Most students are aware to some degree of the social networking site Facebook. Michael Shouldice, a Senior Recruitment Officer with Athabasca University, has been with AU since 2006 and explains the possibilities Athabasca University sees in the use of this site.
?Facebook was created back in 2003,? Shouldice notes. ?When I started my original position with AU’s Information Centre, I monitored the various Facebook groups that students had created about AU, its programs and courses.? These student-created groups are broad in scope, and range from a general ?Athabasca University? group, to program-specific groups such as the ?AU Psychology? group, and common-interest groups such as the ?Athabasca University Student Moms Club.?
In February of last year, however, Shouldice explains that ?Facebook created ?fanpages? specifically for organizations, which allows for various people at the university to administer the account (i.e.: recruitment officers, the Registrar, advisors) and communicate directly to ?fans.? In my capacity as a recruitment officer, I thought this would be a valuable tool to reach AU students where they already are?online and on Facebook.?
Facebook is now, therefore, the home of an AU fanpage. Through this page, AU can ?share news, events and allow students a place to meet, since they rarely would get that chance studying in a distance delivery model.?
?There is great potential for AU students using Facebook,? Shouldice says. ?While there are a lot of student groups on Facebook, the AU fanpage is a place where they can get information that comes directly from an AU source.? The AU fanpage on Facebook ?also has a ?tab? for AskAU,? says Shouldice, ?our FAQ system that uses natural language search technology to permit users real-time access to answers to their questions about AU.?
?I would really like to see the fanpage develop and grow,? Shouldice continues. ?According to research from the Academica Group, fanpages need to have about a thousand fans to reach critical mass and really benefit both the fans and the organization.? The Athabasca University group on Facebook has already exceeded this threshold, but does not have the benefit of an active, engaging administrator or official input from the university.
Shouldice believes that this Facebook fanpage could offer students numerous benefits. ?Besides having access to AU administrators and information in a place they are already spending time, they also have access to students who are in all likelihood living the same experiences they are while trying to balance work, life, and studying,? he says. ?I think AU students already feel a great sense of pride in their school and a certain sense of community. As the fanpage grows this sense of community should grow stronger as should the ties students feel with AU.?
Shouldice says that he would ?love to see students conversing on the fanpage about what they love about AU and the challenges they experience and see their peers? responses. AU is about reducing barriers to education?community is one of them. This Facebook fanpage helps to address that by offering a community space where students can speak and listen.?