Social Media as an Educational Innovation: Tips

Two weeks ago I gave a presentation at AECT about social media as an educational innovation. The presentation was part of a session brought together by Bob Reiser, and the other presenters were Clark Quinn (Mobile Learning), David Wiley (OER), and Curt Bonk (MOOCs). We were each tasked with providing our best tips or advice on our topics, with a 10-minute time limit.

It was an interesting task, trying to distill my thoughts on social media use in formal learning settings into a rather brief presentation. In the end I came up with 9 tips (and having passed them in front of my students first I feel confident that I hit on the main points I typically cover in a full semester’s class).

Here are my slides, as well as some thoughts on each tip:

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Blogs, Audience, and Learning

A few weeks ago George Williamson and I presented our study of blogging in the classroom at the Association of Internet Researchers conference in Tartu, Estonia.

This study examined the use of blogs to support student learning, with a bit of a twist. Typically we think of student blogging as a public act of publishing. We ask students to blog and we ask others — perhaps just classmates, or perhaps anyone at all — to read and comment. A major benefit of blogging as a learning activity is that it requires students to articulate their thoughts to a public audience.

However, in this case we were not seeking a broad public (or even peer) audience. We were caught in the midst of a public-private tension. The course topic was religious history. During past iterations of the course, when no technology had been used, student tended to interject their personal religious thoughts / beliefs / backgrounds / experiences into the class discussion. These interjections were not wholly a bad thing; it’s not like students were proselytizing, but rather that they were striving to make connections between their prior knowledge and the new concepts being addressed in class. However, religion can be a sensitive topic and these “connections” have to potential to pull away from the day’s class ddiscussion.

We wondered if blogs could be used to provide students with the space to work through both their personal connections as well as their other thoughts related to the course material. More specifically, we thought that blogging as a form of writing, with its informality and implied public audience, might help students freely express themselves. At the same time, we wanted the blogs to be a safe place for this type of writing. This latter point led us to the conclusion that student blogs on this topic should not be fully public. Out of necessity, their instructor should be the audience. However, there need not be other blog readers unless the students choose — not even peers.

In the end, blogs were implemented using a semi-private set-up. The instructor created all of the blogs and distributed usernames (pseudonyms) and passwords to students. Students each had their own blog, and while the blogs were visible to anyone on the Internet, they were not indexed or otherwise linked from anywhere. In other words, random people were unlikely to stumble upon one of these blogs, and if a random person did find one, there was no clear way to identify the author. Students were free to share their blog URL with others if they wished. but not compelled to do so.

The students had a generally positive reaction to the blogs, although some were daunted by the workload. The space was used as envisioned, and facilitated student-instructor dialogues about course material. Student posts addressed both reactions to readings as well as personal connections with the course material.

My most interesting take-away has been the impression that the form of writing, and the imagined (if not real) audience really does make a difference for students. Short essays or even posts to a discussion forum may not have been as vivid had they been submitted quietly within an LMS, awaiting not a comment but a check-off in a rubric. I don’t, of course, have the comparative data to support this impression, but rather base it one my experience in other online classes.

We’re still working with the last bits of blog data, and preparing the full manuscript for publication. Not sure where to send it just yet, but open to ideas. 🙂

Slides:

 

Getting back on course…

Tomorrow morning Week 4 of the semester begins! I’m teaching two graduate-level classes. Each meets once a week for 3 hours. You might think that means that I’ve had 9 contact hours so far with each class … but you would be quite wrong.

Thanks to Hurricane Irma, which thankfully only skirted our local area and left minimal (compared to last year’s Hurricane Hermine and Irma elsewhere) damages and power outages, the university closed for 6 business days. From Friday of Week 2 through Friday of Week 3, classes were canceled. For my Tuesday class, that was a loss of 3 classroom hours. For my Friday class, a loss of 6 hours. In fact, we’ve only met once! (Hi EME6476 students – aren’t you glad I kept you for the full 3 hours during Week 1?). Continue reading

Hurricanes and holidays.

It’s been a long week, thanks to Irma. Longer than a week, actually. It’s difficult to remember when I first became aware of Irma. I’m pretty sure that it was last Wednesday – a week ago Wednesday – that the local reporter came by to get my story for the one year anniversary of Hurricane Hermine (which was Friday, and yes, I was in the local paper!). I know I was thinking about Harvey and already watching Irma at that time.

From the first moment I saw Irma, I had a bad feeling about her. I was pretty sure she was coming my way. However, she was still quite far away then. What that meant was that I had a few days to worry when there was nothing to worry about, and then a few more to worry when there might be something to worry about. Finally, by Tuesday, it was time to worry. And prepare. This whole week that has been about trying to get work done while preparing and assessing the overall danger (should I stay or should I go?). Irma is not quite here yet, and she’s taking her sweet time to get here. Until she does arrive, I have to prepare.

Prepare. Prepare? What does that mean to prepare for Irma? Let me share with you everything that I’ve been doing since Friday, when school was canceled:

• Shopping for groceries and supplies to make sure we have everything we need when the stores are closed for a few days. We need everyone’s favorite foods and a few surprises! And let’s not forget enough toilet paper – that’s critical. And wine! Do we have enough wine?
• Checking multiple times to make sure there are enough batteries for all of the electronics.
• Doing all of the laundry – pretty much whipping it off peoples’ bodies and sticking it into the washer – to make sure I can go for a week without doing any laundry.
• Cleaning the fridge and freezer.
• Preparing foods in advance, so I won’t need to be in the kitchen slaving over a stove and we can just plate and serve (ha! My stove has actually been broken since June 2, with a new range top sitting on my living room floor waiting for the installer most of that time, but that’s another story).
• Cleaning the house so it doesn’t need to be done again for a few days.
• Getting the yard in shape – trimmed up, everything put away.
• Rearranging furniture in some rooms to accommodate everyone hanging out together.
• Checking in with friends to see how their plans are coming along.
• Continuously checking the time and the calendar, feeling anxious because time is both passing quickly and slowly. How much time is left to prepare?
• Doing all of this with kid under foot because school is out, and all while trying to keep kid from getting too pumped up about it.

You know what? It feels a lot like preparing for Christmas. The only difference is that I won’t be getting any presents.** Then again, if my house gets through this storm without any damage it’ll be better than any Christmas present.

Anyway, I’m done preparing. Now I’m just sitting here, exhausted, waiting for Christmas Irma to arrive.

 

**Although there will be no opening of gifts, there will surely be a massive cleanup post-Irma. Instead of boxes, wrapping paper, and ribbons it’ll be branches, twigs, and leaves.

I love all of my classes the most.

I love all of my children classes the most

Today is the day! My learning theory class begins! I love teaching learning theory. I love it the most! It’s my favorite class to teach! I always get excited by the class on the first day – and why not? It’s learning theory! Fascinating stuff. Explains so much of how the human world works.

I get that I perhaps shouldn’t be so excited. It’s a required 5000-level graduate course. Most (all?) students take it because they’re required to. It’s not the course they’ve all dreamed of taking for years, at least not when they enroll. I just hope that by the end they’ve grown to find the topic as mesmerizing and useful as I do.

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My new magic potion

This summer I discovered what I’m sure will be the key to my academic success moving forward.

Admittedly, this is not the first time I’ve made this claim. I’ve had other “lifechangers” along the way. Let’s see …

…there was the iPad with keyboard. Hmmm, I’m writing on it right now. Love it. It’s super convenient, small enough to use effectively on a plane, large enough to see enough of the screen to write (remember the eee? I had high hopes, but it was too small and limited. Before that I had a foldable keyboard for a palm pilot – was I really typing on that?). I love my iPad, truly. However, I’m not sure that it’s been the key to success. Continue reading

Enough.

I wrote this piece earlier this summer, but didn’t post it. I’m not sure why I held on to it, but now that summer is ending and the new school year is about to begin, I’m finding myself standing face-to-face with old habits and patterns, wondering who or what will win.

I’ve long known that academe will suck up all of the time and energy that it can, and it will tell you that it’s still not enough, but this past school year a series of challenges came at me with full force and as I struggled to allocate attention between my life (home, family, friends, my scholarship) and work (the teaching and administration of academe), I started to think that my values, the ones that pushed me to stay up late and put in just another 30 minutes or agree to yet one more small service task, were messed up. I can’t do it all. I can’t prioritize it all. And it’s not worth trying.

So here are my ramblings from May. It’s interesting to consider the ways in which my thoughts and actions have (not) progressed since then. Continue reading