26 April 2017

Swinburne Engineering Students Use LinkedIn for Learning, Collaboration & Professional Growth

By Ms. Elizabeth Chong

In today’s interconnected world, social media has become an important part of our daily lives.  Social media creates many possibilities and opportunities for its users and can be beneficial when it is put to good use.  There are many types of social media available online such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest, just to name a few.  The common usage of social media is for networking, blogging and file sharing.  It is used privately and professionally to stay connected with others from around the world.

In recent years, social media has also been widely used in teaching and learning activities.  Recent studies described the potential use of social media as a tool in facilitating achievement of higher level learning through collaboration and higher level cognitive skills development.  In practice, however, students may not necessarily see the connection between online activities and traditional face-to-face learning. 

One popular social media platform for networking is LinkedIn.  LinkedIn is a social network used mainly by .  It is used to introduce one professionally, to advance one’s professional career and get connected with other professionals.  LinkedIn allows users to update their professional profiles and promote their businesses.

Unlike other social media platforms, LinkedIn allows domain experts and professionals to publish blog posts and participate in group discussions.  To further explore how these features can be used to improve students’ learning experience in classroom, a team of academics from Swinburne University of Technology was awarded a Learning Futures Grant to investigate the use of social media to enhance learning outcomes for transport engineering students across two Swinburne campuses, i.e. Melbourne and Sarawak campuses, involving third and fourth year undergraduate students and postgraduate students. 

The use of LinkedIn was intended to help students enhance their skills for effective multi-disciplinary and inter-cultural collaboration, in addition to developing their competencies in transport engineering.  Unlike other types of social media platforms, LinkedIn provides these students with the opportunity to (i) participate in group discussions with experts from the industry and international academics who are recognised as specialists in sustainable transportation, and (ii) kick-start their careers by creating their professional resumes upon signing up for an account with LinkedIn.

The following describes how LinkedIn enhanced the students’ learning experience. Each week, a domain specialist was invited to publish a blog on a topic that is related to transport engineering.   A total of nine domain specialists were invited to participate and write on various topics related to transport engineering.  These domain specialists would also moderate a discussion with the students on their topic of interest for a week until the discussion was closed for commenting.  Students were invited and encouraged to take the opportunity to comment, ask questions and also post links to articles or news related to the topic of discussion.  Simple quizzes designed to measure the students’ understanding of the articles were conducted intermittently. 

To gauge the efficiency of LinkedIn in enhancing the students learning experience, both quantitative and qualitative methods were used.  The academic team kept track of the number of students who have accessed and contributed to discussions, the frequency of the posting and replying to posts, the topics that generated highest level of interest, and the types of content the students contributed.  A survey was conducted at the end of the project’s duration to obtain feedback from the students.

Through the LinkedIn platform, which gives an opportunity for collaborative learning, students were exposed to and able to gain insights into the views and practices of experts from around the world.  The discussion forums also enable the students from different level of studies and cultural backgrounds to exchange ideas on common topics of interest.  In addition, the academic team also had the opportunity to learn more about students’ level of understanding and interest in the topics taught in class. 

Many students still see the traditional face-to-face lecture as the official learning mode.  One of the challenges faced was encouraging the students to participate in the discussion forum in LinkedIn.  Many students who have read the articles do not comment or ask further questions.  Instead, questions were raised in class.  To counter this issue, reference to the LinkedIn blogs were made during lectures to help the students to connect with what they had read from LinkedIn and what were being discussed in class.  Students that asked questions in class were requested to post their questions in the discussion forums to enable the domain specialists and their peers to give their comments and to benefit other students. 

Social media platforms and the digital sphere in general offer many opportunities for students to learn, collaborate and develop core skills related to their career of choice. As leaders in higher education, Swinburne University of Technology will continue to extend the boundaries of learning through continuous research in developing technologies.

Ms. Elizabeth Chong is a Civil Engineering lecturer with the Faculty of Engineering, Computing and Science at Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus. She is contactable at echong@swinburne.edu.my