Learn IT: Blog it! Tweet it! Film it! Wiki it! from the student’s perspective

So, I attended the last event from the series of Learn IT (a staff-student exchange event), organised by Developing Digital Literacies working group. Before writing this post, I looked at the written form of the passed talks produced by other participants, including the guild’s president and lecturers from different departments. Seemingly, this Tuesday it was a concluding part of the continuous discourse around issues on online identity management, academic content creation, interaction between staff and students, possibilities of new media technology, and more.

Learn IT student-staff exchange concluding talk

 

Some of the Tuesday topics on the agenda were:

  • VLE (virtual learning environment) perspectives
  • Teaching & Learning techniques through technology
  • Academic content production in various media
  • Digital literacies of various stakeholders at university
  • Action points to promote media literacy (some of them seen in the picture below)
Some action points posted real-time on textwall

Some action points posted real-time on textwall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Overall, it was a very lively discussion where everybody expressed/contributed an interesting bit of their own experiences in relation to media technology use for their teaching or/and learning methods. Particularly, I’ve found it compelling when one speaker mentioned the difficulty for academic staff to ‘break the ice’ with their students on mainstream social media. From Georgina’s words (a lecturer from Media & Communication dep.), students seemed to be reluctant towards extra interaction with their lecturers/tutors on popular social media. I would consider this unwillingness as the result of lack of highly-valuable asset as time and apparent unawareness of potential benefits from such networking-interaction for their future career development.

Surely, there is a matter of privacy that students may be concerned with, when a member of staff ‘invades’ the personal space despite the fact that proximity is minimised. I imagine it is inconsistent for a student to combine his academic and social life in one place. Moreover, I think even if such network (for instance a university bespoke blog) existed, it would put more pressure on already loaded academics who probably struggle to even respond on time to unread emails from students. Further, in our group talk it was immediately pointed out by Alistair (a final year engineering student), that this extracurricular practices do not drive the grades up so there is no point in participating for scholars.

To take the matter even further, it was interestingly pointed out in one of the commsmedialiverpool posts, that the idea of 24/7 university may pose health-related dangers to students. Although the concept was substantially discussed in relation to physical university rather than virtual technologically-enhanced learning opportunities. Nevertheless, one could still relate the similar trend of potential dangers and disadvantages to the increased proliferation of social media. So perhaps, the fuss about finding the new ways to engage students more with the academic staff by means of new media is more incidental.

On the other hand, for me the proposition of more staff training seemed most viable. Particularly, in relation to developing certain skills and literacies in order to ‘gain’ students’ attention, thereby  potentially cultivating relationships between one another. From my perspective, the lecturer’s/tutor’s skill (or talent?) to make students think matters most when attempting to boost interaction amongst the two, in either real or virtual environments.

 

 

LearnIT staff-student exchange: Blog it! Tweet It! Film It! Wiki It!

The latest and last in the series of digital literacies staff-student event was focused on the use of social and/or multi- media technologies in teaching and learning. Personally, I’m a fan of finding new ways to do things (a prezi might take hours or even days longer to put together than a PowerPoint presentation, but it can be more dynamic and engaging and give a lecture a different atmosphere). As one of four ‘case study’ speakers, however, I kicked things off by talking about the need for a bit of caution. Whether we’re active users of Facebook and Twitter or not, it’s easy to assume that students are heavy users of social media and thus that it would be a good idea to bring these platforms into the classroom. My experience has been mixed, but it’s often not the case.

As an active user of Facebook and Twitter I know how useful I find them for keeping up with what’s going on in my field, and for sharing ideas, links, videos and so on. I can access them whenever and wherever I like (and I probably do so too frequently). In-house virtual learning platforms struggle to ape this kind of sharing environment, so it seemed natural (I will make explicit the problems with this assumption in a moment!) to create a space on Facebook for students on a large, broad-ranging first-year module I taught on at my previous university. Most people, if not everyone, would already be on there, the module convener and I reasoned, so it was just a matter of creating the sort of private group that we used with research colleagues.

In fact the students were so resistant to it that we never got as far as that. Students did not want to share their social space with the likes of us, and they didn’t feel that they’d be missing out on much by not having a space for discussion. Among groups at this week’s LearnIT event, it was suggested that students who are not already using a site might actually be more receptive to using it in learning and teaching contexts – particularly so in the case of Twitter, since they don’t have months or years of often quite personal narrative to make available to a new and unintended audience. (These questions drive right at the heart of digital literacy, of course, and students need to confront the public nature and accountability of social media use, but perhaps asking them to do so for the purposes of one module is unwise.)

Various other concerns emerged from these group discussions, including a reminder that accessibility is not universal, and not even the (popular) suggestion that all students and staff are issued with iPads would remedy that. It was also pointed out that online platforms lack the cues as to likely reception that students get in face-to-face interactions in seminars, which inhibited even those students who most wanted to speak. Though students suggested that they often use Twitter with different intentions or emphasis to academics (see image), there was some suggestion that module hashtags were popular with students, who could follow posts without being under pressure to contribute.Screen Shot 2015-03-12 at 16.05.12

Our group spent a long time discussing how staff might be able to inspire imagination and risk-taking in coursework, and the feeling from students was that this needed specifically to be incentivised (by warning of lower marks for ‘safe’ submissions) and also to be visibly supported by staff (by being available to help students whose more creative efforts feel less secure). It was perhaps out of this that we developed our recommendation that the Developing Digital Literacies Working Group (DDLWG) takes this forward by commissioning and analysing case studies from existing modules at the university, presenting staff and student perspectives.

It was interesting to hear from a colleague in engineering, Dr Ian Walkington, and one of his students, Alistair Craig, about a module on climate change that was assessed in ways designed to address concerns that employers had about skills typically lacking in engineering graduates, including communication skills. On this fourth year module, students had to write an essay (as opposed to a technical report); a brief blog post and a poster, each communicating a complex idea; and produce a video looking ahead to the year 2100. Alistair reported that students recognised the benefits in terms of the job market but that the success of module (on which numbers have been rising over the past few years) rests chiefly on the fact that the use of digital technologies feels integral to the design and aims of the module; that is, it makes sense.

For me, the key thing is to ensure that we don’t use these things because they’re shiny and new and disrupt, in whatever limited way, the familiar university teaching and assessment routines (for students and for staff). Those should be the bonus features of doing something that is primarily motivated by pedagogic and skills-based goals. Our embrace of digital technologies in teaching and learning needs to show an awareness of the uncertainty and insecurity that students may experience in the process, and to avoid a situation where students given assignments using digital technologies for the first time in their third or fourth year feel like guinea pigs – a conclusion that suggests this is a matter we need to think about not only in our own modules, but at programme level.