Social media is a welcome addition to the repository of ICT tools. The popularity of social media, especially among tertiary level students, brings us to consider its use for collaborative learning purposes. As a tool, the benefit of social media is that it allows networking and peer-interaction that may lead to collaboration and self-help. The question is therefore on what would we want to get the students to collaborate and learn?
At tertiary level, there are many subjects that students are required to learn. Some difficult subjects, e.g., programming fundamentals, require students to go through a series of learning steps. When students are unable to diagnose and fix faulty programs, it may be because of a learning gap in any of the steps. If students can be helped to isolate the learning gap or gaps through properly designed assessment instruments and subsequently collaboratively solve these learning problems, they experience a way to solve their own problems collaboratively. This empowering experience of solving their own problems collaboratively may spur students on to further networking benefits in other areas of their tertiary life and in the real world after graduation.
In the work carried out in this research monograph, we show that even after best practice teaching-learning methods, students continue to perform poorly in diagnosing and fixing faulty programs – as a part of a tertiary level Computer Fundamentals course. Using structured assessment tools that mimic the stages of diagnosis and the fixing of computer programs (a skill known as debugging), areas that may contain learning gaps were highlighted through marks to give students formative feedback on their performance.
Using a social media blog as an intervention for the experimental group and a classroom collaborative method for the control group, students were encouraged to identify individual learning gaps in the process of debugging and then challenged to solve these problems themselves collaboratively in both groups. Students demonstrated significant improvements in their debugging skills with both the collaborative methods. Having isolated their own learning gaps and having solved these problems collaboratively, the students demonstrated significant improvements in cognitive development using both the social media blog as collaborative tool and the face-to-face classroom collaborative method in the subsequent tests. The design of both interventions included the awarding of marks for problem isolation and for solving the learning problems collaboratively.
At the tertiary or university level of education, students face a variety of subjects – some that are more difficult than others. With the rising demand, students of varied capabilities now have access to higher education. Learning gaps may exist not only in the tertiary level subject being studied, but unidentified problems may exist and have rolled over from primary and secondary schooling. So, can social media be used as an intervention to help these students bridge their individual learning gaps?
With the pre-condition that properly stepped assessment tools, i.e., with steps that mimic the processes required to learn a subject, are used to help students isolate and pinpoint their individual learning gaps, collaborative methods, in particular social media may be used as interventions to empower students to solve their own problems and learn the subject successfully. This research monograph shows how this was done and tested for the difficult subject of debugging computer programs.