As I described previously, making Google+ usage voluntary and non-assessed this year has meant that less than one third of students on my first year key skills course (n = 280) have registered for Google+, while less than 1% of them are active users (i.e. contributions, comments or +1's). Dark social tools such as email are an effective way of contacting students, but are very inefficient in terms of staff time with large numbers of students.
As a more inclusive alternative to the minority of Google+ registered students, I've been looking for a platform where I can push dynamic module-related content to students for discussions and optional contributions. One way I was considering doing this was by using a Facebook page as a student support channel. Efficient use of my time suggests a single Facebook page, although the need for course-specific discussions argues for one page per module.
But this intention changed recently, after Facebook introduced promoted posts. Unless you pay for each post, only a small, randomly selected proportion of people who "Like" the page will see the post on their wall. How many? No-one knows - estimates range from 5-50% of the Likes. But since few people visit the page itself, blocking posts in users home pages renders Facebook as useless as a support channel.
My solution has been to start a student support blog (on Blogger). By using a tag for each module I am teaching on I can create a module-specific content stream. After composing and publishing posts on , I can make new posts a splash screen for each module on the course Blackboard site, together with a link to the module archive (via the tag). Blogger also has an option to email new posts on publication, which I have set to send them to me. I can then forward the item to the module email list via BCC.
It is early days for this approach, but the blog stats so far indicate that the combination of email and Blackboard item mean that essentially 100% of students see each message, and the blog also serves as a discussion board for comments and questions in addition to private email correspondence.
I am not publicizing my student support blog - robots.txt is set to "go away" - the contact with students is thus direct, via email or Blackboard. Even though it is based on blogging, this Dark Social approach to student support is far more efficient than email now that social networks such as Google+ and Facebook have become non-viable for this purpose.