About sarahhorrigan

I work in education for a UK University. I'm interested in technology and its role in everyday life and learning... and am generally curious about most stuff! Always found with a camera!

Designing learning activities with social media

social media garden

Photo Credit: mkhmarketing via Compfight cc

Yesterday I delivered a staff development session called ‘Social Media for Learning and Teaching – Facebook and beyond’ as part of the Academic Practice Programme here at the university.  It was an enjoyable session and there was a lot of useful discussion from all of the participants.  One of the activities we did was to plan for where social media might fit across the academic calendar and I thought it might be useful to share that here.

5C Cycle of Social Media

5C Cycle of Social Media

Essentially, we were looking at the way in which social media could be used (retaining Course Resources (Blackboard) as the main learning hub) to enhance 5 key things, :

  • Community
  • Collaboration
  • Curation
  • Creativity
  • Careers

To help think about what activities might benefit from social media, I introduced a social media designer template which I developed based on Gilly Salmon’s e-tivity approach.  The social media designer template essentially gets colleagues to consider several key aspects – what is it that students are responding to, what is the purpose of what they’re doing (and how does it relate to learning outcomes) and what is the task they’ll be undertaking.  It then asks 6 further questions:

  1. When and how will you introduce it?
  2. Will is be assessed?
  3. Is it going to be open to the world or does it need to have access restricted?
  4. When will you brief students on copyright?
  5. What support will your students need?
  6. What support might you need?

I think the above additional elements are vital to think about when you’re designing social media into the curriculum in any way.  There are key skills of digital literacy which need to be thought about – for both staff and students – and being realistic about where it fits within a module, how you’re going to support and how comfortable you feel about providing that support needs to be considered as early as possible.  The benefits in terms of enhancing community, collaboration, creativity, curation and careers are there for the taking.

With a little bit of additional thought and design, there’s some rich learning just a click away!

Don’t just think question types… think questions… then types

Photo Credit: albertogp123 via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: albertogp123 via Compfight cc

In my role, I see many module leaders present themselves with assessment questions that have been written to fit the question types offered by Blackboard (Course Resources).  In my opinion this does not always lead to effective assessment as what we are presenting to students is a collection of questions that Blackboard can handle rather than an assessment.  For example I recently saw 3 questions that collectively was supposed to ask about the students’ knowledge of the statistical averages.  The question asked was ‘What is the mean / medium / mode of the following numbers?’.  This was followed by a range of numbers and the student could pick a number from a selection presented.

This had been written after whoever wrote it had seen the question types and rather than thinking ‘what do I need to assess?’ (i.e. the students’ ability to differentiate between the different statistical averages), just simply written some simple maths questions which could be guessed at.

When I spoke to the academic in question, they informed me that the intention was to assess the student’s ability to understand and differentiate the different averages and had thought that multi-choice was the way to do this.  They actually wanted a question that asked about the different types but thought that as multi choice would make it too easy as it could possibly give the answer, instead went for a maths question as they thought that some calculation would be needed.

Going back to the original learning outcome (the ability to differentiate between the different statistical averages), I asked what would be a successful learning outcome – the answer being ‘the median being the middle value when laid out in order, the mode being the most common number and the mean being the result of summing all the numbers divided by the number of test results’.

From this we can see that there are three terms that the student needs to learn, rather than being able to do the maths.  So, straight away, there is a requirement to ask what the terms mean rather than if a student can add and divide numbers.  Therefore we instead need to ask ‘What is meant by the mean / median / mode?’.

The problem, however, is that if we ask 200 students, we could get 200 different correct answers.  This problem could be reduced by asking this as a multi-choice but without some very well written distractors the answer could be given away.  So… why not turn the question around, i.e. ‘What is the middle value when laid out in order?’.  The answer would then be ‘the median’.  This could be posed as a question that required a typed in answer as it is a single word.  Allowances for spelling errors can be made within Blackboard and as all exam results are checked, anything that may manually require an upgrade can be done.

A final thought – if you do want to test a student’s ability to actually do the maths, then don’t go for multi-choice.  Ask it as a calculated numeric.  Don’t just think question types… think questions… then types!

If you’d like to know more about this, please get in touch with me – Ian Hallsworth

Event report: ALT-C 2013

Image of ALT-C 2013 opens at the University of Nottingham, 10th to 12th of September 2013

ALT-C 2013 opens at the University of Nottingham

ALT-C 2013 has just finished having taken place last week from the 10th to the 12th of September and this year it was held in our region at the University of Nottingham.  Three days of ‘no commute’ were blissful, it’s true, but actually the whole conference this year had a positive vibe about it which was great.  Especially given the difficult educational landscape of the last few years, to be in a constructive, positive, enthusiastic environment was very welcome.

So, some highlights…

Rachel Wenstone, VP for Higher Education, NUS

The over-riding themes of the conference seemed to me to be about partnerships, co-operation, openness and connection and a large slice of digital practice and these were exemplified by the refreshing opening keynote by Rachel Wenstone – VP for Higher Education from the NUS.  She offered a rejection of the ‘student as consumer’ concept which has been so prevalent since ‘Students at the Heart of the System‘ was published a couple of years ago.  Instead, Rachel talked about students as partners – not just ‘survey fillers’ but as real participants in shaping their use of learning technology… and involved in supporting the development of staff skills too (which sounded like a really interesting idea – and so far a missed opportunity).  Real student engagement, real academic partnerships and real defense against students as consumers.  Refreshing stuff!

Digital practice / practitioners

I also found the sessions on the digital practitioner useful.  It’s good to hear what other people are doing / thinking about the issues attached to digital literacy.  Liz Bennett from the University of Huddersfield offered several different ways of thinking about the digital practitioner and shared the thought that what drives uptake of new technology is not necessarily the skills and functional access to technology, but the willingness and attitude of those who may or may not engage with it.  She also offered the following questions for consideration:

  • How do we move the focus from the tools and skills to practices?
  • How do we cultivate application in situated practice?
  • How do we support risk taking?
  • How does the institution allow for radical form [sic] that are not constrained by the institution’s barriers?
  • How does the institution value attributes of the digital practitioner?

I definitely don’t have the answers to those, but I know that they feel like the right questions to be asking and engaging with.  She also made the point that in terms of developing as digital practitioners mimicry, vicarious learning / unintended exposure to others’ practices, ventriloquism (i.e. adopting new strategies and resources without necessarily buying in to them) and modelling were more effective than staff development courses.  So, an additional question emerges – How do we support a culture where the vicarious, the co-operative and connected informal learning and sharing of practice can take place and develop our digital practitioners?

Image of Lesley Gourlay and Martin Oliver offering definitions of digital literacies

Lesley Gourlay and Martin Oliver offering definitions of digital literacies

I also got a lot from Lesley Gourlay and Martin Oliver’s session ‘Why it’s not all about the learner’ – which, again, focused on digital literacy.  Rather than trying to report the detail of their presentation, I’ll instead link to Lesley’s presentation slides, which include the quotes and definitions which were so useful during their engaging session.  They’ve also got a blog about their project at http://diglitpga.jiscinvolve.org/wp/ which is worth taking a look at as well.  Some key points – really small issues (like logging off times / printing arrangements at universities) have big impacts on student learning space choice.  Control of space is important for learners.  The material campus is now saturated with digital mediation – we aren’t in an ‘optional extra’ culture where digital is concerned.  And finally (sorry for the disjointed points!), the meaning making aspect of digital literacy is important as well as the situated aspect.  Context and purpose – as ever – are vital to understanding of digital literacy.

Stephen Downes

The final highlight – though to be honest, there were others! – was Stephen Downes’ keynote entitled ‘What are Cultures of Learning‘.  He made some fascinating points about the change in MOOCs and what they seem to have morphed into from the origins of his first Massive Open Online Course.  One of which stuck out most of all – that it was a mistake to have called the ‘courses’ – and I think that taps into the heart of the problem of determining whether or not MOOCs are successful.  It’s a little like the oft quoted ‘Everybody is a genius.  But, if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it’ll spend its whole life believing that it is stupid’ (Albert Einstein) – if you judge success of MOOCs by completion rates then, as in the analogy used by Downes, it’s a little like judging the success of a newspaper by whether or not people have read every single word, front to back.  Success and effectiveness of newspapers is the impact on society.  Did / does the paper act as an agent of change?  Does the MOOC actually help make change and allow learners to use them as *they* need?

Stephen Downs juggling multiple communication channels at ALT-C

Stephen Downs juggling multiple communication channels at ALT-C

He said that the reason MOOCs ‘fail’ was because they’re courses and they’re trying to do something formal in an environment that is essentially informal.  Additionally, massive discussion forums don’t work for MOOCs because they are an alien space in which people cannot make human-scale connections.  You come across this over and over again – an observable ingredient of something that’s successful turned into a formula for success.  Yet, conveniently leaves out the people and informal connection which truly makes the difference.

I also loved his points about ‘Why the Web Won’:

  • big is beautiful – one network prevails – think Facebook
  • scruffy works: let the links fail to make it scale
  • democracy rules: open, free and universal
  • but we lost (for a time) conceptual and contextual – the semantic web

From being a ‘MOOC failure’ myself, I can feel a renewed interest in the thing that got me fascinated by technology enhanced learning in the first place – people learning together and being amazing together, discovering new potential and possibility, connection, cooperation and community – without ever having met.  Enthusiasm being shared is a powerful catalyst.  I would never have thought of an astronaut tweeting from space being a ‘MOOC’ – but Chris Hadfield’s incredible Pied Piper job of playing a tune that everyone wanted to follow, is a slice of learning and sharing which was freeform, scruffy and big.  And not a course in sight.  Fabulous exciting stuff!

Oh, and Stephen’s also a multi-communication-channel-juggling genius.  He actively used the back channel and drew on his experience of the conference to create a performance not just a presentation!  It might be a bit Marmite… with some people disliking the distraction element – but I thought he was fabulous.  If you’re going to be all about open and online… you have to live by it, don’t you! 

So, overall ALT-C 2013 in Nottingham  was well worthwhile.  20 years of ALT, celebrated with constructive, thought-provoking opportunities for meeting with colleagues and making new connections.  Even if the weather in the East Midlands let us down, ever so slightly!!