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. 🙂



AECT 2016 Presentations

Some links to slides from my AECT presentations this year …

AECT reflections

This is a post about AECT, and yet also not a post about AECT.

Recently (is 2 weeks ago recent?) I attended the AECT annual convention in Las Vegas. AECT was the second academic conference I attended, and over the last 20 years I’ve attended more often than not. When I was a graduate student, I was excited to meet faculty at other institutions and see presentations by the people whose work I was reading. I also developed my confidence as a presenter, and made several friends. And then, over the years, my participation and attendance faded. I was still there, and still presenting, but during the last 5-7 years I’ve done what I call “drive-by” attendance. I show up briefly, give a few presentations and support my students, attend a session or two if time allows, and then head out. I’ve stayed for one or two nights, and missed most of the events.

This year was no exception. I arrived in Vegas Wednesday morning, and flew back out Thursday morning. While there, I (c0)presented 3 papers, met up with a collaborator who lives abroad, and had dinner with a dear friend and a few others. Along the way, I checked in with my grad students and exchanged greetings with old friends.

It’s not that I don’t like AECT. I do! But as a mid-career academic with a lot of stuff going on and a mom of a young child, I’ve found it difficult to travel much and I’m often just plain exhausted. And that’s where I’ve been for the last few years.

But this year as I flew home from AECT, I found myself wishing I was staying another few days. For all sorts of practical reasons I couldn’t, but I really wanted to just attend, just hang out, just socialize with people in my field. I’d like to find a way to get more involved again, although I’m not sure what path to take with that at the moment (and admittedly my plate is on the full-to-overflowing side).

I’m going to keep this in mind as I plan my calendar for 2017. AECT will be held close to home (Jacksonville). It would be easy to just jump in and out — but this time I’m going to plan to attend. Really attend.

I’m also thinking about what keeps me so busy and overwhelmed all of the time, and how I can adjust my commitments so I’m not rushing around from activity to obligation all the time and instead can find some time to actually take in the moments.