Greek professors turn to Facebook to get an open line to their students

Fotini Asderaki, a professor at Piraeus University, was convinced by a conversation with her students that she needed to open an account on the Facebook social networking website. «I realized it would allow me to be in direct daily contact with them,» she explained. «I also felt like I was forming a stronger bond with them, as I was welcomed into a forum that they see as being directed more toward their own age group. I now use Facebook to inform students of lectures, seminars, summer courses, internships and job opportunities as well as current university events and other academic matters. On a daily basis we exchange information about articles, opinions on books and cultural events. This remains an unofficial form of communication, as there is no way to monitor and ensure that all concerned will be informed.» Asderaki, a lecturer of international and European studies, together with Constantinos Korres from the universities of Piraeus and Athens, and Anatoli Vrocharidou, from the University of the Aegean, conducted a study to evaluate the infiltration of Facebook and other such sites in the daily functions of Greek universities. Students in the international and European studies departments of these institutions participated in the study and the findings show that Facebook – the most popular social networking website in terms of numbers of users – is slowly but steadily gaining a complementary role next to the more traditional forms of communication within universities. Some students from the Piraeus, Panteion and Aegean universities have already set up group pages on Facebook, which functions as a virtual meeting place for students. However, these pages don’t have the official backing of the universities. «Often, postgraduate students who are abroad contact me to inquire about available job openings or to ask for help with a project they are working on. I also post information such as the recent acceptance of one of our graduates to Harvard or the publication of a paper, so as to inspire and encourage other students. The greatest benefit, however, is to be found in the networking between undergraduates and postgraduates,» said Asderaki. The initial results of the study show that students have been using Facebook on average for 1.43 years, with 57.6 percent of them using it more then twice a day, 22 percent about four times a week and 6.8 percent about eight times a month – 13.6 percent of students don’t use it at all. Nearly half (50.9 percent) consider Facebook a useful means of communicating with fellow students. Indeed, about 60 percent say that through Facebook they can exchange information about courses, events and news concerning their university and their department. It is worth noting that 47.3 percent of students believe that the website can help in the coordination of group projects. Furthermore, 58.9 percent believe that it can contribute to the communication between students, university career offices and the job market in general, making it a valuable source of information concerning their professional future. For them, it is also a place where they can discuss the potential challenges that they might face after graduation. Finally, 50 percent believe that Facebook can be used by the university administrations to contact and inform students. On the other hand, 56.4 percent of students say they don’t consider Facebook a useful tool for getting in touch with professors about academic matters, suggesting that it may take some time for this way of contacting their usually aloof university professors to catch on.