Monthly Archives: April 2015

The Great Social Media Experiment

During the past two weeks we conducted an experiment where we had class using only social media tools. We conducted class via tweets using a common hashtag and posts to a Facebook page. Even though I am very familiar with both tools and use them frequently, the total immersion into social media for learning was rather interesting to say the least.

I have been a fan of Twitter as a classroom tool. I think Twitter is a good way to engage a roomful of students in a discussion and sustain it beyond the classroom walls. The short posts force students to think critically about what they want to say and get to the meat of their topic. In a large class where engaging all the students would not be otherwise possible, Twitter provides a voice to every student. Twitter also permits the otherwise shy student a certain measure of anonymity and safety in a group discussion, allowing them more freedom of expression. Controversial topics can be discussed without open war. Whereas most classroom discussions end at the classroom door, Twitter allows students to continue the discussion on as long as they find the topic engaging. There are stories of conversations taking off and continuing long after the official class period has ended. I know in our situation, even after Dr. Warren called time, the conversation continued for a while.

Using Facebook for educational purposes was new to me. I have used and kept a blog throughout my educational career, at least since I went back for my master’s degree. I have two Facebook pages; one for my personal use and a fan page I use to market my brand as an author. My Facebook account is tied to my Twitter account and as a result I often post educational things to my Facebook page. I have set up postings from my blog to feed to both Twitter and Facebook automatically. I can see the informal benefits of using Facebook this way. I also see the need for Facebook as a communication medium with today’s students. They are already up there and using the tool and this is one of the best ways to get your message out. If you post an event up there, students are more likely to hear about it. After the event, students can post pictures to the page, especially if you link it to an Insta-gram account with a hashtag. What is new for me is the idea of using Facebook as an educational forum, posting and communicating there asynchronously the way you might on a learning management system (LMS).

I have used some LMS tools which mimicked Facebook in certain ways. Schoology, for example, has a very similar look and feel to Facebook packaged up in a true LMS that supports grading, feedback, file management, assessments, and other standard tools. Another tool meant to introduce social media to education is the site Lore.com. This site imitates Facebook almost to the letter, but is open only to educators and students. Instructors can create classes and give their students the enrollment information to join the class. Once a student signs up for the class, the medium acts very much like Facebook, allowing participants to “like” and comment on posts. Unlike Facebook, however, the tool supports file uploads and boasts a library that can keep track of course materials. Instructors can create events, add multimedia, attach files, and link to other websites to give students access to content. Students can then discuss the content and create shared meaning.

In my opinion, the past week was not as effective as our synchronous online sessions for learning, but it was not totally ineffective either. In a classroom where synchronous learning is not a possibility, or where students cannot all be present for the synchronous activities, social media may provide a suitable alternative that gets the job adequately accomplished.

I am part of an unusual group of students. In our synchronous group, there are very few that don’t participate verbally. Even the quietest of students finds their voice in our online sessions and is able to express themselves well. In a traditional classroom setting, that is not always the case, especially in a very large class. Tools like Twitter may provide an opportunity for these reluctant students to come forward and express themselves. They may provide a means of equal participation in a class of 200 students. While social media tools may not be ideal, they are certainly better than some solutions out there.

I believe these tools hold value and should be made available for teaching and learning. Instructors need to become familiar and comfortable with the tools. They need to learn about options for display in a classroom setting, such as Twitterfall, and they need to be informed of best practices and ways to protect student privacy and deal with situations such as students without devices or students who lack “smart” technology. The informed educator can then add these tools into their educational tool belt. With the right knowledge and understanding these tools can be applied to situations appropriately to enhance student experiences and make classes more engaging and interactive for students. They are not, however, a fix-all and should not be used indiscriminately.

In short, I enjoyed our week-long experiment culminating in a two-hour social media blast, but I would not want to try and learn this way all the time. I am glad the experiment is over and we can go back to our regularly scheduled program! I am glad I had the experience and can use this as a point of reference when working with faculty to incorporate social media appropriately into higher education classrooms, especially online classes.

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Social media as an educational tool

This week we were asked to reflect on our use of open-source and social media tools for learning and how useful we felt they were. I use a lot of open-source tools for instruction and a few social media tools. Personally I use YouTube extensively for my own self-instruction and I do seek out information from other experts via social networking sites, but do not find much use made of it in formal education.

I like the audio-visual affordances of YouTube, as well as the free exchange of information, so that’s why I turn to it when I need to learn how to do something. I have used YouTube to find self-help videos for everything from applying pageant makeup on my daughter to fixing my car to wiring a switch in my house to most recently building a chicken coop. I have also located and watched many videos related to my field of educational technology, especially the ones from TED.

I am not sure if my choice of YouTube has something to do with my personal preferences for learning or if everyone feels the same way, but YouTube has a vast number of self-help videos. I doubt they would be so popular if others did not see their value. Khan Academy is finding great success as an educational provider and they got their start with a handful of math tutorial videos on YouTube.

I don’t see much educational value in Facebook. I think that is a site used mostly for social purposes. I know many academic institutions post to it and I am not sure how valuable people find these posts for academic purposes. I know of several social media sites modeled after Facebook which were designed for academic purposes. They permit easy sharing of files and have a library to allow file upload. They provide for announcements, discussions, event postings, and collaboration among group or class members, have mechanisms in place to create and manage both open and closed groups, but still provide the social aspects of a Facebook-like interface, such as the ability to “like” a post.

One such site is Lore.com. I have used that site a lot for social learning in professional development, and I think it works well as a training tool for faculty. Use of a controlled site dedicated to education may also help to alleviate concerns over privacy and security issues.

My Instructional Design Process

When I have an online course that needs to be designed and developed, even though it has been years that I’ve been designing instruction, I still go through a formal design process, be it Rapid Instructional Design (Piskurich, 2006) or another process more suited to the topic and audience. I start with an analysis of the audience and the learning platform, unless those steps can be skipped because the audience is one with which I am familiar and the platform has been predetermined by some outside factor. I then analyze the task or topic so as to determine the best approach, and from there determine the best instructional design method. In additional to Rapid Instructional Design, I have used the Kemp Design Model (Morrison, Ross, & Kemp, 2007), and ASSURE (Smaldino, Russell, Heinrich, Molenda, & Cavanaugh, 2005) among others.

I received my Master’s degree from a program with a very practical focus. While we discussed learning theory and principals of instructional design, it was expected that we would actually design instruction using the Kemp model right from the outset. I cut my teeth with real projects and learned to design instruction one step at a time.

I have a very eclectic palate when it comes to what I believe about instruction. I firmly believe in social constructivism and believe that learners learn more in a group setting when they can benefit from the knowledge of others than they do learning in isolation. I also believe that learning is constructed based on things you already know, and that if you don’t help the learner make that connection to prior knowledge, they will not be as engaged with the content.

That said, I do believe there are times when direct instruction is appropriate. I have been known to choose a more behaviorist approach to learning, and have even used Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction (Gagne, Wager, Golas, & Keller, 2004) as a model for my instructional design. I try to find the approach best suited to the learners and their level of expertise with the subject matter. I am more likely to use a direct instruction approach with beginners and a more constructivist approach as my learners become more advanced. Where my process diverges from my theoretical perspective is when the learning platform has been pre-determined and does not support the process I would prefer to use, or when designing for an instructor who does not embrace the same ideologies as myself.

References

Gagne, R. M., Wager, W. W., Golas, K. C., & Keller, J. M. (2004). Principles of Instructional Design, 5th Edition.

Morrison, G. R., Ross, S. M., & Kemp, J. E. (2007). Designing Effective Instruction (5th ed.). John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Piskurich, G. M. (2006). Rapid instructional design: Learning ID fast and right. Wiley. com.

Smaldino, S. E., Russell, J. W., Heinrich, R., Molenda, M., & Cavanaugh, C. (2005). The ASSURE model: Creating the learning experience. In Instructional technology and media for learning (pp. 46–70). Retrieved from http://libproxy.library.unt.edu:2095/docview/860596225