Higher Ed’s Digital Skills Gap: Faculty & Students

railway-1758208_1920“Digital technology is an ally for higher education” —Professor Mary McAleese, Teaching and Learning in Irish Higher Education (2015)

Most educators today possess the digital skills needed to function in academic life. There’s the basics—managing email, using the Learning Management System (LMS), uploading papers to plagiarism checkers among others. Yet some faculty still struggle with basic LMS functions (Straumsheim, Jaschik & Lederman, 2015). Then there’s the ever-expanding array of apps, online platforms, collaborative digital tools to consider and the latest trend—messaging platforms that are replacing traditional methods of communication like email and face-to-face meetings. The skill level that’s required of faculty to keep current with the changes in technology is expanding. There’s a gap between existing skills and what’s needed; there’s a pressing need for educators to learn how to harness the best of digital technology in order to remain relevant, improve leaning outcomes for students and to manage their teaching practice efficiently and effectively. But it’s not just faculty lacking digital skills.

The Student Skills Gap
Intuitively we think it’s faculty over students who need the most support for expanding their digital capacity. It’s tempting to say so when students appear more tech savvy than us. Though students may have mastered social media quite well they lack the breadth and depth of skills to thrive in a global economy where there’s an abundance of knowledge and digitization is transforming business and social institutions. A survey by the Association of American Colleges and University lays bare skills students lack. Employers and college students surveyed on their perceptions of how prepared college graduates were for the workplace reveal that students lack skills in: i) locating, organizing and evaluating information, ii) staying current on technologies and iii) staying current on global events; a significant shortfall (chart below).

survey data from report Falling Short? College Learning and Career Success
Chart from “Falling Short? College Learning and Career Success” by Hart Research, 2015

The Skills Needed
What then is the answer? I suggest the skills gaps need to be addressed at the institutional level for students and educators. The goal should be for students and faculty to thrive in a digital and social economy. The starting point for closing the gap is articulating what faculty and students should be able to do;  what digital skills they need to thrive.

Below are lists of digital skills for both students and faculty. They are designed as starting points; the goal is to get institutions thinking about how to raise the skill level of their students and faculty. The lists are inspired from a variety of sources: i) OECD’s Ministerial Declaration on the Digital Economy; a set of recommendations established by the group of 41 countries to support the recent (and significant shift) to a digital economy and a handful of reports surveying faculty digital skill level (Straumsheim et al. 2015, Wise & Meyer, 2016). 

Digital Skills Required of Students in order to:

  • Locate, curate and organize digital information for academic, personal and/or professional use
  • Create digital web content, websites, blogs, artifacts etc. to communicate concepts and messages effectively
  • Discern credible news from digital sources to keep current on scientific, business and political events from the global to community level
  • Leverage employment opportunities and explore career paths across digital platforms
  • Participate in professional development and lifelong learning using online platforms and digital applications
  • Contribute to and engage in community and national events, causes and initiatives
  • Protect digital identify and privacy, determine how personal data is used and protect accordingly
  • Create and participate in a personal learning network leveraging digital platforms

Digital Skills Required of Faculty/Teachers in order to:

  • Locate, curate and organize digital information for academic, personal and/or professional capacities
  • Leverage digital tools and online platforms following sound pedagogically principles to support student learning
  • Locate and implement open education resources to support student learning
  • Use digital tools, platforms and institution’s learning management system (LMS) to support efficient and effective teaching activities
  • Use LMS and other platform data to identify students requiring additional services and learning support (services provided by institution or faculty)
  • Participate in professional development and lifelong learning using online platforms and digital applications
  • Create and participate in a personal learning network leveraging digital platforms

A Digital Framework In Action
As mentioned, the aim of this post is to get institutions thinking about creating their own framework and strategy for building the digital capacity of faculty and students. Many are already well on their way. A group of universities in Ireland for example have built a digital skills framework, All Aboard, an initiative funded by Ireland’s National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching & Learning in partnership with a handful of universities. The goal of the program “to increase digital capacity, not only of students but teachers and staff, by empowering students and their educators to flourish in digital world”.  They’ve created an interactive map modeled after a metro map that sorts the competencies of major skill sets into branches, where branches are like routes on a subway. For example there’s Tools and Technologies skill area (grey), Teach and Learn, (blue) and Identity and Well being (black). Along the route of each branch, are sub-sets of skills that support each skill area.

map_no_topics-1024x724This type of visual map is a good tool; it makes sense of the breadth and depth of skills needed for digital proficiency. It’s a good starting point for the novice outlining the skill paths, but it still serves as a tool for planning and organizing how to advance the experienced person’s skills, or for developing a framework for professional development.

Closing
Closing the digital skill gap for faculty and students appears a daunting task—daunting, but not impossible. The starting point is determining the skills needed then creating a plan to tackle each, ideally within a framework as the All Aboard initiative did. Easier said than done, but it’s critical for supporting faculty and college graduates so both groups can thrive in a digital world.

References

Need-to-Know News: A Radically Different Transcript in Higher Ed & LinkedIn Launches Personalized Learning Platform

light-bulb-978882_1280The Radical Transcript
For its Spring graduating class, Elon University of North Carolina is launching a radically different student transcript—the Visual Experiential Transcript or Visual EXP.  It’s a significant departure from the traditional. This document aims to provide a holistic snapshot of a student’s undergraduate learning, on and off campus extracurricular activities and leadership experience. All are encapsulated into five domains: internships, research, leadership, service and global education (page 2), in addition to a student’s course work (page 1). So what’s so radical? Student grades aren’t the focus, nor are credit hours.

Elon University’s Two-Page, Visual EXP Transcript

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Screenshots (above and below) Elon University’s ‘Visual Experiential Transcript’ launched to its graduating Class of 2016. Transcript development initiative funded by the Lumina Foundation.

screen-shot-2016-10-03-at-2-18-23-pmElon University’s revision to the traditional transcript is an exercise other higher education institutions may want to consider in the near future. Institutions need to show value of the undergraduate experience; value over and above courses completed and grades earned. This new transcript aligns with what many scholars are calling for in higher education—innovation and transformation. This was the message at the recent ‘International Seminar on Innovation in Higher Education’ held last month. Panelists discussed how higher education institutions need to transform and innovate their traditional practices. One example of transformation is demonstrating the value of an undergraduate education; value not only in terms of value to employers, but the contributions undergraduates can make to their field and to society.

Talking about the fact that it’s not that we are preparing students for a career, but we are adding value to their lives, we are adding to society, we are adding to the corporate sector. We need the metrics at hand, showing the real contribution of higher education to society — International Seminar on Innovation in Higher Education (2016)

Elon’s transcript is an excellent example of transforming traditional practices in academe. Conventional transcripts need an overhaul given the narrow emphasis—grades and credit hours. Stanford University’s registrar went on record last year stating the transcript is “a record of everything the student has forgotten” (Mangan, 2015). Another reason for a revamp is to highlight students’ value to potential employers. Employers want to know more than a student’s GPA. They are increasingly interested in what a student can do, what knowledge and skills a student developed while working through his or her undergraduate education (Davidson, 2016). It’s time for a transcript overhaul and Elon University is a good example of how an institution aligned its transcripts with their core values. Other schools can do the same.

Further Reading:

NEW: Personalized Learning on LinkedIn

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Screenshot of LinkedIn’s new Learning Lab interface

Personalized and lifelong learning is an expanding market as evidenced by the rise of MOOCs, offerings of nano degrees, micro masters, and alternative credentials. LinkedIn is getting in the game with a new platform Learning Lab, launched last week. Last year LinkedIn purchased Lynda.com for $1.5 billion (Kosoff, 2015); it’s now the foundation for LinkedIn’s new platform. It consists of a suite of learning videos on a variety of topics, from web development, to digital marketing to leadership. But LinkedIn Learning is adding another layer to the 9000+ videos. It’s developing algorithms with the data they’ve acquired from the millions of LinkedIn members to personalize learning for premium subscribers.

LinkedIn Learning creates personalized recommendations, so learners can efficiently discover which courses are most relevant to their goals or job function. Organizations can use LinkedIn insights to customize multi-course Learning Paths to meet their specific needs. We also provide robust analytics and reporting to help you measure learning effectiveness. – LinkedIn, The Learning Blog (2016)

LinkedIn plans to expand its focus beyond individual subscribers and reach the corporate sector. Businesses will be able to buy subscriptions for employees and customize ‘Learning Paths’—multi course bundle courses targeting a specific skill set. Human resource managers will be able to use LinkedIn’s analytics tools to monitor employees progress, recommend learning paths, as well as look at which courses their employees are engaging with.

With Learning Lab, LinkedIn is going beyond it’s role as a professional networking site to a skill and career development platform. Sound familiar?  Coursera recently launched ‘Coursera for Business‘ , as did Udacity, with Udacity for Business and edX with Professional Certificates. MOOC providers are already tapping into the employee development market with skill specific, just-in-time learning that is available anytime, anywhere. This type of skill development—personalized learning that is accessible and inexpensive is essential for developing skills and preparing a workforce for economies moving towards automation and sectors that are focused on technology and energy. LinkedIn’s new Learning platform might be part of the solution to meet the challenges of delivering just-in-time learning for focused skill development to meet the needs of a new workforce.

Further Reading:

Image credit: Light bulb, by geralt on Pixabay

Need-to-Know MOOC News: New Business Model for Corporate Learning, Human Graders and Self-Paced Formats

cropped-mooc-banner1

1. MOOCs Scale Up with New Model
The search for a business model may soon be over for major MOOC players such as Coursera and Udacity. Udacity was the first to create partnerships between (mostly tech) companies to cover some of their course development costs. They’ve since moved to offering micro-credentials where students pay for Nanodegrees—focused skill training with a certificate-type credential upon successful completion. Students can also opt to pay even more for personalized services with Nanodegree Plus which includes career support and mock interviews. Coursera has something similar, minus the personalized services, with its ‘Specializations‘. But recently Coursera made another significant move—targeting the corporate sector. Smart. The learning and development market in the United States is vast; according to the 2015 Training Report there was a 14.2% increase in corporate training expenditures bringing the total budget for US companies to 17.6 billion. That’s big. Coursera is aiming to get part of the pie and fill the employee learning gap with “Coursera for Business”.

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Screenshot of “Coursera for Business” home page at coursera.org/enterprise

Today, we are taking yet another important step in our effort to expand the Coursera learner community. I am excited to announce Coursera for Business, our enterprise platform for workforce development at scale. We see Coursera for Business as a natural extension of our vision, and as a powerful way to help leading companies around the world address the rapidly evolving training and development needs of their employees. (Levine, 2016)

Insight:  Given the size of the corporate employee learning and development market and the need for Coursera to generate revenue, it’s a logical move. More so given a recent study by McKinsey which suggested that companies are struggling to deliver relevant, just-in-time skill-training that fits in with the drive for productivity and need for employee-directed learning. Over 40% of companies surveyed indicated their current capabilities of meeting employee skill gaps are ineffective (Bensen-Armer et al). Coursera is on to something. MOOCs are not ‘free’ to produce or sustain;  partnering with corporations is a win-win for everyone.

2. MOOCs with Human Graders
When students sign up for the edX MOOC, “Introduction to Philosophy: God, Knowledge and Consciousness”, they’ll have the option to have their essays graded by a real person. This was unheard of when MOOCs first came on higher education’s radar in 2012. MOOC critics took issue with the automated and peer-review grading process—this undermined the learning process, comprised student learning according to the most vocal critics. This Fall MIT is experimenting with a new model for MOOCs with this particular course where essays are graded by a graduate assistant of MIT.

….the model is still a work in progress, and that details may change. This time around, MIT is paying one of its philosophy graduate student to serve as a course facilitator. The facilitator will effectively run the MOOC, moderating the discussion forum and grading papers. Hare declined to say how much the facilitator is paid, but added that it is a flat fee and more than what an adjunct instructor is paid to teach a residential course at MIT. (Straumsheim, 2016)

The cost for this MOOC that includes a Verified Certificate and personalized grading is $300, about $200 more than a Verified Certificate for other MOOCs in the same category (Philosophy & Ethics).

Insight: This story is yet another example how MOOCs are bringing awareness to online education, yet this recent development highlights how the MOOC label is misleading and needs to change. Lines are blurring between the many versions of online courses:  1. open and free courses, 2. online courses with a cost and no-credit (as the one in this article), 3. online courses for credit with a fee, and 4. online courses for a fee with conditional credit  (students need to apply to institution to receive MOOC credit upon completion). Students need to be clear on the conditions when signing up for an online course, just as institutions need to be clear on what they are offering.

3. Self-Paced MOOCs on the Rise
September is a big month for MOOCs and September 2016 is shaping up to be the biggest yet; at least since 2013 according to Class Central (Shah, 2016). But the big shift in MOOCs is the self-paced format which allows students to participate in MOOCs on-demand. Yet something is lost—the synergy of students working through the concepts at the same time (synchronous format) leading to discussion forums that fall flat.

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Table (above) from “MOOCs no longer massive, still attract millions” (Shah, 2016)

Coursera has a workaround though, offering MOOCs within a cohort system, with courses that start back-to-back (see screenshot below) which allows students to transfer into the next class keeping their course-work intact.

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Screenshot showing Courera’s new MOOC format that offers cohort-MOOCs more frequently meeting students’ needs for self-paced format

Closing Thoughts
The MOOC concept is transforming online education, yet the new formats are a far cry from the MOOC of 2012 which were Massive Open Online Courses.

References

 

 

 

“The End of College” is Not Really the END, but The Beginning

“Enrollment in the University of Everywhere will be lifelong, a fundamental aspect of modern living”  — “The End of College”

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The End of College by Kevin Carey, 2015, Riverhead Books

The End of College: Creating the future of Learning and the University of Everywhere is not a doomsday book despite the key words in the title “The END”. A more apt title might be “The End of Traditional College”. Its message is how traditional college, with its institution and research-centric paradigm has less to do with student learning and more to do with an admissions process that is out-of-control, institutions that are far-removed from making student learning a priority, and an out-of-date accreditation system focused on the credit-hour. This will change in the next generation. Carey describes how higher education is, and will continue its transformation to the University of Everywhere, driven by student demand and technology innovations.

There is a sliver of doom in Carey’s writing; he warns that institutions that view education technology as a fad, another trend to be waited out, will come to an end. Colleges that remain unchanged today will disappear tomorrow  (pg. 244). Carey’s book echoes the message in Abelard to Apple: The Fate of American Colleges by Richard DeMillo published in the pre-MOOC era (2011). Abelard to Apple is more dire, with an explicit warning for colleges and universities of the ‘middle’ (second tier institutions). According to Demillo the majority of higher education institutions are headed for irrelevance and marginalization unless they take action. Demillo like Carey, wrote that technology is the driver of change, the vehicle for education transformation. Demillo went further, describing how the complexity of the higher education system serves as the most significant barrier to innovation and change. Those that don’t (or won’t) change are destined for demise with one exception—the universities in the ‘ivy league’.  Demillo and Carey are in agreement on this point, that the elite schools will be immune, insulated by power and money.

Carey’s book received sharp criticism. Some critics called Carey’s University of Everywhere a utopia of higher education with its education promises of personalized learning, rigorous coursework where students won’t be able  to ‘coast’, where technology makes education better, not easier (pg. 248). Carey’s University of Everywhere also dismantles the idea of public institutions as the fulcrum of higher education (in United States) by suggesting they serve a different purpose: for research—yes, places for life-long learning experiences and collaboration—also yes, but undergraduate education taught primarily by distracted faculty engaging in research—no.

There is not now and there never will be a substitute for the deliberate practice necessary to gain real expertise. The higher-learning organizations of the future will give students the right kids of hard work to do, and they will recognize that work by awarding credible evidence of accomplishment. But they won’t do students’ work for them. What parents can do is to hep their children build the intellectual and emotional tools they will need for the demanding and rewarding tasks. (pg 248)

Matt Reed, one of the book’s critics, suggests in a blog post at Inside Higher Ed that the mission of public university will be comprised with Carey’s suggested model, to the detriment of society. Audrey Watters agrees, stating in “Techno Fantasies” that Carey’s model is deeply flawed, citing the rise of private entities such as MOOC provider Coursera and Udacity as evidence that online education is flawed and that research supporting the effectiveness of technology-driven learning is “paltry” at best.

But the critics miss Carey’s main point. He is not saying MOOCs will replace higher education or that public universities will be obsolete. Nor is he saying technology is the answer to higher education’s woes. He is saying that there will be a shift in the higher education model in the next generation, that brick and mortar institutions will play a different role and information technology is an important part of achieving education goals, but that the system associated with higher education involving accreditation, delivery, admissions, research, access, and cost associated with education, will change because of technology. Just like in any other industry, like medicine or manufacturing, where technology brings about transformation that leads to improvements in quality and lowered costs.

Carey does discuss MOOCs, in fact he describes his experience taking a MOOC on the edX platform. He also discusses Minerva, a new university based on the elite education-model without walls, and new models of accreditation based on digital learning identities. Carey shares these narratives with readers to emphasize the alternatives to a model of education that has changed little over decades, with few improvements in aspects of quality and accessibility. That’s Carey’s main point—the shift to a University of Everywhere will provide more access to education, improve quality and lower costs because of advancements in technology, and a shift in culture, our values and expectations.

The idea of “admission” to college will become an anachronism, because the University of Everywhere will be open to everyone. It won’t in fact, be single place or institution at all. The next generation of students will not waste their teenage years jostling of spot in a tiny number of elitist schools. Their educational experience will come from dozens of organizations, each specializing in different aspects of human learning. (pg 5)

Conclusion
Educators and parents who are eager to learn about the future and possibilities of higher education will find The End of College: Creating the future of Learning and the University of Everywhere insightful and instructive. The book is even more applicable to those who want to be part of the change for the next generation of learning, the beginning of a new paradigm of learning that literally is everywhere.

Next-Generation of Open Education Resources (OER) on User-Friendly, Approachable Platforms

iStock_box7XSmallOpen Education Resources (OER) have been around for some time yet few educators  make use of the thousands of free resources available online, mainly due to barriers that include searchability and quality concerns. This is about to change. The next generation of OER will be on platforms that are user-friendly, intuitive and make finding and sharing Open Education Resources less time-consuming and more approachable.

Open education resources is the term for digitized materials (images, lesson plans, videos, interactive learning objects, articles, even textbooks) that are offered freely and openly to educators, students and self-learners to use and re-use for teaching, learning and research (Hylen, 2006).

Two new platforms, Amazon Inspire and Smithsonian’s Learning Lab, are what I call the ‘next-generation of OER’; they have the potential to overcome the barriers associated with OER and will transform how educators teach. The platforms are the catalyst needed to bring OER mainstream—not only to reduce costs associated with learning tools but to contribute to a different mindset—a mindset where educators seek out digital resources as tools to improve learning experiences and view OER as an opportunity to expand their professional development (Orr, Rimini & van Damme, 2015).

Amazon Inspire to Launch this Fall
Amazon.com has revolutionized how we shop with its online marketplace and is bringing the technology to education with a new platform—Amazon Inspire. Inspire is in beta, the testing phase, and is designed for educators to share and find OER. It allows educators to upload, download, review lesson plans, worksheets, lesson resources, and other materials via a platform that functions similarly to Amazon.com. It’s currently focused on K-12 education, though my guess is that higher education won’t be far behind; Matt Reed from Inside Higher Ed concurs in a recent article “Amazon OER?” (Reed, 2012).

I’m optimistic about Amazon’s Inspire. When examining barriers to OER educators cite most often, it appears that Amazon’s  Inspire’s features address most. Key barriers include i) timethe time needed to find appropriate resources, ii) technical skills,  not only for accessing OER but contributing to the OER community, iii) concern with quality, and iv) legal concerns; uncertainty about usage rights, educators unfamiliarity with creative commons licenses for instance (Hylen 2006, Mtebe & Rasimo, 2014). Granted, there are other barriers such as institutional policies that need to be addressed for educators to integrate OER successfully, yet overcoming technical barriers will move OER forward (Hodgkinson-Williams, 2010).

Amazon-Inspire-For-Education

Developed in support of the company’s commitment to making digital classrooms a reality, Amazon Inspire, with its rich features such as search, discovery and peer reviews, will provide educators—regardless of funding or location—access to upload and share free digital teaching resources. —Business Wire, June 27, 2016

Platforms with high visibility and robust features including how-to resources will contribute to educators viewing OER as approachable and accessible. Amazon Inspire brings awareness to OER with its high-profile brand. Most educators are likely familiar with Amazon and how it works. Amazon Inspire’s features include:

  • smart-search: enables teachers to explore resources by grade level, state standard or from a particular district
  • simple upload: easy-to-use and intuitive upload interface where educators can drag and drop files and add descriptions and comments
  • ratings feature  [this is especially significant]: It works as an open peer review where users rate a resource and add comments. This feature addresses quality concerns and fulfills a recommendation made by scholars working on OER at the Centre for Education Research and Development at OECD (Hylen, 2006).

There are criticisms from the education community about Amazon Inspire. One is that the format of a ‘marketplace’ associated with a commercial platform such as Amazon, is a detriment to OER. One comment is that a platform that is more conducive to a place where resources can ‘live’ and be adapted, similar to a platform Github for OER for instance, is more appropriate. I respectfully disagree. Moving OER forward needs platforms that are user-friendly with features that educators are familiar with and don’t require an inordinate time to learn. The next-generation of OER platforms, such as Amazon Inspire do just that.

Smithsonian Learning Lab
Another next-generation OER platform is Smithsonian’s Learning Lab. After several years of testing and revising with input from teachers and other educators, Smithsonian launched its new and improved Learning Lab. The platform appears to go even further than Amazon Inspire with features that allow teachers to create and share with students customized assignments, such as quizzes, using curated resources. Educators can add their own resources to their personal profile, and access Learning Lab’s rich bank of resources that are organized into four categories (image, video, text or learning resource). Resources are drawn from Smithsonian’s 19 museums, and nine research centers.

The platform, though geared to K-12 educators, is open to anyone interested in accessing the museum’s resources.  There are resources applicable to higher education (though the search feature is an issue — details below), and Learning Lab is working with a college in Maryland to explore how faculty can use the platform so they can expand its reach and engage higher education specifically.

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Home page of Smithsonian Learning Lab at learninglab.si.edu

Learning Lab invested considerable effort in making the platform approachable based on feedback received from teachers during the testing phase. The result is the tag line “Discover, Create and Share”.  A smart move. Not only for the ‘create’ aspect as mentioned, but teachers can ‘share’ using a customized link, collections or assignments with students or others via email or on social media.

There are several resources that provide users with how-to help; directions and examples in form of short videos and dedicated a help section for ‘getting started’. I do recommend signing up for an account and then learning by experimenting—trying out the various features, it’s fairly intuitive.

All good; however the down side is the search function. Searches generate resources that aren’t always applicable to the search term;  for example when searching for ‘teaching with technology’ results include all resources that have the words ‘teaching’ and/or ‘technology’ associated with given resources, usually words that are embedded in its description. For example my search revealed the video below on ‘molecular astrophysics’ as the word ‘teaching’ is in the description. However, the search did produce several solid, applicable resources.

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Screenshot of one of the resources resulting from search ‘teaching with technology’ on Smithsonian Learning Lab. The search function is still a challenge since the categories and descriptions of the resources weren’t written with the intent they would ever  be ‘open’

According to the director of the Learning Lab, they are trying determine methods to improve the search function for users—ideas include  user-generated tagging capabilities and machine image analysis.

Closing
I’m optimistic about the future of OER with the next-generation platforms. Not only because of the opportunity to reduce costs associated with learning tools, but for the effect on the mindset of teaching and learning. Educators can be empowered by OER, not only by accessing unique resources from platforms that make is straightforward, but by creating and contributing to the their own development, their students learning, and the education community.

OER Resources for Educators

References

How & Why to Use Social Media to Create Meaningful Learning Assignments

I recently completed an online workshop through Online Learning Consortium (OLC) “Exploring Hashtags for Learning”.  We learned how to use hashtags, but also strategies to incorporate social media into activities and assignments to engage and involve students in meaningful learning. Following is the assignment I developed  (using Instagram) as part of the workshop, but first I discuss the rationale to answer ‘why’—why use social media in learning activities first place? 

Students Learning

WHY Use Social Media to Support Learning
The next phase in course design, for online and face-to-face, will involve developing methods that integrate tools (e.g. smart phones) and applications (e.g. Twitter or other social media platforms) that students use daily, if not hourly. It’s inevitable if we want to make learning relevant, practical and effective. Not only is learning moving towards a student-centered model but students are now expecting to be contributors to their learning—to be involved in their education by contributing to course content.

Yet I want to emphasize that using social media does not mean that learning is not rigorous. Going forward educators will need to determine how to leverage digital delivery platforms creatively to facilitate learning of course concepts and to foster critical thinking among students of all ages. Research suggests that student involvement leads to higher levels of learning and contributes to outcomes that include persistence, satisfaction, and academic achievement (Astin, 1985; Kruase, 2005). The research was published well before Facebook and Twitter, yet social media by the behaviours it generates, lends itself to involving students in learning when used as a tool, not as technology that teaches.

Instagram_Icon_LargeCourse Assignment
For the workshop assignment in “Exploring Hashtags for Learning” I chose Instagram— mainly because I’ve little familiarity with Instagram in an education context and wanted to determine if it could be applied to foster learning. Instagram is a social media platform where users share images, typically their own pictures taken with their phone, through an Instagram app. Pew research shows that Instagram is the third most popular social media site after Facebook and Twitter, though Instagram has been growing exponentially.

Assignment Details: “Hashtags for Learning” Workshop
Below are the (summarized) directions for the workshop assignment:

“Design a specific example of activity or activities that utilize a hashtag with the purpose to engage your students…Include the following information: What is your learning objective? How does it include engagement? How will it be assessed?”

Though I don’t teach a course currently, I work with faculty to help develop active learning activities designed to engage students, and to ensure it aligns closely with one or more course learning objectives.  To that end, I selected an art history course, which is similar to a course I worked on with a professor last year. Instagram lends itself well to an assignment where pictures can communicate concepts, and the comment feature in Instagram allows students to articulate which concepts are featured in their image and how.

HOW: “Hashtags for Learning” Assignment
Developed for Undergraduate Online Course “ARC112: Art History Survey II”.

Following is the background information on the course, its description, the learning objective the assignment is designed to meet, and a description of the activity.

Course Description: This course offers an introduction to Western art history. It has two primary aims: to learn the skills necessary for visual literacy; and to acquire a broad knowledge of the important themes, movements, and individuals in Western art history. Attention will be given primarily to analysis of the form and content of work of art and to understanding how they fit into a historical context.

Activity Description: Using Instagram students will, through images of sculpture, architecture, paintings or other art forms they encounter in everyday life, identify major art styles and movements. This activity supports one of the learning outcomes of the course that aligns with communication skills: “to include effective development, interpretation and expression of ideas through written, oral and visual communication.”

Students are engaged by actively seeking out art forms in their everyday lives to post to Instagram and by engaging with classmates’ posts and commenting on them, which encourages students to apply course concepts.

Instructions for Students:
Following are the instructions for students. The course hashtag #ARC112;  created specifically for this course. Providing clear, concise instructions for students is critical; doing so encourages students to focus on applying and learning concepts, and not focusing on the technology.

Overview of Activity[for students]:
The purpose of this activity is to apply concepts learned in the course about the movements in Western art studied in this course by analyzing art forms and determining the influence of movements and styles on the artist’s work.

To accomplish this you’ll use Instagram, either your own account (see instructions here to create an account), or you can create an alternate Instagram account for the purpose of this course (see instructions here). You will take photos of art forms that represent or reflect a movement of art studied in this course. You can choose any art forms—sculpture, mural, paintings, street art, collages, etc. encountered in your everyday life which could be in a museum (though not necessary), in a park or public place, on campus, or other place.

Directions

  • Post 2 images between week 2 and 5, of a work of art, sculpture, painting, or architectural detail, using the tag #ARC112 that reflect one of the art movements listed below. Each image must represent a different movement and include a caption that describes: the movement the work represents, how the work represents the selected movement, and why you chose it.
  • Post a 3rd image in week 6 with the caption “What am I” in using our class tag #ARC112. The image can be partial image of the art form. The purpose of this activity is to have your classmates identify the art from, and determine which movement or style the art form represents.  Engage with classmates who provide comments: giving hints or suggestions. Reveal the full image in week 8.
  • Respond to 2 or more classmates’ “What am I” images in week 6 and 7 with your guess of what the art form is, the movement or style the artwork represents and how.

Assessment:
This activity is worth 10 points—10% of your course grade.

Art Movements:
Renaissance  •  Baroque •  Romanticism • Realism  • Impressionism  • Post-Impressionism  • Modernism

Closing
By searching the web and from my classmates in the workshop I learned of creative and unique ways that educators are using social media for learning.  Yet, the most important factor when integrating any tool is considering the learning objective first, then determining which tool and activity will support learning and engage students.

Further Reading on Social Media and Learning

References