What do 2 prize winning instructors, 10 instructors from a variety of disciplines and TLS staff have in common? They recently came together for an informal lunch to share experiences, ideas, questions, and tips about teaching. As a newcomer to the TLS team, I was glad to be able to join them. It was an opportunity to hear about TLS services in depth, as well as what was on instructors’ minds. Together, they engaged in a spirited exchange on a variety of topics. Continue reading The Lunch Spot: Let’s talk teaching
At Teaching and Learning Services, I work as a Learning Technology Consultant and help instructors with incorporating learning technology, such as myCourses and clickers, into their courses.
Last week, I attended Chris Buddle’s workshop “Using Social Media Tools in Teaching and Learning.” This had me thinking: if instructors are using social media tools as vital components of a course, and if we think of myCourses as an extension of the classroom, then how can we bring these together?
Social media tools have a lot of value in teaching and learning, and this has become even more apparent as I continue to use twitter in an introductory field biology class. In “St Lawrence Ecosystems“, students are doing natural history research projects and tweeting about their project. They are discovering the many ways that 140 characters can help create collaborative learning communities.
Now that we’ve examined the arguments for using social media in the classroom, and discussed some of the practical considerations, it’s time to talk about the tools themselves. There is a befuddling array of social media tools from which an instructor could choose. Even the more web-savvy among us can be intimidated by all the choices! How should we go about identifying and selecting the right tool for the job? To make this discussion a little more straightforward, we’ll limit it to include what we would consider our “Top Ten Tools”. These are user-friendly, well-supported, free, include opportunities for information-sharing/networking, and are commonly used. Continue reading Social media in teaching: picking the right tool for the job
Social media tools (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, blogs) are valuable tools for teaching and learning in higher education. They can help increase student engagement, and provide opportunities for active learning. However, these tools need to be used carefully, and with particular attention to matters of data privacy, ethics and student consent regarding the use tools that are ‘off-site’ (i.e., not supported by the University).
In an ideal world, all classroom activities would be done within the learning management system supported by the University (e.g., Desire2Learn). However, off-site social media tools are often more user-friendly, and are the same online tools that students (and potentially instructors) already use on a regular basis. There’s often an existing familiarity and comfort level with these social media tools, which can be beneficial if their use is required to meet the learning outcomes for a course.
A quick online search will reveal that many Universities have developed policies and guidelines about social media (here are McGill’s guidelines), ranging from broad guidance about social media at an institutional level, through to practical advice about online etiquette (here’s an example of etiquette guidelines from the University of New Hampshire). These resources, however, do not necessarily apply specifically to the use of social media in the classroom as a teaching and learning tool.
It’s not easy to develop policies and guidelines about social media use, in part because it’s a moving target: the tools change rapidly, and standard policies may quickly become obsolete. By their very nature, social media tools are fluid, dynamic, and don’t fit easily into sets of rigid policies and legalese. These features (which make them so appealing, interactive and useful as teaching and learning tools) create challenges in terms of navigating the boundary between the professional and the personal. This boundary can get quite fuzzy when social media tools are used in a classroom setting (e.g., do you ‘friend’ students in your class when Facebook is used as an online tool?). Social media tools are open and public, which means individuals from outside the classroom and University may be interacting and collaborating with students inside the classroom. As such, it’s extremely important that instructors pay attention to the potential issues around student privacy and consent, and it’s essential that students also abide by the codes of conduct of their University.
Below are some guidelines for using social media in the classroom; these were developed after many discussions, and much reading and reflection. One caveat: it is important that instructors also consult their own University’s policies or guidelines and consult with the experts, as necessary.
- Consent: If social media tools are to be used in a classroom setting (whether or not it is part of the formal assessment), this must be explicitly stated in the course outline. The expectations need to be transparent: it should come as no surprise to students if they are asked to participate on Twitter or write blogs as part of the course. This is the means by which student consent is obtained for the use of social media in the classroom.
- Opt-out option: If the course is required for a student to complete their academic program, and the student has personal/ethical (or other) reasons for not wanting to use off-site social media sites or tools, instructors should be prepared to offer those students an alternative. Offering alternatives might not be feasible when the use of social media tools is unavoidable in the context of specific learning outcomes for a course, but again, this must be explicitly stated in the course outline. If the course isn’t required, and if the use of social media tools is explicit in the course outline, students may elect not to take the course.
- Etiquette: Before the social media tools are used, some training should be provided. The instructor needs to have a frank and candid discussion with students about proper etiquette when using social media in the classroom. Everyone needs to be reminded that whatever you write and post is potentially ‘out there’ forever! One of the simplest, and best, pieces of advice is: “keep it positive; keep it professional”.
- Privacy: Students should be encouraged to set up alias accounts for the course so their real names are not associated with the course, in the public domain. This helps to navigate the professional-personal boundary, and it’s is a key means by which student privacy is maintained. This is particularly important if the content is of a personal nature. The instructor will, of course, be able to associate students with the alias accounts, but this information must be kept confidential. Depending on the content, or the type of course, there may be situations where a student’s name is used publically as part of the course, but this needs to be done carefully and cautiously.
In sum, using social media tools in the classroom presents a terrific opportunity for instructors and students, but neither party should use these tools without following some simple and sensible guidelines.
From Facebook to Twitter and blogs, social media tools are an integral and important part of society, and these tools are here to stay. Social media is about collaborating, networking, sharing and generating knowledge and content, and all of these features are of great value in the context of higher education. Today’s Universities have well-developed social media strategies, and use a suite of social media tools for various purposes including internal and external communications, recruitment, sharing research findings, and highlighting exciting student initiatives (this is reviewed in detail by Davis et al.). Continue reading The value of using social media tools in teaching and learning
I recently finished a book called Alone Together by Sherry Turkle (2011), a professor at MIT. The book discusses how social media and technology has infiltrated our lives and its visible effects on human connections. Turkle explains that ICTs – e-mail, text, Twitter, Facebook, etc. – are fundamentally changing human interactions; they change who we are.
As I read the book, I felt like I was reading my personal diary. I was the individual who, in her book, was constantly connected yet felt the need for more interaction. Turkle explains that through this technology, people present the best of themselves, an ideal; they can type, delete, and edit every interaction. She says, “Human relationships are supposed to be messy, but now they are edited and perfected.” When I thought about this, I thought about how this affects our learning environments for all students. How have these ICTs influenced our classrooms? Continue reading Information Communication Technologies (ICTs): Friend or Foe?