Pilot Data from socialPsych
Note that this text is also contained in the original call for participants.
Two videos are available explaining functionality. The introductory video is a general introduction to the software, while the tutorial was used to help students using socialPsych understand its functions.
General Information on the Pilot
In Summer 2010, I received a seed grant (thanks ODU!) to investigate the value of social media in online education. So for that project, I wrote (by myself) an online social network centered around undergraduate education. This online social network was deployed to 20 courses in the Summer 2010 semester, and was thus available to roughly 600 students. Of those 600 students, about 400 set up profiles and actually tried to use it, some of which were required to do so for course participation, but many of which were not.
Of those 400 students, uptake of our online social network for Psychology (which we named socialPsych) was tremendous. Over just a few months, about 500 status updates were made, alongside roughly 4,500 posts in course discussion areas.
I implemented two experimental features to this social network that I am quite proud of and am to my knowledge the first to use such technologies.
First, I created a Certification Center. In this area, students could take quizzes on course material from any course. Quizzes were always 10 questions and drawn randomly from a much larger database of questions specific to each course. For example, a student enrolled in social psychology could complete quizzes in social psych, quantitative methods, etc – any course currently being offered in the department. But students were only allowed to take a quiz in any particular subject area once every 4 days. We took advantage of many principles of casual gaming (sometimes called the gamefication movement) to create a reward system for completing these quizzes. Several levels of “mastery” were created, with increasingly difficult bars to reach in order to achieve them. But when a student achieved a new rank (which they could never lose), a badge would appear next to their name in class discussion areas to provide a social reward for doing well. For example, if the aforementioned student completed the social psychology quiz enough times to reach Mastery Level 3, a little blue ribbon would appear next to their name when they chatted in that classroom. This system was ridiculously well-received. Across those 400 students, 113 (28%!) willingly chose to take optional multiple choice quizzes. If you’re an educator like I am, you are probably shaking your head in disbelief right now – 28% of students willingly completed optional multiple choice quizzes that would never have an effect on their grades. That’s absolutely amazing to me every time I think about it. Especially fantastic is that simply spending time completing the quizzes exposes them to course material more than they otherwise would have been exposed – meaning they were more likely to learn something!
Second, I created a Mentoring System. After achieving ranks, students could flag themselves as available to be mentors to students who wanted help. 16 students (about 4%) signed up to be mentors and 19 students (about 5%) signed up to be mentees. And although those numbers seem relatively small, remember that these are students struggling who I would hypothesize would be unlikely to seek out help from their instructors – or possibly even their classmates, in person. What a fantastic resource such a system would make – especially one that vets expertise automatically through the certification system!
I think this quote from one of our students on the post-test exam is what give me the most hope:
I beleive [sic] the best thing about social psych was the interaction you have with your classmates. ODU is a big university and everyone is always on the go it was nice to have a moment to ask people questions and hear encouraging words from other people.
Totally unsolicited positive virtual interactions between students. Just what I was hoping for! We even found a positive correlation between GPA and online social network usage. And consider this one on community building:
i [sic] am a commuter student and only attend classes. Normally, I don’t socialize with other students. Social Psych Net [sic] provided the opportunity to speak with other students during the course, which I do not typically do. It also provided an area for students to ask each other questions. I think this site should continue.
Data from socialPsych is being used to inform the specific design decisions in the SOCL Project.