Posts Tagged ‘Social networking’




Teaching With Facebook

posted: September 27, 2011 by

image by SCA Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget

Social Media and Course Cohesion

This semester I have a large class with online and offline sections. How to bring them together, so that the e-students would feel connected, not isolated online? Feeling out of the proverbial loop is one of the most oft-cited challenges for distance learners. Traditionally, a face-to-face classroom, “requires a disciplined commitment from the students to actually participate in the learning activities and reach out to others in the class,” observes Cory Stokes, director of the Technology Assisted Curriculum Center, in charge of testing for online courses. In an online course, the onus is on the student to be self-disciplined enough to engage in self-study, often without the benefit of a class community to drive engagement and interest.

Research shows that there is a correlation between social presence and student success. When students feel connected to a community of inquiry they are more enthusiastic, motivated, and they perform better. If that engagement, communication, and awareness happens continuously and in real-time, as it does in a face-to-face classroom — all the better.

So I decided to take my teaching to the one place where students naturally connect everyday, all day: social networks. First I socialized the learning management system (we use Moodle) by creating discussion boards for on-demand threaded conversations in a secure, gated community. Then I looked to Twitter and Facebook as more public and familiar places for members of my “bricks” and “clicks” course sections to sync.

Teaching on Facebook and Twitter isn’t going to be an option that makes sense for every instructor, but here is why it is working wonders to create a sense of social presence in my class:

P2P Effects. On the Facebook wall, students do peer-to-peer mentoring, troubleshooting, and Q&A at every hour of the day and night. I check into the course social channels several times a day, and yet often by the time I see the Facebook wall or Twitter hashtagged conversation, issues and solutions are already being shared without input from the prof. Not only is this a great example of generous community spirit and peer support, but it’s also self-directed learning on-demand. Since research shows that many students strongly prefer to learn from their peers, this is a good opportunity to enable positive peer effects. As a bonus, “students become partners in blended learning” to borrow an insight from a study at The University of Wolverhampton (<– link opens PDF).

Crowdsourced Curriculum. In the threaded discussions and on the wall, students post links to this week’s lecture topic — before and after the in-class lesson or online-webinar schedule. Put differently, my students scoop my lecture topics and Facebook them!  They scoop my case studies and newsworthy tie-ins and tweet them! Students are plugged into the news and they have high-traffic platforms on which to share the most intriguing stories. There’s nothing that delights me more than this crowdsourcing effect, as students work together to make the material relevant for each other (and thus easier to learn). “If Generation Y likes to do one thing, it’s to share cool, creative, funny and quirky things with their friends,” concluded a recent survey (<– link opens PDF) of millennials’ social media consumption habits by L2ThinkTank.

Network Effects. Sharing course information on Facebook and Twitter means that it is automatically distributed not just to registered students, but to students’ entire social graph. A course tweet is sent to all followers, a Facebook post to the course page is also on one’s personal Facebook profile. This distribution of status updates means that course-related conversations (online and presumably off) happen far beyond the webinar chat rooms and lecture halls. Unlike the formal learning management system, which keeps discussion posts behind a wall (what happens on Moodle stays on Moodle, so to speak), the network effects model of social media amplifies students voices across their personal networks. I’ve found this online word of mouth virtually guarantees that enthusiasm for the course (and enrollment)  remains high year after year. But more importantly, it allows students to demonstrate their membership in, and contributions to, a learning community—in a very public, and sometimes even positively viral way.

These three ideas are just the tip of the iceberg, as there are hundreds of ideas for teaching with Facebook. Of course, not all students use these social platforms. Having a course Facebook page instead of a course Facebook group enables non-Facebookers to read all posted content, and likewise, Twitter is also accessible without a site membership.

Although there is a lively debate ongoing about using popular social networking as teaching tools, my experience encourages me to agree with studies that show social networking enhances student performance and enriches learning experiences both inside the online or offline classrooms and elsewhere on campus.

There are many other tools and techniques beyond Facebook and Twitter for using social media to create social presence, including this roundup. However if your goal, like mine, is to meet students where they are, and leverage their familiarity with social communication for educational purposes, then Facebook,  Twitter, and YouTube are the obvious channels of choice.

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Social and Mobile edTech

posted: September 15, 2010 by

image by cackhandedIt’s back to school time and at The Active Class we’re thinking about fall projects involving educational technology development.

Are you curious about using social media in your courses but are not quite sure how to take the next step, or to connect it to student assessment? Do QR codes and other mobile teaching ideas intrigue, but you’d have to see it in practice to assess the true value before implementing in your courses? What about videorecording some of your lecture material –would you be interested to know more about the costs, how to get students involved in production, and the impact on student outcomes (as well as how coursecasting can help make your schedule more flexible)?

I’ve learned everything I know about highly wired teaching techniques from connecting with a huge network of digitally-savvy peers and tech-fluent students. Being able to talk with an experienced edtech instructor and user can help answer high- and low-tech questions, inspire classroom application ideas, address anxieties and troubleshoot issues. That’s why in just a few weeks I’ll be at EDUCAUSE to connect with attendees around a series of three short presentations.

These tech teaching talks are designed by and based on my active experience in the classroom here at Queen’s University in Canada, where I using mobile and social technologies with groups ranging from 20 to 700 students at a time.

And here’s the plan for the EDUCAUSE meeting:

October 12, 2010 Live at 4:30-4:50 PM Booth 1676: How to use social media to support P2P technology mentoring for faculty and students
Business is embracing web 2.0 technologies to enable consumers to engage with brands and each other, and on campus we can follow suit, supporting peer to peer technology mentoring. This talk offers practical suggestions for enabling P2P interactions and increasing community engagement gleaned from corporations with the highest “digital IQs.”

October 12, 2010 Live at 5:00-5:20 PM Booth 1676: How to use QR codes on campus and in class
From self-guided campus tours, to mobile websites, to lab equipment manuals, QR codes are environmentally smart (less paper!) and leverage students’ digital proclivities (and those smartphones in knapsacks). This talk offers practical ideas for using digital barcodes as part of a social and mobile educational initiative or marketing and communications campaign.

October 13, 2010 Live at 10:00-10:20 AM Booth 1676: How to use video coursecasting while keeping attendance high and outcomes higher
Students appreciate it when video coursecasting is available, but we often hear concern from faculty who worry it will be a disincentive to attend class. This talk reviews some strategies for using video to supplement the syllabus and lectures, to support a variety of student learning styles, (including as a remedial tool, for ESL students, and to increase accessibility for students with disabilities) and to add flexibility to instructors’ own schedules.

If you cannot be in California to meet in person, please consider connecting virtually on the Facebook page, Twitter stream or comments section below. I’d love to know: how are you using these and other technologies in your classrooms, and what are some of the unexpected outcomes you’ve experienced? If you had one tip for a new teacher seeking to adopt a new digital tool, which one has the most impact on student learning in your opinion?

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Categories: Higher Education, Mobile technology
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Supporting Students’ Sharing Stuff

posted: July 8, 2010 by

image by Spencer FinnleyOkay yes, that was a silly alliteration in my title, but the truth remains: GenY students love to share information via status updates, and as blogger Josip Petrusa puts it, “we’re all looking for something to share.”

Not just anything makes the cut as status-update-worthy of course, just those tidbits that are deemed sufficiently “’cool’, ‘funny,’ and anything else that would make us look good,” Petrusa observes.

Adding value to one’s social networks by being the first to “break” news, becoming known as the go-to profile for new music, making people laugh, posting the best photos—all of these acts are about amassing cultural capital in a social computing economy.

So where does teaching enter in?

Teaching students how to find “cool” funny, odd, interesting material online, then building social platforms for this exchange to take place among classmates, even incentivizing the P2P activity by connecting it to course assessments—that’s how teachers actively support student sharing.

Any professor knows how to connect their course content to current affairs, interesting historical twists and turns, strange but true trivia, shocking stats, and key players. When we share some of that insider perspective on the course topic, those tasty shareable bits, our students gain a deeper understanding of the topic. Moreover, spicing up a lecture by designing it with these kinds of “hooks” will pique student interest, making it more likely they’ll redistribute the information along their social graph.

And there are other ways for teachers to support an academic culture of sharing, and increase student engagement in the process. We can of course build a course wiki, or social net (such as Ning) or launch a Facebook page as the platform for sharing.

And technoprofs can teach students intelligent searching strategies.

The real wizards at intelligent search logic are the librarians, and this has been true long before computers came to campus. Arranging for a librarian subject specialist to do a guest lecture or workshop for your class will help make students aware of how to avoid information overload, increase relevance of results, and optimize time spent online. This, coupled with some old-fashioned tips on how to become a better researcher, (something any faculty member should have expertise in) will add value to the course for share-minded students.

A second idea to create a sustained culture of sharing is to give students a hands-on workshop (or assignment) on social listening strategies. This will make them far more efficient at filtering the web. From free resources like Social Mention and Google Reader’s RSS organizer, to professional tools like Radian6 and MeltwaterBuzz suites of tools, social searching is a truly useful skill for individuals, as well as businesses and organizations. How to get students interested in the wonders of SEO and SERPs? Start with a bit of social listening about their personal digital footprints and online reputation.

By leveraging millennial students’ media habits and desire to share, and increasing their effectivity at it, faculty can activate the classroom while teaching 21st Century digital literacy skills. Good sharing practices and pedagogies build links between the online and offline worlds, from the lecture hall to the community beyond, and strengthen ties between students and their friends and families.

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Tech fasts: millennials unplugged!

posted: April 6, 2010 by

Recently in the news, a professor at The University of Minnesota gave her class a unique assignment: “Five days without media or gadgets that didn’t exist before 1984.”  That means no iPods nor smartphones, no Facebook nor Twitter.  How did the students respond?  With moans and groans.

In fact the assignment just described isn’t very unique at all. It is part of a trend of “technology or media fasts” that GenX and Boomer teachers assign to Gen Y students. The pedagogical goal underpinning tech fasts goes something like this: by signing off Facebook for a week, or refusing to use a cellphone, these everyday technologies will be made “unfamiliar” to the digital natives. As a consequence, ideally, the millennials unplugged will be enlightened about the role that information and communications technologies play in shaping their experience and knowledge of society and culture.

Not that far removed from course policies that ban the use of laptop computers or cellphones in the lecture hall,  requiring students to sign off digital services and put down their high tech gear is at base designed to discourage multitasking and inspire focused, critical thinking. Tech fasts are intended to increase a student’s self-awareness about personal media use habits.

Putting students on digital diets

We might ask: do college and university students, twenty-somethings in general, fail to think about their reliance upon digital media for education, entertainment, communication, and cultural participation? Do students in higher ed today fail to articulate about the place of mobile technologies, social networks, and digital media in their lives?

Not my students. In fact, no awkward (and some would argue, unethical and heavy-handed) tech-fast assignment is necessary in order to get students passionately engaged in excellent discussions, reflecting, critiquing, questioning, and contextualizing their everyday media use. All we need to do is create opportunities for them to share and discuss, online or off. I would venture to suggest that GenYers know far more about the enormous and intimate role that tech and digital media plays in shaping their identities, experiences, imaginations, and cultural arrangements–far more than most of their GenX and Boomer professors do.

On the other hand, there are some interesting, positive and powerful outcomes that could result from media and tech fasts. These kinds of “unplug” assignments would be an excellent demonstration of the pleasure associated with everyday media use rituals and habits—albeit through denial. Not being able to connect to information, friends and family, or to access one’s personal data, calendar, schedule, eBooks, notes, music—certainly this cultural disconnect will cause a serious level of digital pain, confusion, and cognitive dissonance. Consequently the “tech-free” course assignment would be a useful, highly personal, experience-based illustration of the digital divide, and what it means to be offline and without access to ICT tools and services.

How important, effective, and innovative is it for professors to ban technologies from students’ educational experiences and everyday lives? Is the impact worth the educational experience? Faculties are divided, and both sides of the educational technology debates are passionate and deeply invested in their perspectives on the place of media and computers in higher ed. Somewhere in the middle are the students themselves.

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Disruptive technology? Students & their smartphones

posted: March 25, 2010 by

3363714747_c649336ef3(2)That students use text messaging, mobile web-surfing, and social media sites in the classroom is not news. Prohibited or not, the behavior is commonplace, according to self-reports from students who admit to using SMS even during exams. “Students feel texting is no big deal….even without the teacher’s approval it is common for students to text under their desks or even in their pockets,” reports one student newspaper in California. Not surprisingly, some professors feel differently about the textual distraction, and are often offended, confused, or even threatened by the loss of control. As such there’s a constant stream of case studies in the press about generational clashes over unsanctioned mobile media use in the lecture hall.

Not long ago, the issue was students using notebook computers in the lecture hall to surf the web and visit MySpace and Facebook during class. As a result, some professors opted to turn off the wi-fi and ban laptops. However, mobile phone use is far more difficult for instructors to control and shut down. Today most students have cellphones and smartphones that are web-enabled and complete with data plans for dedicated, private, and reliable service that stays up regardless of whether the prof throws the switch. This handheld computing is causing more technopanic on campus.

As reported by Inside Higher Ed, a professor at Syracuse University is so offended by students who find their cell phones more interesting than their professors, that if he “catches a student sending text messages or reading a newspaper in class, he’ll end the class on the spot and walk out.” Recently one high school teacher in Wisconsin had his perpetually-texting 14 year old student arrested. At University of Texas, El Paso, one professor is so disturbed by what she considers disruptive mobile technology (students texting while she lectures) that she confiscates phones and suggests we might consider a ban of cell phones while learning, similar to some cities’ and states’ prohibitions against the use of cell phones and texting while driving.

While “some teachers ban cell phones and laptops on sight, others figure, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” observes reporter Jennifer Brooks at The Tennessean. Indeed, many instructors and professors who strongly believe in the potential of educational technology take a far different approach to texting and surfing millennials. Some design classroom activities using cell phones and pedagogical projects involving mobile social networking. As recently reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Todd McCann, an instructor at Bay College in Michigan, uses SMS to remind students of upcoming deadlines. When he launched the service, approximately 70% of his students opted-in to receive the text messages notifying them of upcoming paper due dates and the like. McCann commented that, rather than resisting new communications and digital technologies, as many of his colleagues do, he was instead opting to meet students “where they live“—in other words, to offer students support online. Also in Michigan, this time at the high school level, a pilot project (funded by a $250,000 grant from Verizon) using cell phones resulted in students’ achievement scores increasing by an average of 25 percent.

Students’ fascination with mobile communications technology is leveraged at many universities where mobile app development is part of the curriculum. This is timely because, as Malcolm Brown, director of Educause Learning Initiative recently observed, “Mobile technology has indeed arrived,” in higher education, “but are we ready?”

The answer at Abilene Christian University in Texas is a resounding YES, as the school prepares for the spring 2010 launch of Apple’s iPad. Increasingly, professors and students alike want to be connected “wherever they are,” said George Saltsman, executive director of the Adams Center for Teaching and Learning, because “we are becoming an increasingly mobile society.” ACU wants to be a leader in “understanding how mobility works in education and in society.” Likewise at The University of Illinois, professors were recently awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation to explore how mobile technology can enhance undergraduate students’ learning experiences.

From texting to tweeting, many educators are investigating how to leverage millennials’ preexisting technical savvy when it comes to mobile and social computing for educational ends—rather than fighting what appears to be a losing battle for control over a disconnected classroom.

image credit: woohoo megoo on flickr

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Tech crutches?

posted: March 22, 2010 by

Tech CrutchesDoes the social web encourage students to collaborate, communicate, and co-create or to disengage, slack off, and participate in some high-tech high-jinks?

Over at Harvard University, some students share lecture notes. This is not exactly shocking news. They’ve been doing it for a long while—it’s nearly an unofficial tradition, and one that, if we did a quick student survey, we’d find has been repeated at every college and university in the country for several generations. Students share notes, and textbooks, and pens, and just about every piece of educational technology – except maybe their cell phones.

But recently Harvard note-sharers got headline coverage in The Chronicle of Higher Ed, because the note-sharing has migrated online, and not all the professors are happy about it.  In fact, some faculty go so far as to claim that online notesharing sites, “serve as a crutch for students who haven’t bothered to attend class or take their own notes.”  There’s something about the public nature of online resource sharing that raises professors’ hackles and suspicions. Perhaps this knee-jerk reaction is based on a prejudicial view of social networking as being all about play and not about school, or work, or any of that serious stuff.

For millennials who have grown up digital on Facebook and MySpace, collaborating and connecting, sharing and comparing resources via their social graphs is commonsensical. This is how they consume music, video, news stories, and other entertainment media—and they approach school and work tasks the same way. In other words, for digital natives, peer-to-peer production, open-sourced and crowdsourced models of media use are part of everyday life. It’s an attitude and approach to work and life that is certainly not about being disengaged, unmotivated and lazy, but quite the opposite. Millennial students are by and large passionately interested in webs of influence, being plugged-in and connected, and adding value to their social nexus.

From this perspective, the challenge is for educators to stop thinking about how to repress the huge amounts of intellectual and social energy kids devote to social media,” according to Nicholas Bramble in Slate magazine. Rather than blocking social media development and stifling or dismissing the economy of sharing in higher ed, faculty members should figure out how to leverage and incorporate students’ tech skills and their eager willingness to share as part of the curriculum.

So how can educators channel that creative energy and collaborative spirit? We can return to Harvard for some advice, this time to the Business school. There authors John Beck and Mitchell Wade published their research about the impact of the gamer generation on the workplace in a book called The Kids Are Alright.  Among other things, GenY students prefer to “learn from the team, not the coach,” according to Beck and Wade, who suggest that gamers love working together and helping each other, excelling at cooperative work and play.  For professors then, developing opportunities for students to work together in teams, to design online slide presentations, or curate and design multimedia blogs, would be examples of assignments that build on, rather than resist, the way digital natives prefer to study.

As is often said by public relations experts who make their living advising individuals and companies about reputation management: if you do not actively shape your public communications and online representation, someone else might do so for you. If you’re lucky, perhaps it will be your happy and satisfied clients who are motivated to do so.  On the other hand, it could be those who feel otherwise about your products or services who manage your digital presence—damaging your brand in the process. But what does this PR advice and talk about brands have to do with the classroom? Educators, even those who do not subscribe to the consumer model of education, can take this advice to heart. If the students are going to share notes about our classes on Facebook or some other social media site, clearly this is an opportunity to give course credit for collaborating on a “branded” course note wiki, in public or privately via the LMS.

The bottom line here? By making the curriculum and learning process more social, it is likely that millennial students will feel inspired to invest more, not less, effort in their educational endeavors. Far from being a “crutch” for the apathetic, social media technologies can be a scaffold supporting innovative and creative, self-directed and peer-to-peer learning initiatives.

image credit: by googlisti on flickr

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Categories: 21st Century Teaching, Notetaking, Peer Learning, Social Media
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