Social media in higher education: a teaching and learning project

This term I will be spending some time with Teaching and Learning Services (TLS) at McGill: instead of doing my normal winter teaching, TLS is offering me a home for 2-3 days a week to work on projects with them. This is an outstanding opportunity as it provides real and significant time to work on teaching innovation. In my opinion, teaching in higher education should constantly be evaluated and re-assessed, and all Professors (regardless of career stage) should be supported and encouraged to improve, change and innovate their teaching. However, I would argue that many institutions put more attention on research productivity rather than supporting teaching innovation.  This is not to say that Universities don’t value teaching, but rather an argument that promotion is often weighted more towards research productivity than developing innovative approaches to teaching. There is also sometimes a culture by which Professors are unwilling to change anything about their teaching because of fears related to how this might affect teaching evaluation scores.  I have written previously about barriers to teaching innovation, and another barrier is that Professors aren’t typically supported to take time away from other duties to work on projects related to teaching and learning. Sabbaticals, for example, are mostly about re-inventing or re-tooling a research program and less often about pedagogy.  Over the past several years I had these kinds of discussions with various TLS colleagues, and the result is that I now have meaningful support to invest some of my time and energy towards teaching innovation. Bravo, TLS! I’m delighted to be spending time with you this term! (and a sincere thanks to my Chair and Faculty for supporting this endeavour).

It’s fitting that I’m using a blog to discuss the main project I’ll be delving into this term, because it will be all about the use of social media tools in teaching and learning. The way that we teach is changing, in part because there are countless new tools to use; tools that may help with interactions among students or between instructor and students, or tools that help us interact with dynamic, ever-changing content.  It can, however, be overwhelming. There’s an onslaught of technologies (….clickers, video-conferences, tablets, smart-boards and more) as well as countless on-line tools (… Facebook, Google hangouts, blogs, twitter, on-line discussions, etc). How do we make sense of this? How do we incorporate the correct tools into our courses in an effective and productive manner? What ethical or privacy issues must we understand when using some of these tools in the classroom?

My project will try to make sense of all of this, and over the next several months, I will be reading, talking, tweeting, blogging, seeking, sending, writing (and more).  I will be looking to the literature to assess the ways that social media tools can be used effectively in the classroom; I will survey current practices at various institutions, including McGill. At the end of the day, I hope to produce a dynamic ‘document’ to be shared and used by all those who are interested. This document will cover best practices, provide some case-studies and examples, and provide some guidelines about effective use of social media tools in teaching and learning.

Now I shall ask for help: Please let me know about the sorts of social media tools you use in the classroom. Drop me an e-mail, or comment (below), or tweet at me. I hoping to gather examples from a range of disciplines, using a range of tools, in a range of settings (small seminar classes, large courses, field courses, labs). Send me papers you might have written, or links that I’ll need to look at. The products from this project will only be strong if a community can be involved in its development, from the start.

Thanks everyone: this will be a terrific project, and thanks again to TLS and McGill for supporting this project..

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4 thoughts on “Social media in higher education: a teaching and learning project

  1. Looks promising, Chris. It will be neat to see what comes out of your work in a few months time..

    I personally haven’t seen (or heard) of anyone using social media as a means of enhancing learning outcomes for students, but I’m increasingly aware of more and more university classes using tools like Twitter to function as discussion boards/reminders, etc. And why not?

  2. Great topic! Being a university student 7 years of post-secondary, I have experienced Facebook groups being one of the most effective tools for academic success in a class. While in a cohort program for two years, our class created a private Facebook group. No teachers and faculty were included in the group and the general public was not able to see what we posted, which I believe is important. We were able to comment candidly and people were able to bring to light their concerns or frustrations.

    Some of effective methods of using our FB group included:
    reminding each other of upcoming due dates,
    clearing up confusion about what a Prof may or may not have meant,
    posting relevant links to topics of classroom lecture material,
    sharing job and volunteer opportunities,
    and most importantly sharing our notes, comprehensive course material summaries – basically what we thought would be on exams, before midterms and exams by uploading word or ppt docs to the FB group wall.

    So many institutions are extremely competitive and people are seemingly encouraged to be independent, to get better grades than your classmates. I believe we need to be taught how to collaborate for greater learning and academic success. By sharing notes and reviews, we were able to collectively get the highest averages our Profs had seen. One drawback is that some don’t contribute and still benefit. Some may argue about ethics and whether this should be considered cheating. Regardless, I think this type of group collaboration effort increases capacity to learn and retain information than if one was to struggle through it alone.

  3. Pingback: » Social media in higher education: a teaching and learning project Teaching for Learning

  4. Pingback: Social media in higher education: a teaching and learning project | Teaching for Learning @ McGill University

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