January 29, 2015

Deciding on appropriate media for teaching and learning

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Figure 9.10.3 The SECTIONS model

Figure 9.10.1 The SECTIONS model: factors influencing media selection

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This is the final section of Chapter 9, Choosing and using media in education, for my online open textbook, Teaching in a Digital Age. It deals with a key question: what kind of decision-making works best in this context, and provides the last step in a methodology for selecting and using media.

If you’ve worked your way right through this chapter, you are probably feeling somewhat overwhelmed by all the factors to take into consideration when selecting media. It is a complex issue, but if you have read all the previous sections, you are already in a good position to make well informed decisions. Let me explain.

Deductive versus inductive decision-making

Many years ago, when I first developed the ACTIONS model, I was approached by a representative of a large international computer company who offered to automate the ACTIONS model. We sat down over a cup of coffee, and he outlined his plan. Here’s how the conversation went.

Pierre. Tony. I’m really excited about your model. We could take it and apply it in every school and university in the world.

Tony. Really? Now how would you do that?

Pierre. Well, you have a set of questions that teachers have to ask for each of the criteria. There is probably a limited set of answers to these questions. You could either work out what those answers are, or collect answers from a representative sample of teachers. You could then give scores to each technology depending on the answers they give. So when a teacher has to make a choice of technology, they would sit down, answer the questions, then depending on their answers, the computer would calculate the best choice of technology. Voilà!

Tony. I don’t think that’s going to work, Pierre.

Pierre: But why not?

Tony. I’m not sure, but I have a gut feeling about this.

Pierre. A gut feeling? My English is not so good. What do you mean by a gut feeling?

Tony. Pierre, your English is excellent. My response is not entirely logical, so let me try and think it through now, both for you and me, why I don’t think this will work. First, I’m not sure there is a limited number of possible answers to each question, but even if there is, it’s not going to work.

Pierre. Well, why not?

Tony. Because I’m not sure how they would score their response to each question and in any case there’s going to be interaction between the the answers to the questions. It’s not the addition of each answer that will determine what technology they might use, but how those answers combine. From a computing point of view, there could be very many different combinations of answers, and I’m not sure what the significant combinations are likely to be with regard to choosing each technology.

Pierre. But we have very big and fast computers, and we can simplify the process through algorithms.

Tony. Yes, but you have to take into account the context in which teachers will make media selections. They are going to be making decisions about media all the time, in many different contexts. It’s just not practical to sit down at a computer, answer all the questions, then wait for the computer’s recommendation.

Pierre. But won’t you give this a try? We can work through all these problems.

Tony. Pierre, I really appreciate your suggestion, but my gut tells me this won’t work, and I really don’t want to waste your time or mine on this.

Pierre. Well, what are you going to tell teachers then? How will they make their decisions?

Tony. Gut instinct, Pierre, gut instinct – but influenced by the SECTIONS model.

This really is a true story, although the actual words spoken may have been different. What we have in this scenario is a conflict between deductive reasoning (Pierre) and inductive reasoning (Tony). With deductive reasoning, you would do what Pierre suggests: start without any prior conceptions about which technology to use, answer each of the questions I posed at the end of each part of the SECTIONS model, then write down all the possible technologies that would fit the answers to each question, see what technology would best match each of the questions/criteria, and ‘score’ each technology on a recommended scale for each criterion. You would then try to find a way to add all those answers together, perhaps by using a very large matrix, and then end up with a decision about what technology to use.

My suggestion is very different. Mine is a more inductive approach to decision making. The main criterion for inductive reasoning is as follows:

As evidence accumulates, the degree to which the collection of true evidence statements comes to support a hypothesis, as measured by the logic, should tend to indicate that false hypotheses are probably false and that true hypotheses are probably true.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

In terms of selecting media, you probably start with a number of possible technologies in mind at the beginning of the process (hypotheses – or your gut feeling). My suggested process is start with your gut feeling about which technologies you’re thinking of using, but keeping an open mind, then move through all the questions suggested in each of the SECTIONS criteria. You then start building more evidence to support or reject the use of a particular medium or technology. By the end of the process you have a ‘probabilistic’ view of what combinations of media will work best for you and why. This is not an exercise you would have to do every time. Once you have done it just a few times, the choice of medium or technology in each ‘new’ situation will be quicker and easier, because the brain stores all the previous information and you have a framework (the SECTIONS model) for organising new information as it arrives and integrating it with your previous knowledge.

Now you’ve read this chapter you already have a set of questions for consideration (I have listed them all together in Appendix 2 for easy reference). You are now in the same position as the king who asked the alchemist how to make gold. ‘It’s easy’, said the alchemist, ‘so long as you don’t think about elephants.’ Well, having read this chapter in full, you now have the elephants in your head. It will be difficult to ignore them. The brain is in fact a wonderful instrument for making intuitive or inductive decisions of this kind. The trick though is to have all this information somewhere in your head, so you can pull it all out when you need it. The brain does this very quickly. Your decisions won’t always be perfect, but they will be a lot better than if you hadn’t already thought about all these issues, and in life, rough but ready usually beats perfect but late.

Grounding media selection within a course development framework

Media selection therefore does not happen in a vacuum. We saw in Chapters 1-6 that there are many other factors to consider when designing teaching. In particular, embedded within any decision about the use of technology in education and training will be assumptions about the learning process. We have already seen earlier in this book how different epistemological positions and theories of learning affect the design of teaching, and these influences will also determine a teacher’s or an instructor’s choice of appropriate media. Media selection is just one part of the course design process. It has to fit within the broader framework of course design.

Set within such a framework, there are five critical questions that need to be asked about teaching and learning in order to select and use appropriate media/technologies:

  • who are the students?
  • what are the desired learning outcomes from the teaching?
  • what instructional strategies will be employed to facilitate the learning outcomes?
  • what are the unique educational characteristics of each medium/technology, and how well do these match the learning and teaching requirements?
  • what resources are available?

Hibbits and Travin’s (2015) variation of ADDIE presents the following learning and technology development model that incorporates the various stages of course design:

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Figure 9.10.2 Hibbits and Travin's Learning + technology development model

Figure 9.10.2 Hibbits and Travin’s Learning + technology development model

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The SECTIONS model is strategy that could be used for assessing the technology fit within this course development process. Whether you are using ADDIE or an agile design approach, then, media selection will be influenced by the other factors in course design, adding more information to be considered. This will all be mixed in with your knowledge of the subject area and its requirements, your beliefs and values about teaching and learning, and a lot of emotion as well.

All this further reinforces the inductive approach to decision making that I have suggested. Don’t underestimate the power of your brain – it’s far better than a computer for this kind of decision-making. But it’s important to have the necessary information, as far as possible, by carefully considering the answers to all the questions posed in this chapter (collected together in Appendix 2 – to come). So if you skipped a part of this chapter, you might want to go back over it!

Over to you

It’s probably difficult to comment on this section without having worked through the other parts of this chapter, and I will be doing a post shortly that is a brief overview of the chapter. However, if there any any philosophers among you, please let me have your thoughts on my approach to decision-making in this area.

Up next

A brief overview/list of the sections in this chapter, with links, followed by another post on Appendix 2 of the book, which will be a list of questions for consideration when selecting and using media, organized within the SECTIONS framework.

 

Balancing the use of social media and privacy protection in online learning

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Figure 9.9 Privacy ranking by Privacy International, 2007 Red: Endemic surveillance societies Strong yellow: Systemic failure to uphold safeguards Pale yellow: Some safeguards but weakened protections http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Privacy#mediaviewer/File:Privacy_International_2007_privacy_ranking_map.png

Figure 9.9 Privacy ranking by Privacy International, 2007
Red: Endemic surveillance societies
Strong yellow: Systemic failure to uphold safeguards
Pale yellow: Some safeguards but weakened protections
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Privacy#mediaviewer/File:Privacy_International_2007_privacy_ranking_map.png

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This is the last of the SECTIONS criteria for selecting media for my online open textbook, Teaching in a Digital World. The last ‘S’ stands for Security and Privacy.

This is a change from earlier versions of the SECTIONS model, where ‘S’ stood for speed, in terms of how quickly a technology enabled a course to be developed.. However, the issues that I previously raised under speed have been included in Section 9.3, ‘Ease of Use’. This has allowed me to replace ‘Speed’ with ‘Security and privacy’, which have become increasingly important issues for education in a digital age.

9.9.1 The need for privacy and security when teaching

Instructors and students need a private place to work online. Instructors want to be able to criticize politicians or corporations without fear of reprisal; students may want to keep rash or radical comments from going public or will want to try out perhaps controversial ideas without having them spread all over Facebook. Institutions want to protect students from personal data collection for commercial purposes by private companies, tracking of their online learning activities by government agencies, or marketing and other unrequested commercial or political interruption to their studies. In particular, institutions want to protect students, as far as possible, from online harassment or bullying. Creating a strictly controlled environment enables institutions to manage privacy and security more effectively.

Learning management systems provide password protected access to registered students and authorised instructors. Learning management systems were originally housed on servers managed by the institution itself. Password protected LMSs on secure servers have provided that protection. Institutional policies regarding appropriate online behaviour can be managed more easily if the communications are managed ‘in-house.’

9.9.2 Cloud based services and privacy

However, in recent years, more and more online services have moved ‘to the cloud’, hosted on massive servers whose physical location is often unknown even to the institution’s IT services department. Contract agreements between an educational institution and the cloud service provider are meant to ensure security and back-ups.

Nevertheless, Canadian institutions and privacy commissioners have been particularly wary of data being hosted out of country, where it may be accessed through the laws of another country. There has been concern that Canadian student information and communications held on cloud servers in the USA may be accessible via the U.S. Patriot Act. For instance, Klassen (2011) writes:

Social media companies are almost exclusively based in the United States, where the provisions of the Patriot Act apply no matter where the information originates. The Patriot Act allows the U.S. government to access the social media content and the personally identifying information without the end users’ knowledge or consent.
The government of British Columbia, concerned with both the privacy and security of personal information, enacted a stringent piece of legislation to protect the personal information of British Columbians. The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) mandates that no personally identifying information of British Columbians can be collected without their knowledge and consent, and that such information not be used for anything other than the purpose for which it was originally collected.

Concerns about student privacy have increased even more when it became known that countries were sharing intelligence information, so there remains a risk that even student data on Canadian-based servers may well be shared with foreign countries.

Perhaps of more concern though is that as instructors and students increasingly use social media, academic communication becomes public and ‘exposed’. Bishop (2011) discusses the risks to institutions in using Facebook:

  • privacy is different from security, in that security is primarily a technical, hence mainly an IT, issue. Privacy needs a different set of policies that involves a much wider range of stakeholders within an institution, and hence a different (and more complex) governance approach from security;
  • many institutions do not have a simple, transparent set of policies for privacy, but different policies set by different parts of the institution. This will inevitably lead to confusion and difficulties in compliance;
  • there is a whole range of laws and regulations that aim to protect privacy; these cover not only students but also staff; privacy policy needs to be consistent across the institution and be compliant with such laws and regulation.
  • Facebook’s current privacy policy (2011) leaves many institutions using Facebook at a high level of risk of infringing or violating privacy laws – merely writing some kind of disclaimer will in many cases not be sufficient to avoid  breaking the law.

The controversy at Dalhousie University where dental students used Facebook for violent sexist remarks about their fellow women students is an example of the risks endemic in the use of social media.

9.9.3 The need for balance

Although there may well be some areas of teaching and learning where it is essential to operate behind closed doors, such as in some areas of medicine or areas related to public security, or in discussion of sensitive political or moral issues, in general though there have been relatively few privacy or security problems when teachers and instructors have opened up their courses, have followed institutional privacy policies, and above all where students and instructors have used common sense and behaved ethically. Nevertheless, as teaching and learning becomes more open and public, the level of risk does increase.

9.9.4 Questions for consideration

1. What student information am I obliged to keep private and secure? What are my institution’s policies on this?

2. What is the risk that by using a particular technology my institution’s policies concerning privacy could easily be breached? Who in my institution could advise me on this?

3. What areas of teaching and learning, if any, need I keep behind closed doors, available only to students registered in my course? Which technologies will best allow me to do this?

Over to you

1. I couldn’t find more recent references on this issue than 2011, when it seemed to be a hot topic. Has anything significantly changed with regard to privacy and social media in education since 2011 that I should be aware of? Or have our institutions nailed it regarding sensible policies and practices? (Did I hear guffaws?) References would be particularly welcome.

2. If anyone would like to share their experiences regarding privacy issues as a result of using social media for teaching, please either send me an e-mail (for privacy reasons) or share a comment on this post.

Up next

The final section on Chapter 9: Making decisions about what media to use. This will suggest a relatively simple approach for what is in effect a highly complex topic.

Yes, I know, you just can’t wait for this final episode. Keep tuned to this station.

References

Bishop, J. (2011)  Facebook Privacy Policy: Will Changes End Facebook for Colleges? The Higher Ed CIO, October 4

Klassen, V. (2011) Privacy and Cloud-­Based  Educational Technology in British Columbia Vancouver BC: BCCampus

See also:

Bates, T. (2011) Cloud-based educational technology and privacy: a Canadian perspective, Online Learning and Distance Education Resources,, March 25

 

 

Networking (and novelty) as criteria for media selection

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Figure 9.8.1 UBC's Math Exam Wiki

UBC’s Math Exam Wiki (click on image to go to web page)

Almost there! This section covers the ‘N’ in the SECTIONS model for the chapter on media selection for my online open textbook, Teaching in a Digital Age.

Networking and novelty

These are two quite different factors influencing media selection, of which networking is by far the most important.

Networking

This is a relatively new addition to the SECTIONS model and aims to take into account the potential of social media and open education. In essence, an increasingly important question that needs to be asked when selecting media is:

  • how important is it to enable learners to network beyond a course, with others such as subject specialists, professionals in the field, and relevant people in the community? Can the course, or student learning, benefit from such external connections?

If the answer to this is an affirmative, then this will affect what media to use, and in particular will suggest the use of social media such as blogs, wikis, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google Hangout.

There are at least five different ways social media are influencing course design:

  • as an addition to credit-based online software/technology
  • credit course design using only social media
  • student generated learning resources
  • self-managed learning groups
  • instructor-led open educational resources.

Supplementing ‘standard’ learning technologies

Some instructors are combining social media for external networking with ‘standard’ institutional technologies such as a learning management system. The LMS, which is password protected and available only to the instructor and other enrolled students, allows for ‘safe’ communication within the course. The use of social media allows for connections with the external world (contributions can still be screened by the course blog or wiki administrator by monitoring and approving contributions.)

For instance, a course on Middle Eastern politics could have an internal discussion forum focused on relating current events directly to the themes and issues that are the focus of the course, but students may manage their own, public wiki that encourages contributions from Middle East scholars and students, and indeed anyone from the general public. Comments may end up being moved into and out of the more closed class discussion forum as a result.

Exclusive use of social media for credit courses

Other instructors are moving altogether away from ‘standard’ institutional technology such as learning management systems and lecture capture into the use of social media for managing the whole course. For instance, UBC’s course ETEC 522 uses WordPress, YouTube videos and podcasts for instructor and student contributions to the course. Indeed the choice of social media on this course changes every year, depending on the focus of the course, and new developments in social media. Jon Beasley-Murray at UBC built a whole course around students creating a high level (featured-article) Wikipedia entry on Latin American literature (Latin American literature WikiProject – see Beasley-Murray, 2008).

Student generated learning resources

This is a particularly interesting development where students themselves use social media to create resources to help other students. For instance, graduate math students at UBC have created the Math Exam/Education Resources wiki, which provides ‘past exams with fully worked-out and reviewed solutions, video lectures & pencasts by topic‘. Such sites are open to anyone needing help in their studying, not just UBC students.

Self-managed learning groups

cMOOCs are an obvious example of self-managed learning groups using social media such as webinars, blogs and wikis.

Instructor-led open educational resources

YouTube in particular is becoming increasingly popular for instructors to use their knowledge to create resources available to anyone. The best example is still the Khan Academy, but there are many other examples.

Once again, the decision to ‘open up’ teaching is as much a philosophical or value decision as a technology decision, but the technology is now there to encourage and enable this philosophy.

Novelty

Novelty is a two-edged sword. ‘Innovation in teaching’ will certainly bring rewards these days as institutions jostle for position as innovative institutions.  It is often easier to get funding for new uses of technology than funding to sustain older but successful technologies. Although podcasts combined with a learning management system can be a very low-cost but highly effective teaching medium if good design is used, they are not sexy. It will usually be easier to get support for much more costly and spectacular technologies such as xMOOCs or virtual reality.

On the other hand, there is much risk in being too early into a new technology. Software may not be fully tested and reliable, or the company supporting the new technology may go bankrupt. Students are not guinea pigs, and reliable and sustainable service is more important to them than the glitz and glamour of untried technology. Thus it is better to be at the leading edge, just behind the first wave of innovation, rather than at the bleeding edge.

Questions for consideration

  1. How important is it to enable learners to network beyond a course, with others such as subject specialists, professionals in the field, and relevant people in the community? Can the course, or student learning, benefit from such external connections?
  2. If this is important, what’s the best way to do this? Use social media exclusively? Integrate it with other standard course technology? Delegate responsibility for its design and/or administration to students or learners?
  3. What rewards am I likely to get for using new technology in my teaching? Will use of a new technology be the only innovation, or can I also change my way of teaching with this technology to get better results?
  4. What are the risks in using this technology?

Feedback

1. I am looking for an example of using social media to supplement ‘standard’ institutional technologies (I made up the Middle East politics example). Any suggestions that are openly accessible (at least the social media parts) will be most welcome.

2. Is it really worth including novelty as a criterion?

3. Any other comments on this section

Next up

The last part of the SECTIONS model: speed and security.

Why organisational issues are critical for media selection

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Figure 9.7.1 earning Environments self-service video recording studio, Baillieu Library, University of Melbourne  Image: © University of Melbourne,  2014

Figure 9.7.1 Learning Environments self-service video recording studio, Baillieu Library, University of Melbourne
Image: © University of Melbourne, 2014

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I’m getting to the end of my chapter on media selection, based on the SECTIONS model. I discuss the ‘O’ for organisational issues briefly. This section is pretty obvious to most readers of this blog, but it needs to be said (or written).

The SECTIONS model: Organizational Issues

Institutional readiness for teaching with technology

One of the critical issues that will influence the selection of media by teachers and instructors is

  • the way the institution structures teaching activities,
  • the instructional and technology services already in place,
  • the support for media and technology use that their institution provides.

If an institution is organised around a set number of classroom periods every day, and the use of physical classrooms, the teachers are likely to focus mainly on classroom delivery. As Mackenzie was quoted in Section 9.1: ‘Teachers have always made the best of whatever they’ve got at hand, but it’s what we have to work with. Teachers make due.’ The reverse is equally true. If the school or university does not support a particular technology, instructors quite understandably won’t use it. Even if the technology is in place, such as a learning management system or a video production facility, if an instructor is not trained or oriented to its use and potential, then it will either be underused or not used at all.

Most institutions that have successfully introduced media and technology for teaching on a large scale have recognized the need for professional support for faculty, by providing instructional designers, media designers and IT support staff to support teaching and learning. Some institutions also provide funding for innovative teaching projects.

A major implication of using technology is the need to reorganize and restructure the teaching and technology support services in order to exploit and use the technology efficiently. Too often technology is merely added on to an existing structure and way of doing things. Reorganization and restructuring is disruptive and costly in the short-term, but usually essential for successful implementation of technology-based teaching (see Bates and Sangrà, 2011, for a full discussion of management strategies for supporting the use of technology for teaching in higher education).

Thus there is often a bias towards those technologies that can be introduced with the minimum of organizational change, although these may not be the technologies that would have maximum impact on learning. These organizational challenges are extremely difficult, and are often major reasons for the slow implementation of new technology.

Media design principles

As stated in Section 9.5.1, many factors can influence the effectiveness of media in teaching. One of the most important is the design of the media experience. Any medium can be used well or badly. Poor lighting and in particular poor audio can ruin an otherwise effective use of video. A rambling, incoherent podcast may contain excellent academic material but is likely to fail as a teaching experience. So quality in terms of media production matters. This does not mean necessarily though that you need expensive productions.

Perhaps the most  valuable research relevant to quality media production has been done by Richard Mayer, of the University of California at Santa Barbara. He has conducted nearly 100 studies in the development of his principles for multimedia design (Mayer, 2009). Staff at the University of British Columbia have combined Mayer’s findings with Robert Talbert’s experience from developing a series of successful screencasts on mathematics, into a set of practical design guidelines for multimedia production.

Talbert’s key design principles are:

  • Keep it Simple: Focus on one idea at a time.
  • Keep it Short: Keep videos to a length 5-6 minutes max. to maximize attention.
  • Keep it Real: Model the decision making and problem solving processes of expert learners.
  • Keep it Good: Be intentional about planning the video. Strive to produce the best video and audio quality possible.

The UBC guidelines also integrate the implications of cognitive load theory, into three strategies:

  • reduce extraneous processing
  • manage essential processing
  • foster generative processing

Using these principles the UBC site provides a matrix that links these principles to a range of learning effects, with examples. These are ideal guidelines for anyone thinking of moving into using media for the first time. The topic of the design of media for teaching is worth a whole book on its own, but more detailed guidelines for audio and video production can be found in Koumi (2006) and O’Donoghue (2011).

The key point here is that although it is now possible for teachers and instructors to produce reasonably good quality audio and video on their own, it will always benefit from the input of professionals in media production.

Work with professionals

Even those experienced in using media for teaching and learning would be wise to work with professional media producers when creating any of the media discussed in this chapter (with the possible exception of social media). Indeed, it is usually useful if not essential to work also with an instructional designer to determine before too much work is done which media are likely to be the most appropriate. It is important for the choice of technology to be driven by educational goals, rather than starting with a particular medium or technology in mind.

There are several reasons for working with professionals:

  • they understand the technology and as a result will enable you to develop a better product more quickly than working alone;
  • two heads are better than one. Working collaboratively will result in new and better ideas about how you could be using the medium;
  • instructional designers and professional media producers will usually be familiar with project management and budgeting for media production, enabling resources to be developed in time and on budget. This is important as it is easy for teachers or instructors to get sucked into spending far more time than necessary on producing media.

Questions for consideration

1. How much and what kind of help can I get from the institution in choosing and using media for teaching? Is help easily accessible? How good is the help? Do they have the media professionalism I will need? Are they up to date in the use of new technologies for teaching?

2. Is there possible funding available to ‘buy me out’ for a semester and/or to fund a teaching assistant so I can concentrate on designing a new course or revising an existing course? Is there funding for media production?

3. To what extent will I have to follow ‘standard’ technologies, practices and procedures, such as using a learning management system, or lecture capture system, or will I be encouraged and supported to try something new?

4. Are there already suitable media resources freely available that I can use in my teaching, rather than creating everything from scratch? Can I get help from the library for instance in identifying these resources and dealing with any copyright issues?

If the answers are negative for each of these questions, you would be wise to set very modest goals initially for using media and technology. Nevertheless the good news is that it is increasingly easy to create and manage your own media such as web sites, blogs, wikis, podcasts and even simple video production. Furthermore students themselves are often capable and interested in participating or helping with creating learning resources, if given the chance. And above all, there is an increasing amount of really good educational media coming available for free use for educational purposes.

Feedback, please

1. Is there anything I have missed about the influence of organizational factors on media selection?

2. Is there anything you disagree with in this section?

3. I have struggled with how to handle media design in this book. It is a huge topic, and has been well covered by Mayer, Koumi and O’Donoghue (see below for references). My reason for including it here is that I strongly believe that if instructors are going to design media, they should work with media professionals and/or instructional designers. At the same time I am aware that it is becoming increasingly easier for instructors (and students) to create their own digital resources. However, when this happens the results are often disappointing in terms of media quality. But does this affect the quality of the learning? As always, it all depends. Experience helps a great deal. What are your views on this? Should faculty be encouraged to be do-it-yourself media producers, or should they work with media professionals? Under what circumstances should faculty do their own media production? Your feedback on this would be really helpful.

Up next

Networking and novelty.

References

Bates, A. and Sangrà, A. (2011) Managing Technology in Higher Education San Francisco: Jossey-Bass/John Wiley and Co.

Koumi, J. (2006). Designing video and multimedia for open and flexible learning. London: Routledge.

Mayer, R. E. (2009). Multimedia learning (2nd ed). New York: Cambridge University Press.

O’Donoghue, M. (2014) Producing video for teaching and Learning New York: Routledge

Seeking the unique pedagogical characteristics of social media

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Figure 5.5.5.1 Image: swilmarth (via Flickr)

Figure 5.5.5.1 Image: swilmarth (via Flickr)

Social media are still in a very volatile state of development, and many faculty worry about the negative aspects of students who are continually ‘on’ or obsessed with social media. At the same time, there are exciting developments and future possibilities for the intelligent use of social media in education, which are explored in this post.

Although social media are mainly Internet-based and hence a sub-category of computing, there are enough significant differences between educational social media use and computer-based learning or online collaborative learning to justify treating social media as a separate medium, although of course they are dependent and often fully integrated with other forms of computing. We shall see that the main difference is in the extent of control over learning that social media offer to learners.

9.5.5.1 What are social media?

Around 2005, a new range of web tools began to find their way into general use, and increasingly into educational use. These can be loosely described as social media, as they reflect a different culture of web use from the former “centre-to-periphery” push of institutional web sites.

Here are some of the tools and their uses (there are many more possible examples: click on each example for an educational application):

Type of tool  Example  Application
Blogs Stephen’s WebOnline Learning and Distance Education Resources  Allows an individual to make regular postings to the web, e.g. a personal diary or an analysis of current events
Wikis WikipediaUBC’s Math Exam Resources  An “open” collective publication, allowing people to contribute or create a body of information
Social networking FaceBookLinkedIn  A social utility that connects people with friends and others who work, study and interact with them
Multi-media archives PodcastsYou-TubeFlikriTunes U

e-portfolios

MIT Open CourseWare

 Allows end users to access, store, download and share audio recordings, photographs, and videos
Virtual worlds Second Life  Real-time semi-random connection/ communication with virtual sites and people
Multi-player games Lord of the Rings Online  Enables players to compete or collaborate against each other or a third party/parties represented by the computer, usually in real time
Mobile learning Mobile phones and apps  Enables users to access multiple information formats (voice, text, video, etc.) at any time, any place

 Figure 9.5.5.1 Examples of social media (adapted from Bates, 2011, p.25)

The main feature of social media is that they empower the end user to access, create, disseminate and share information easily in a user-friendly, open environment. Usually the only cost is the time of the end-user. There are often few controls over content, other than those normally imposed by a state or government (such as libel or pornography), or where there are controls, they are imposed by the users themselves. One feature of such tools is to empower the end-user – the learner or customer – to self-access and manage data (such as online banking) and to form personal networks (for example through FaceBook). For these reasons, some have called social media the “democratization” of the web.

In general social media tools are based on very simple software, in that they have relatively few lines of code. As a result, new tools and applications (‘apps’) are constantly emerging, and their use is either free or very low cost. For a good overview of the use of social media in education, see Lee and McCoughlin (2011).

9.5.5.2 The affordances of social media

Commentators on social media have in particular pushed the concept of affordances. McLoughlin & Lee (2011) identify the following categories of  general ‘affordances’ associated with social media (although they use the term web 2.0):

  • Connectivity and social rapport
  • Collaborative information discovery and sharing
  • Content creation
  • Knowledge and information aggregation and content modification (Burden and Atkinson)

However, we need to specify more directly the unique pedagogical characteristics of social media:

9.5.5.3 Presentational characteristics

Social media enable:

  • networked multimedia communication between self-organising groups of learners
  • access to rich, multimedia content available over the Internet at any time or place (with Internet connection)
  • learner-generated multimedia materials
  • opportunities to expand learning beyond ‘closed’ courses and institutional boundaries

9.5.5.4 Skills development

Social media,when well designed within an educational framework, can help with the development of the following skills (click on each to see examples):

It can be seen that social media can be extremely useful for developing some of the key skills needed in a digital age.

9.5.5.5 Strengths and weaknesses of social media

Figure 9.5.5.5 presents a diagrammatic analysis of various e-learning tools. I have arranged them primarily by where they fit along an epistemological continuum of objectivist, constructivist and connectivist (colour coded), but also I have used two other dimensions, teacher control/learner control, and credit/non-credit. Note that this figure also enables traditional teaching modes, such as lectures and seminars, to be included and compared.

Figure 9.5.5.5 Analysis of social media from an educational perspective (adapted from Bates, 2011)

Figure 9.5.5.5 Analysis of social media from an educational perspective (adapted from Bates, 2011)

Figure 9.5.5.5 represents a personal interpretation of the tools, and other teachers or instructors may well re-arrange the diagram differently, depending on their particular applications of these tools. The position of any particular tool in the diagram will depend on its actual use. Learning management systems can be used in a constructivist way, and blogs can be very teacher-controlled, if the teacher is the only one permitted to use a blog on a course. However, the aim here is not to provide a cast-iron categorization of e-learning tools, but to provide a framework for teachers in deciding which tools are most likely to suit a particular teaching approach. Indeed, other teachers may prefer a different set of pedagogical values as a framework for analysis of the different tools.

However, to give an example from Figure 9.5.5.5, a teacher may use an LMS to organize a set of resources, guidelines, procedures and deadlines for students, who then may use several of the social media, such as photos from mobile phones to collect data. The teacher provides a space and structure on the LMS for students’ learning materials in the form of an e-portfolio, to which students can load their work. Students in small groups can use discussion forums or FaceBook to work on projects together.

It can be seen that social media now enable teachers to set online group work, based on cases or projects, and students can collect data in the field, without any need for direct face-to-face contact with either the teacher or other students. Learners can access learning materials through open content, and also access other experts on a topic through the experts’ web sites, and learners can post media-rich assignments either individually or as a group. These assignments when assessed can be loaded by the learner into their own personal learning environment for later use when seeking employment or transfer to graduate school.

The example above is in the framework of a course for credit, but the framework would also fit the non-institutional or informal approach to the use of social media for learning, with a focus on tools such as FaceBook, blogs and YouTube. These applications would be much more learner driven, with the learner deciding on the tools and their uses. The most powerful examples are connectivist or cMOOCs, as we saw in Chapter 7.

However, many students are not, at least initially, independent learners (see Candy, 1991). Many students come to a learning task without the necessary skills or confidence to study independently from scratch (Moore and Thompson, 1990). They need structured support, structured and selected content, and recognized accreditation. The advent of new tools that give students more control over their learning will not necessarily change their need for a structured educational experience. However, learners can be taught the skills needed to become independent learners (Moore, 1973; Marshall and Rowland, 1993). The new tools will make this learning of how to learn much more effective but still only in most cases within an initially structured environment.

The use of social media raises the inevitable issue of quality. How can learners differentiate between reliable, accurate, authoritative information, and inaccurate, biased or unsubstantiated information, if they are encouraged to roam free? What are the implications for expertise and specialist knowledge, when everyone has a view on everything? As Andrew Keen (2007) has commented, ‘we are replacing the tyranny of experts with the tyranny of idiots.’ Not all information is equal, nor are all opinions. Many students look for structure and guidance, and it is the responsibility of teachers to provide it. We therefore need a middle ground between the total authority and control of the teacher, and the complete anarchy of the children roaming free on a desert island in the novel “Lord of the Flies” (Golding, 1954). Social media allow for such a middle ground, but only if as teachers we have a clear pedagogy or educational philosophy to guide our choices and use of the technology.

9.5.5.6 Summary

In summary:

  • learners now have powerful tools through social media for creating their own learning materials or for demonstrating their knowledge.
  • courses can be structured around individual students’ interests, allowing them to seek appropriate content and resources to support the development of negotiated competencies or learning outcomes.
  • content is now increasingly open and freely available over the Internet; as a result learners can seek, use and apply information beyond the bounds of what a professor or teacher may dictate.
  • students can create their own online personal learning environments
  • many students will still need a structured approach that guides their learning
  • teacher presence and guidance is likely to be necessary to ensure high quality learning via social media
  • there is though a middle ground between complete freedom and overdirection that can enable the development of the key skills needed in a digital age.

The use of social media for learning thus represents a major power shift from teachers to learners.

Activity 9.5.5

1. Take one of your courses, and analyse how social media could be used in your course. In particular:

  • What new learning outcomes could the use of social media help develop?
  • Would it be better just to add social media to the course or to re-design it around social media?

2. I have offered only a cursory list of the unique pedagogical characteristics of social media. Can you think of others that have not already been covered in other parts of this chapter?

3. How does this chapter influence your views on students bringing their own device to class?

4. Are you (still) skeptical about the value of social media in education? What do you see as its downsides?

Please use the comment box to share your answers.

This is the last of five posts on the unique pedagogical characteristics of different media. The other four posts were:

This post will be followed by a short section on deciding about media.

Feedback

Comments again will be most welcome. In particular:

  • can you suggest other unique characteristics of social media?
  • does Figure 9.5.5.5 work for you? How would you ‘place’ social media in context with other media?
  • examples, please: I’m looking for good examples that illustrate these unique features – or other unique characteristics I haven’t considered
  • is this the place to discuss personal learning environments? (Probably!).  However, it seems to me they deserve a section of their own, maybe under design. Any thoughts on this would be welcome
  • lastly, does it make any sense to differentiate between media these days? After all, isn’t everything multimedia now?

References

Bates, T. (2011) ‘Understanding Web 2.0 and Its Implications for e-Learning’ in Lee, M. and McCoughlin, C. (eds.) Web 2.0-Based E-Learning Hershey NY: Information Science Reference

Candy, P. (1991) Self-direction for lifelong learning San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Golding, W. (1954) The Lord of the Flies London: Faber and Faber

Keen, A. (2007) The Cult of the Amateur: how Today’s Internet is Killing our Culture New York/London: Doubleday

Lee, M. and McCoughlin, C. (eds.) Web 2.0-Based E-Learning Hershey NY: Information Science Reference

Marshall, L and Rowland, F. (1993) A Guide to learning independently Buckingham UK: Open University Press

McCoughlin, C. and Lee, M. (2011) ‘Pedagogy 2.0: Critical Challenges and Responses to Web 2.0 and Social Software in Tertiary Teaching’, in Lee, M. and McCoughlin, C. (eds.) Web 2.0-Based E-Learning Hershey NY: Information Science Reference

Moore, M. and Thompson, M. (1990) The Effects of Distance Education: A Summary of the Literature University Park, PA: American Center for Distance Education, Pennsylvania State University