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Use of Social Media to Support the Transition into Higher Education

Part one: Project description

Project fundholder / Project leader

Karen Pinney

Funding awarded



University College Birmingham

Project title

Use of Social Media to Support the Transition into Higher Education

Project description

Use of Social Media to support the transition into higher education: developing induction activities to enhance social engagement and academic preparation for first year undergraduate tourism students.


The transition into higher education can, for some students, be very challenging. Many students leave home to study and so no longer have the support systems they are familiar with: this can result in students feeling alone and out of their depth. Research has shown that developing friendships can benefit students and increase retention. In addition to the desire for social support, many first year students are moving into an unfamiliar academic environment and need support to develop the skills to prepare them for academic success.

Possible Solution

Induction activities could require students to work in small groups to perform tasks which include both the need for orientation, discussion, research and presentation of findings. The use of social media would enable this to be extended to before the students are enrolled on their programme once A’ level results have been published and student admissions have been confirmed. This is not currently an option in UCB’s existing VLE system but the introduction of social media for collaboration and communication prior to and during the induction would help to support the transition process.

Project aims and objectives


To develop induction activities to enhance social engagement and academic preparation for first year undergraduate tourism students


  • To identify the needs of first year tourism students as they enter Higher Education
  • To explore the ways that social media might be used to enhance the student transition in terms of social engagement and ‘belongingness’ to the programme and the university
  • To explore the ways that social media might be used to enhance the student transition in terms of academic preparation
  • To develop induction activities to enhance the transition of first year higher education tourism students
  • To evaluate the use of the social media activities in enhancing the student induction
  • To suggest possible induction activities for students studying on other higher education programmes

Intended outputs (resources e.g. documents, videos, learning objects etc.)

  • Induction activities will be developed to support student transition into higher education
  • Visual resources will be produced for use in teaching
  • Project website/blog

Intended Outcomes for staff

  • Develop staff’ awareness of the potential applications of social media within the tourism industry.
  • Encourage the use of social media by academic staff to facilitate networking within the tourism industry.
  • Provide visual evidence of visits to local attractions which can be used in future teaching.
  • Develop an awareness of some of the benefits of the technology for both teaching and learning.
  • Promote staff usage of social media for future modules and projects.
  • The findings from this project will feed into the development of a new module (about the use of social media in tourism) which has been recommended by the university industry advisory panels this academic year.

Intended Outcomes for Students

  • To engage in a dialogue with staff and other students as early as possible (to encourage this collaboration so that it becomes a more natural part of the students’ learning experience).
  • The group work using a mobile device will support the development of relationships between students.
  • Develop students’ awareness of and encourage their use of social media to facilitate networking within the industry.
  • Using social media to reflect on different information sources
  • To develop thinking, reflection and research skills in preparation for academic studies.
  • Use of mobile devices outside the classroom provides a good way for tourism students to become familiar with the city as well as empowering them to investigate the industry they will be studying.

Funding outline (how money is to be spent; list items or costs)

The money will be used to purchase:

3 x £159 tablets (Nexus 7)

3 x £7.65 cases (Silicone Skin Jelly Case)

TOTAL = £499.95

Activities (brief outline of work)

Purchase of three tablet computers (with cases) to be used by tourism students to document educational visits, tourist attractions and destinations. These will enable students to produce (geo-tagged) images and videos that can be shared over social media platforms and built into induction, learning and assessment activities.

With an expected group size of 30, three devices would enable the students to work in groups of 10 on institution-owned devices. Recent research at UCB found that 11% of students do not have their own internet-enabled mobile device; three devices, which could be loaned out, should provide sufficient devices for all students to have access to a mobile device.

When the devices are not being used by students they would also provide a resource that the tourism lecturers could use to gather teaching resources and increase staff awareness about the benefits of mobile technology and social media.

Dissemination routes (e.g. events, posters, webinars…)

  • Findings from this project will be shared with the Academic Management team at UCB and presented within the institution to staff involved in student induction.
  • University Planning Days will be one forum where the findings of this project will be shared across all schools within the university.
  • Opportunities to share the project findings with practitioners from other HEIs will be sought.
  • A website/blog will be created to document the progress of the project.

Part two: Final outputs


Educational Learning Technologies (ELT) Funding Opportunity (in association with Changing the Learning Landscape)

Karen Pinney: HEA Project: GEN770   

Project resources inventory (list of items created)

  1. Project Website

  1. Suggested activity ideas mapped against
    1. level 1 digital and information literacy framework and
    2. important factors identified in this project

  1. Poster & Slideshow – early stages of the research for European First Year Experience Conference 2014

  1. Two slide summary of research

Link to project resources and blog


How did the project utilise and/or develop digital literacies in the participants?

Attach a mapping of key project activities onto

The project was the first phase of an action research project. Social media was used to develop a sense of community among first year tourism business management students. This required students to develop or demonstrate a number of digital skills. One of the outcomes is a selection of activities that could be used in the future and these are mapped against the digital and information literacies framework (and also other important elements identified in this research).

The suggested project activities address all the level 1 digital and information literacy skills by requiring students to develop or demonstrate these during the induction activities. It is possible to adapt the activities to relate to different programme areas and to select one or more of the activities depending on an institution’s circumstances. This mapping is available on the project website and can be accessed at

General Issues raised by project

Figure 1

Developing a community

  • Students have 3 key needs when they start at university:
    1. Need for social support and ‘belongingness
    2. Need for practical support and advice
    3. Need for academic support and advice

  • If students can feel that they are part of a supportive community this can help to address all of these 3 needs.

Tools for developing a sense of community

  • Ideally, if students can make contact with each other before they arrive at university; they are more likely to feel confident and less ‘alone’. Therefore identifying a way of introducing students prior to induction is important. Social media is now widely used and therefore can support this but the following factors need to be taken into consideration
  • Not all students have good digital skills
  • Not all students have access to a smartphone or tablet (for mobile communications)

  • Therefore, the platform used must be:
    • Easy to use
    • Integrated into students’ everyday life, so that they are more likely to check and respond regularly


  • Students may find the initial contact with each other difficult and will only participate if they see a value in doing so. Therefore:
    • The institution should first provide a link between the new students and activities to break down barriers
    • Students need to see a personal benefit in order to be willing to participate
    • Students should have an awareness of the benefit they can offer to each other to encourage mutual support
    • The platform used should be considered easy to use


  • Although the initial introductions will come from the institution, it is important that students feel that it is their community and so they need to be given a degree of control over the learning environment. In doing so, the students will become more able to find solutions themselves rather than relying on tutors. Therefore:
    • Students need to take responsibility for the community
    • Staff need to be available/supportive but not domineering

Barriers / Challenges e.g. accessibility

The issues discussed above form the basis of the barriers and challenges that need to be addressed in order to provide for the needs of students. These barriers/challenges are:

  1. Getting access to student information and making the initial contact
  2. Providing initial introductions between students which are non-threatening whilst facilitating communication and some degree of self-disclosure
  3. Possible lack of access to internet connected devices for some of the students, both prior to induction and at university
  4. Possible lack of IT skills that limit the participation by students and staff who might become involved
  5. Privacy and security of participants must be maintained
  6. Creating a sense of community – developing induction activities to encourage participation and ongoing contributions
  7. Organising the management of the community

Solutions deployed to above issues and challenges

  1. Access to contact information
    • Once a student’s place on the programme is confirmed, their details can be passed on to the year manager by the admissions team.

  1. Introductions
    • Although contact cannot be made via a university hosted learning environments prior to enrolment, email can facilitate an introduction from the year manager and the circulation of a link to an external platform.
    • is a very simple site that enables users to create private pages and thereby maintain the confidentiality and privacy of participants.
    • 67% of the students participated in the introductory activity.
    • Basic activities involved ‘getting to know you’ exercises: these included plotting home town locations on a map; sharing information about interests and hobbies and answering introductory, icebreaker, questions.

  1. Internet access
    • Prior to university – (or any of the other free tools available) can be accessed from any internet connected device. If students have provided an email address, this indicates that they are able to access to the internet. Any students who do not list an email address on their application form can be contacted by other means (e.g. letter).
    • At university – desktop computers and laptops, located across the campus, are available for students to use.
    • In addition, three tablet devices were purchased and made available to students to use, either on their own or in groups, as they participated in activities. Funding for these devices was provided by the HEA as part of this project.

  1. IT skills
    • The platform used for interaction must be easy to use.
    • If the platform used is closely integrated into the students’ everyday life, they are more likely to check and respond regularly.
    • The tool used prior to university ( was extremely simple to use and no students reported difficulty following the instructions required to use it.
    • Once students met face-to-face at induction, there was an opportunity to discuss, with the year manager, which platform would best suit them. All the students, with one exception, had a Facebook account and since they were very familiar with Facebook, they decided that this would be the best platform to use.
    • Use of a familiar platform reduced the time needed for students to learn how to make use of it.
    • Since all students that used Facebook reported that they checked their account more than twice a day (and 75% checked it more than 5 times a day), it also fitted into their general lifestyle without the need to log into any other services.
    • The one exception was a student who had previously used Facebook but, as a result of prior experience, did not want to participate in a Facebook group. In order to include this student, key information was also posted to the institutional virtual learning environment (VLE).
    • In addition, the tablets purchased for students’ use, were also available to staff to facilitate the development of their own social media skills.

  1. Privacy
    • The site was set up to only allow access via the email accounts provided by students on their application forms and, therefore, was not accessible to anyone else.
    • In terms of Facebook, a closed group was used to ensure that all communication was restricted to those invited to join the group (only those on the programme plus the year manager).
    • Students who wanted to have other private conversations, or to use Facebook for group work, were able to set up additional groups and to befriend and message each other.

  1. Sense of community
    • By encouraging an environment of mutual support, social media can enable students to feel part of a community and, therefore, they are less likely to suffer from stress or feelings of being alone.
    • The community can develop to provide different forms of support, including both academic and practical, and it also enables shy students to see what questions others are asking and learn from the responses given.
    • Induction activities can be developed to address the student needs that have been identified.
    • Students will only participate if they see a value in doing so. One way to create value is to assess student contributions.
    • Some activities developed in this project link into academic modules enabling students to receive very early formative feedback and academic guidance.
    • Other activities require students to work in small groups to identify key information resources/people and find answers to students’ frequently asked induction questions. This again is of obvious benefit to students and so increases their interest in participating.
    • Students are more inclined to participate when they feel that they have contributed to the community. Helpful comments can be rewarded with ‘likes’ from other students. Their contributions increase their social capital and confidence.
    • Some activities have been designed so that the input of some students will be of benefit to other students (for example setting different questions for each small group to answer).
    • Interestingly, the online community that this project followed was more integrated and supportive when online than during face-to-face encounters. Discussions with students suggest that the technology helped to break down their perceived social barriers.

  1. Management of the community
    • Students are empowered when they are given a degree of control over their interaction and shared environment. This was facilitated by giving the students the opportunity to select not just the platform to use but also the way it was managed.
    • Students should take ownership of their own learning environment. Research shows that a community of practice is more effective when the participants make decisions about what and how to do things.
    • When setting up the Facebook group, students were given the opportunity to decide who they would include and chose to include the year manager.
    • The management of the group was left to the students and the direction it went in, and how it was used, was also decided largely by the students.
    • At first students were slow to use the site but with encouragement from the year manager and suggestions about what they might share (e.g. photographs from a residential visit) the ice was broken.
    • At the end of the academic year, students were asked how important it was for them to be in control of the Facebook group; 69% said this was important.
    • When asked whether the Facebook group had been useful, 69% of the students said it had been very helpful.
    • When asked how the Facebook group had been helpful (using an open question format) the responses were categorised against the preliminary needs identified.
      • 91% of those who responded stated that it had provided social support: contact with classmates and/or year manager
      • 81% of those who responded stated that it had provided academic support: access to module-related information or the opportunity to discuss academic work
      • 82% of those who responded stated that it had provided practical support and answers to their general questions

How the roles/activities of the participant’s learning landscape was effectively changed by the project

Role of year manager

  • Rather than the year manager being the main source of advice and provider of answers to student questions (whether social, practical or academic), the Facebook group was able to facilitate students supporting each other.
    • When a student had a question, they simply posted to the group and their peers typically responded either with “I have the same question” or by providing an answer.
    • The year manager checked the site once a day and, on the rare occasions that a question was unanswered after 2-3 days, posted a response. Most of the time the students responded to each other’s questions.
    • This reduced the workload of the year manager and developed more self-directed students. It also ensured students had a more rapid response to their questions because their peers were checking the posts more frequently than the year manager was able to respond to emails.
    • The year manager was also able to send messages to students and be confident that they would get the messages quickly. The Facebook group records the number of people who have seen a message and students were able to respond with text, emoticons or ‘likes’.

Student Learning Landscape

  • Students became more involved in working to support each other and it increased their ability to learn independently of tutors.
    • Students became more in control of their learning environment and more autonomous as learners.
    • Students developed confidence by sharing their experiences and questions and, therefore, were encouraged to be more self-sufficient.
    • Students were able to communicate with each other at any time and from almost any location, including university vacations and periods of illness.
    • Students perceived their year manager as being more available and accessible to them since they could post questions at any time.
  • Towards the end of the project, students commented on how useful the Facebook group had been for them and felt that they wanted to continue using it into the second year and beyond.
  • In addition, several students volunteered to set up a Facebook group for the next cohort of students and to act as informal mentors by answering questions posed, where appropriate, and sharing tips and advice that they had found helpful.
    • Peer support from more experienced students is particularly useful in terms of developing a community across different years and enhances networking.
    • Since the volunteer students have the benefit of having just completed their first year, they are able to relate well to the student needs and to advise accordingly.
    • A student organised and managed community enables them to support each other and to build up their mentoring skills as well as digital literacies.

Recommendations to future projects of this nature

  • Building in flexibility is very important for anyone planning to create a social media community. The choice of platform must be one that works for the participants. Tools available to support a community are likely to change over time and some are better suited to particular groups and situations.
  • Students should be encouraged to take responsibility for managing their community.
  • There are 3 very useful models to help understand key issues when using social media to support the transition into higher education:
  1. Communities of Practice (e.g. Wenger, 1998)
  2. Technology Acceptance Model (e.g. Davis, 1989)
  3. Connectivist Knowledge Process (e.g. Pettenati and Cigognini, 2007)
  • The project website (available at suggests a number of possible activities that can be used to support the students’ transition. These activities are mapped against the digital and information literacy framework and also against the key areas identified in this project necessary to support students in transition.
  • A summary of the issues that need to be considered is provided in Figure 2. This outlines the stages involved in setting up a community of practice (in bold) and identifies aspects that need to be taken into consideration, or outcomes that are expected, at these different stages.
  • The activities developed addressed these issues as well as attempting to provide for the three key needs identified at the start of the project (in Figure 1: social, practical and academic support provision). Suggested activities can be accessed at

GEN770 FIG2.png