Social Media and Education (it’s not an oxymoron)

social media toolsMaybe I’ve been too influenced by a social media class I took recently but I’ve become determined to implement some of the Web 2.0/Social Media ideas to which I’ve been exposed. BTW, for those who think the title of this blog post does constitute an oxymoron, you might appreciate some better ones as contained in The Internet’s Best List of Oxymorons . But seriously folks . . .

Blackboard 9 has recognized the utility of including Web 2.0 ideas by providing easy ways of including tools such as Slideshare, You Tube, and others right in their newest version of the course management system. Take a few minutes to review the excellent tutorials about how to use some of these new Blackboard features by checking out the Academic Technology web page (thanks, Terry).

Another really useful resource for using these ideas is contained on the Online Universities.com web site, in the blog titled 100 Inspiring Ways to use Social Media in the Classroom. This is a compilation of some terrific ideas about how to incorporate social media – all the way from K-12 to Universities.

I imagine that more instructors than before will begin to use various Web 2.0 tools in their classes and I would love to hear from any of you who do it now or who anticipate doing it in the near future.

Web 2.0 Tools

As social networking and Web 2.0 continues to grow in popularity, some are asking: What is Web 2.0 anyway? From the Teaching Without Walls website:

Web 2.0 is a common term used to describe “version two” or the “second generation” of the internet. Web 2.0 is distinguished from web 1.0 in one very simply [sic] way: content may be easily created by users who are no longer required to be technical experts. Thus, web 2.0 is exceptionally promising and liberating for educators who too frequently feel trapped or overwhelmed by the speed of technology. Further, web 2.0 tools cultivate participatory, active learning activities and/or environments for students, facilitating exciting new ways to assess learning and engage students.

In this blog post I want to describe one Web 2.0 tool that, at first, I dismissed as frivolous. I may still come around to that opinion but, for now, I’m being more open-minded about it as several colleagues see a lot of value in the tool. The tool is Wordle which is described as a tool that automatically generates a word cloud from a word list you provide. Wordle has the attraction of being the simplest tool to use you could imagine. Just enter words and Wordle generates the word cloud and shows you which words were used most frequently. The more a particular word or term is used, the larger it appears in the word cloud. The interpretation is up to you. This has some potentially interesting and educational uses. Maybe. One way I used Wordle was to capture all the student posts in a Blackboard Discussion Board Forum as you can see in the graphic below. If there is interest, I can detail how I did this in another post.

Discussion Board Posts

The word cloud of student posts on the subject of discipline brought up some intriguing discussion connections that I could use to get students engaged with the topic. For example,while the word “parents” was the largest word in the Wordle,implying it was the word most often used in the student posts, the word “mother” was much larger than “dad.” This could lead to a consideration of the relative influence of mother and father in the students’ discipline histories. Other word comparisons could also lead into deeper discussions such as the word “children” being much larger than “adolescents” – is it true for most that more discipline is required when we’re younger? But aren’t we more confrontational with parents as teens? And what do we make of the fact that spanking, spanked, and punishment were fairly large and hence more frequently mentioned? And I couldn’t help feeling somewhat reassured that words like hurt, slapped, belt and so on were not evident.

So, while Wordle is not for everyone, it may strike some as an engaging way to get students interested in examining an issue or topic

Twitter Revisited

A blog post back in January was about the use of Twitter in academia. Just recently I came across a Faculty Focus survey, Twitter in Higher Education 2010: Usage Habits and Trends of Today’s College Faculty, which reported on the current use of Twitter in higher education.

This report is informative and worth reading as it provides a background and context for each of the survey questions and, particularly helpful, provides the reasons the respondents gave for their responses. The survey found that more higher education professionals are using Twitter compared with last year.

From the report: “Of those who currently use Twitter, the most common activities include to share information with peers and as a real-time learning source.” While some do use Twitter in the classroom or to communicate with students, these are less popular activities – although this use has seen an increase from 2009 to 2010. Another finding was that 57% of those who use Twitter now plan to increase their use in the coming academic year. The report also sheds light on why many educators do not use Twitter; currently some 35% of those who responded to the survey use Twitter in some capacity and 65% do not.

Any educator contemplating using Twitter will find this report on Twitter use in education valuable reading.

The Course Syllabus

hammockMost full-time faculty, at Palomar College anyway, no longer teach summer school classes. Now I’m not suggesting that they are spending the summer resting comfortably in a hammock – with a tropical drink close by – but it’s probably safe to say that most are not thinking of their fall semester syllabus right now!

With fall semester about two months away, though, now may be a good time to reflect on changing our syllabus for next semester. This post doesn’t really feature technology or relate to online education, instead, this time I want to comment on two very different approaches to structuring a course syllabus. While each approach was highly successful, according the the respective authors, the approaches differ in tone and emphasis. I’ll attempt a brief description of each and list the links to the resource for anyone interested in following up.

In A Behavior Contract That Made A Difference, Lori Norin and Tom Walton describe their list of behavioral expectations that they ask students to read carefully and then sign. Norin and Walton reported that ” . . . the contract positively impacted retention and behavior in the classroom as observed by us and noted by our dean.” Students, too, reacted positively,because the contract spelled out the rules of the class as well as consequences for not following the rules. The authors state that colleagues of theirs began using similar contracts and have also reported better retention and classroom behavior as a result. What is this “contract?”

The contract Norin and Walton distribute to their students consists of some 21 rules or expectations that the professors have regarding student behavior. The contract reported in their report was a departmental one and individual instructors have the right to revise the departmental one (item 20: “I understand that each professor may add additional rules in writing to this departmental document.”). Rule 17 specifies that cell phones must be turned off or turned to vibrate and the professor may enforce a consequence for ringing or texting during class. Rule 18 prohibits iPods or MP3 players in class. Other rules cover attendance,assignments, electronic communications, and plagiarism. While expectations for student behavior were explicitly identified, I did not see any comparable statement regarding the instructor’s behavior. Maybe in another document? If not, I think students could justifiably request a similar statement of expectations regarding the professor’s behavior for the class.

The second approach as detailed in Making A Syllabus More Than A Contract by Roxanne Cullen was very different. Cullen’s motivation for revising her syllabus was “to create a more learner-centered academic experience.” In this approach the syllabus became a document with three main categories and several subcategories. The first main category, Community, “includes subcategories that relate to the accessibility of the teacher, the presence of learning rationale, and evidence of collaboration.” The second category is labeled Power and Control and “the subcategories focus on teacher and student roles; use of outside resources, and the general focus of the syllabus . . .” The intent of this part of the syllabus is to focus on student learning outcomes. Here some accommodation to students is evident: for example, opportunities may exist to negotiate “policies, procedures, assignment choice, etc.” The third category Evaluation and Assessment, “subcategories examine the use of grades, the feedback mechanisms employed, types of evaluation, learning outcomes, and opportunities for revising or redoing assignments.”

The tone and emphasis of these two different approaches to communicating expectations to students couldn’t be more different. The first is a tough love approach – we know what works best, here are the rules, follow them and you’ll be successful – that provides clear, precise guidelines for behavior and asks students to sign a behavior contract. The second is far more democratic and collaborative. At one point Cullen states that she wanted her guidelines to “look less like arbitrary laws set down by the teacher and more as though they served enhanced learning.” Significantly, Cullen states that “The most significant change I made was in the area of power and control. Instead of establishing an attendance policy, class participation rules, or penalties for late work, I indicated that all of these would be negotiated by the class.” Would this approach encourage more student ownership and buy-in and, therefore, more engagement and commitment? Or would it encourage an attempt by students to make the class as easy as possible?

Well there we have it – two very different attempts to create a classroom conducive to student learning and higher retention. Both are reported to work well. Which approach seems more sensible to you? Or can we combine the best of both approaches?

Wikipedia in College: A Bad Idea?

I have had recurring discussions with my colleagues regarding our students’ use of Wikipedia in their writing projects. Some of my colleagues, whose opinions I respect a great deal, categorically forbid their students from using Wikipedia in research-based writing projects. Others will allow some use of Wikipedia references provided those are not the majority of references cited by the students. Still other professors take the position that Wikipedia articles are more likely to be accurate than other encyclopedias because of the open and ongoing nature of the way content in Wikipedia is edited, so, to the extent that encyclopedias are ok, Wikipedia is probably the best choice.

With these thoughts in mind, I was particularly interested to read an interesting report by John Orlando, Ph.D. titled “Wikipedia in the Classroom: Tips for Effective Use”. Dr. Orlando begins his article by stating: “Most academics consider Wikipedia the enemy and so forbid their students from using Wikipedia for research. But here’s a secret that they don’t want you to know—we all use Wikipedia, including those academics.” I think he’s probably right that most of us in academia do use Wikipedia – at least occasionally. And why not? After all, Wikipedia is constantly being scrutinized by knowledgeable people, many in academia, who are eager to ferret out any inaccuracies.

In a widely publicized report,the well respected journal Nature compared Wikipedia to the Encyclopedia Britannica online and found that “In the end,the journal [Nature] found just eight serious errors, such as general misunderstandings of vital concepts, in the articles. Of those, four came from each site. They did, however, discover a series of factual errors, omissions or misleading statements. All told, Wikipedia had 162 such problems, while Britannica had 123.” Not surprisingly, Encyclopedia Britannica objected to the results and Nature responded by saying they stood by their results and would not print a retraction.

The part of Orlando’s article that was of most interest to me was his report of how Professor Beasley-Murray used Wikipedia with his class. Professor Beasley-Murray challenged his students to create articles that would be accepted by Wikipedia and – this was a key part of the challenge – students whose articles earned a Wikipedia rating of “Good Article” would receive an A in the course and any student whose article received a Wikipedia rating of “Featured Article” would receive an A+. This was a pretty high bar as, according to Wikipedia, 1 in 359 articles reach “Good Article” status, as judged by impartial reviewers and only 1 in 1150 is given the “Featured Article” designation. The students in Beasley-Murray’s class were clearly engaged by the project as, Orlando reports, “The students, who worked in groups of two or three, produced three Featured Articles and eight Good Articles, an exceptional result given how few articles achieve these levels.”

Also, with respect to building student interest and engagement by employing Wikipedia, Orlando describes other Wikipedia projects: “One interesting site is Wikiversity, which provides a space for hosting courses or other content. An instructor can build a course page with syllabi, lesson plans, and other material for the students to access whenever they need it. That page can also be linked to other educational material such as videos.

Best yet, students can be given editing access to the page to add their own material. Groups can be assigned to add material to the course, such as resources for further exploration of the topics. Another option is to have the students build self-tests on the material using free web-based quiz functions for future students. This will enlist the students in an ongoing project of developing knowledge that outlives their particular class and is passed on to future generations of students.”

Wikipedia in the classroom – maybe not for everybody, but maybe an idea worth considering. What do you think?

Sources
Wikipedia in the Classroom: Tips for Effective Use
Researching With Wikipedia
Nature responds to Britannica’s claim of bias

Assessing Your Online Class

Spring semester 2010 has just concluded and it’s way too early to begin planning for summer school! Or, maybe it’s not too early. In this blog post I want to share an interesting list of tips for doing an online class the right way. This list of tips or suggestions was developed at Humboldt State University and is titled
A Checklist for Facilitating Online Courses.”

The checklist identifies four important roles for an online instructor: managerial, pedagogical, social, and technical. For each of those roles the checklist lists specific tasks. In addition, the checklist groups the specific tasks by the time in the semester in which they should be done. For example, in the Before The Class Begins time period, a list of managerial, pedagogical, social, and technical tasks that should be considered before the class starts are presented. Other tasks in each category are associated with During The First Week, Throughout The Course,and During The Final Week.

A major value of this “best practices” guideline is that it helps us to think through the process of delivering a robust,well thought-out online class. If you take the time to go through the document you will undoubtedly get some good ideas about things to include in your online class. And even if you decide not to use many of the ideas in this guideline, just reading through them will almost certainly stimulate you to think of other things to do in your online class.

What are some of your “best practices” tips – one or two things you’ve found to be very successful in your online class?