indicates that at least 39% of the students possess a cell phone. This term I also have a cell phone, 922-1858, and I have already been receiving calls for homework help on my cell phone. Preliminarily, the students appear to be more comfortable calling my cell than my home phone land line. My guess, and the guess of others I've asked, is that the cell phone is seen as a "safer" way to get a hold of me. Calling my home phone "risks" getting someone other than me. There is a sense of privacy and confidentiality in reaching out to my cell number.

In a follow-up survey of 54 students in the same statistics class, 40 reported sending text messages (74%). Bear in mind that students could report sending text message and not own a cell phone, I have observed students loaning a phone to a friend to send a message. The students were asked to self-report the number of text messages sent per day. The following statistics derive from 38 who reported the number of text messages they sent per day.

Minimum: 1
Maximum: 100
Mode: 5
Median: 12
Mean: 18

The maximum is not necessarily as unusual as it might sound. A similar informal study spring 2008 also had a self-reported maximum of 100 text messages per day. In that study the second most prolific text message user reported sending 60 per day, the study this term the second most prolific reported sending 90 per day. High volume text messaging is infrequent but does occur.

Cell phone technologies and text messaging may be a useful communications tool for faculty.

Twitter


Students have often noted that they came to my office, but I was not there. Unexpected events sometimes pull me away from my desk. I thought I might be able to use Twitter to update students on my location, especially when I am in my office.

Elsewhere Twitter is a widely used and useful tool for maintaining contact. Last fall a science team studying the genus Ponapea utilized Twitter while on Pohnpei to update partners and interested parties on their work in progress. The team also blogged from Pohnpei. When President Obama became President-elect, the secret service asked that he no longer use his Twitter account due to security reasons. A recent incident where an aircraft landed on the Hudson River was noted by CNN to have first been broken as a news story by Twitter, not by traditional news channels.

Twitter on Pohnpei is not as powerful as Twitter elsewhere. In many countries one can Twitter to and from cell phones. Cell phone "twittering", however, does not appear to be possible at this time here on Pohnpei, although I am continuing to research options to Twitter from a cell phone (the term is "send and receive tweets").

Of 54 student respondents, only one reported that they use Twitter. Twitter is not currently a useful communication technology for contact with students.

Blog

Blogging is clearly an important emerging communication tool. Blogs have become an important venue through which opinion and, to a lesser extent, news is being moved globally. For tech early adopters, blogs are where almost all new technologies are first reported. Presently my own blog contains primarily personal content and is not geared to an academic support mission.

Of 54 student respondents, only three report having a blog. This does not appear to be a way to connect with students at this time. The area not explored is whether students would check on a blog that was part of a course and was required reading for the course.

Social Networking Sites


Social networking sites are clearly the dominant cyberspace location of choice for our students. Of 54 students, 45 report having a social networking site (83%). Nine students reported having more than one social networking site - coincidentally the same as the number of students who have no social networking site. MySpace and Bebo are the dominant favorite choices of our students, with no student reporting having a FaceBook site. FaceBook clearly has not made the inroads into our college population that it has in the United States. When CNN sought to partner with a social networking site for the recent presidential inauguration, CNN chose FaceBook. Out here, FaceBook is a non-starter.

The following is the break-down of social networking sites for our students. The sum exceeds 54 due to some students having more than one social networking site:

MySpace: 32
Bebo
: 17
Tagged
: 3
Yahoo
: 2
"and many more"
: 1
WAYN
: 1
"All
": 1
Mycoconut
: 1
Flixster
: 1
FaceBook
: 0

The "and many more" is likely a reference to the three listed in the question and would imply a FaceBook user, as would the response "all." As the two students did not specifically mention FaceBook, I opted not to count these as users of FaceBook or the other two listed social networking sites. WAYN is a newer vehicle, "Where Are You Now?" I am unclear on the meaning of the two "Yahoo" entries as I am unaware of a Yahoo branded social networking site.

The nine multiple site users include seven who access two sites (MySpace and Bebo are the typical pair), one who accesses three sites, and one who accesses five social networking sites.

I have heard reports of courses setting up a FaceBook or MySpace homepage as a base for discussions and assignments. Clearly social networking sites are a dominant means of communication with 83% usage exceeding even the most optimistic projection of cell phone penetration. If one is going to go where the students are located, then one is going to have to go to MySpace or Bebo. I suspect that one can Twitterfeed updates on one site to another site, hence one could build in one location (MySpace) and find ways to have students pick up alerts on their Bebo and other sites that the MySpace site has been updated. Alternatively, one could use FaceBook and send feed alerts to the more popularly held MySpace and Bebo. I have read of FaceBook course sites more often than MySpace course sites, conceivably FaceBook may have better course management tools.

[Post-script: The Social Network Challenge: MySpace or FaceBook: How well do you know your audience? ]
Conclusion

The students at the college are increasingly tech savvy with broad use of social networking sites being their dominant hang out location in cyberspace. Text messaging by cell phone and, anecdotally, email are important potential means of communication with our students.

I would be remiss if I did not mention faculty websites. The survey did not ask questions on use of faculty websites as few faculty have active web sites at this time at the college.

Education eventually goes to where the students are located. Finding ways to utilize the cyberspace tools that our students are already employing is a challenge for any modern institution of learning.

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