Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Damned If You Do: Adopting Social Media in Teaching. by Don Orth

Social media is changing the way we interact with friends, families, and many others (Couldrey 2012).  Should it change the way we teach?  We have learning management systems (LMS) so why would we need anything else?  Will it be another time waster?  Adopting social media in teaching does seem to be another damned if you do, damned if you don't choice.   
from Jorge Cham, Piled Higher and Deeper
With the prodigious rise in online content we need fewer distractions and better pedagogy.  Yet, our frustrations are not a new.   McLuhan (1964, p 23) wrote "for the message of any medium or technology is the change of scale or pace or pattern that it introduces into human affairs." The instructor’s choice of media is a critical pedagogical decision in instructional design as it shapes the environment and thought.   Television as a medium taught us that life is packaged in 8-minute segments (Postman 2005). If texts, worksheets, and tests are the dominant media, the the “cram, pass, and forget” model will be adopted by students. I imagine a pedagogy where student 2.0 should help narrate, create, critique, curate, and share the content, although I seldom realize those ideals. Social media plays a role in these ideals.
Binders were my dominant mode of content curation in 1980s and 1990s. 
Social media offers instructors and students to communicate and collaborate in ways that may be efficient, effective, and yes, even transformative.   In my teaching I have transitioned from curating the course content in large binders (1980 s -1990s)  to five different LMSs.  Each time we are promised a better system. But each semester as I curate an improved content, students watch as the content is washed away after exam week, as if what we created together is not worth maintaining for the future.  College administrators advocate for online teaching to alleviate shortage of classroom space. However,  taking bad teaching online is like giving a bad guitar player a bigger amplifier (Ohler 2013, p. 6).   Rather, I advocate more connected and open pedagogy that gives students more control of learning and sharing. 

The internet has also spread the use of memes. Memes are internal representations of knowledge that are culturally inherited.  As educators we can use lessons from memes to help students master and retain key concepts.  Memes can be developed by students with readily available smartphone apps (e.g., QuickMeme, and MemeGenerator) and shared via many networks.  We can use lessons from memes via online communities to help students master and retain key concepts and new terminology (Brodie 2009). 
Students can develop and share fish memes to facilitate retrieval and recall of new taxonomy.

Community of practice is a social learning theory that fits my teaching philosophy.  Learning  is fundamentally experiential and learning is fundamentally social (Wenger 1998).  Therefore, the learning must be open and connected because the knowledge resides in numerous communities.  Yet the structures of our learning management systems make it difficult for students to be connected and for all learning artifacts to be archived and shared. 

Imagine the visual depiction of students at the periphery of the  community of practice.  The vision of student (novices) moving through collaboration toward the core is empowering. I  tell students that accepting the notion that "I am a novice" or "I am becoming" will make  it easier for them to ask questions (for more background, see On Becoming an Ichthyologist). Every action is a chance for to move from periphery to involved. Not all learning takes place in the classroom and the social media trials I describe can assist with motivating students to be active participants in open and connected networks.

Source: Pinterest
Be afraid, very afraid, because Google is making us stupider Carr (2008).   Be afraid of the curse of irrelevance if you stay within the safety of your University's LMS.   Teaching that is closed and disconnected encourages superficial learning. Instead, take one of these bags of gold and change your teaching.  Gardner Campbell and Jim Groom,  in their talk No Digital Facelifts: Thinking the Unthinkable About Open Educational Experience, describe these new possibilities.  Bik and Goldstein (2013) emphasize that we fail to adopt social media because we are afraid of being wrong, being yelled at, or violating some social media norms.  Fears can be reduced by working with a trusted mentor.    I offer these five ways to try out social media in your teaching.

1. Public Writing 
Public writing is open and connected learning. Kumpulainan and Sefton-Green (2014, p. 10) wrote "design principles for such connected learning environments include breaking boundaries between formal and informal; valuing learner agency, authority, and accountability; and stressing the importance of learners pursuing meaningful and authentic activities with relevant resources and tools.”  I encourage public posting of essays (i.e., blogs, or op-ed) because the student has an audience.  In some cases I have added students as blog authors and in most other cases, student writing and revision (and revision and revision) is done offline.  Only some final essays are posted on the Virginia Tech Ichthyology blog.  Graduate students are more frequently creating and curating their own blogs (e.g,  Chesapeake CatfishClinch Chronicle, and The Troutlook).  I won't comment on the many blog platform options; just pick a free one (GitHub, Medium, Tumblr, Wix, Weebly, Wordpress) and get started.

2. Twitter and Infographics

Twitter is widely used by instructors.  Don't think of Twitter as a passive website.  Rather consider Twitter as a place to start and continue a discussion.   You will find followers who have similar interests.  Start or follow a discussion with a unique hashtag.  Right now #PenceScience and #NationalBookLoverDay are trending.  Stories of scientists working in the field were shared in the #fieldworkfail discussion on Twitter.    Students can use Twitter in many ways.  Twitter allows students to initiate discussions and invite authors of their readings to weigh in on discussions. A list is a curated group of Twitter users, which allows you and your students to make more connections. 

Sample Infographic or Information Graphic, developed by the USEPA. 
Images and videos added to tweets get more attention. If you want your message to be re-tweeted, make a simple graphic.  In the new media, these are called Information Graphics (i.e., infographics) and a simple assignment to create an infographic on a topic will engage more parts of the brain than "write a summary of the passage from page 368-390."     Another app, called Storify, allows the student to locate and write a summary with tweets posted on a particular topic.   For example, after the death of Michael Brown in  Ferguson, Missouri, educators used the many tweets posted on this story and developed a storify syllabus on the Ferguson issue.  Other Storify stories tell of fieldwork of scientists to support world water day and #scicomm.   

3. Online communities

Many instructors are creating Facebook groups for their classes; there are many Facebook ideas you can adopt.   I have used these since I joined Facebook to easily facilitate student introductions at the beginning of class.  Because of privacy concerns of students (the law known as FERPA) and Facebook evils, I never make membership a requirement.   My Ichthyology Facebook group is a public group and is dominated by past students and other fish enthusiasts.   However, you can create a closed Facebook group.  I use Facebook to join and learn for a variety of groups.   I also maintain a Flickr Ichthyology class site and require students to post their better fish photos (with annotations) to this shared site.   On Flickr I follow my favorite photographers and joined a number of Flickr groups.   Similarly, I follow some individuals on You Tube.  Here I am able to encounter rare and interesting videos that are useful for my teaching.  For example, Brandon Brown  posted a beautiful underwater video of Longear Sunfish breeding behaviors and Cardinal Shiners in breeding colors.   One problem with many learning management systems is they are designed for instructors to post, curate, and deliver content.  If you wish to create an online open learning community you may have to find alternative platforms in which students can create discussion, post materials, and be more engaged in the learning process.   Consider experimenting with PBWorks or  Slack; here are notes from one such experiment.  

4. Digital Storytelling and Video Essays

We need to train people to be inspiring communicators if they are to be effective in their work or public lives (Dahlstrom 2014).  One easy teaching trial is to assign a video Essay instead of a written essay.  One example, is the This I Believe Essay which many college classes have adopted.  In this video version present "I Believe in Resilience."   However, students in the STEM courses seldom write in a narrative form.   I spent many decades teaching before asking students to tell me their stories.   My teaching has personally transformed when I began facilitating student storytelling and sharing my own stories.  When it is safe to tell stories, then learning communities become storytelling  communities.

In my Ichthyology class, I first tell students some key ideas behind learning to study Ichthyology (video) or Stream Habitat Management (video).  This provides students with some background on research on learning that informs practices that I suggest they adopt.  Click for more on How to Learn Ichthyology.   I have found that digital stories have many uses for my teaching.  I can post a short fish mystery that forces students to think about it, or even read the assigned text.   In this post I provide a brief answer the mystery of Bloody Neutrality of the Smallmouth Bass.  

To prompt students to examine defining events in their own young lives,  I share my story Not Everyone Truly Lives and assign students to create a wondering map (Brooks 2010, p. 19-47).    Students are always struggling with new and challenging materials.  I use a digital story assignment in order to get them reflecting on their struggles and sharing the story.  This digital storytelling assignment was described in the post, Inside the head of a fish head.  If you need more background before adopting digital storytelling, start by reading Ohler (2013).  Ohler (2013) presents a number of important revelations about storytelling as pedagogy.  For me, the most important was that the story provides a set of practical processes for resolving issues, educating ourselves, and pursuing our goals, while combining traditional and emerging literacies (Ohler 2013).

The Hero's Journey from Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces.  "Students need to become heroes of their own learning stories as well as of the stories they tell with their own lives" Ohler (2013, p.  9)
 5. Eportfolios and a Web of One's Own

Gardner Campbell called for giving each student a personal cyberinfrastructure in 2009 podcast or read the text. In 2013 University of Mary Washington initiated Domain of ones own where first-year students are assigned a web domain name.  Dozens of other universities have adopted similar initiatives.  The University provides free, personal domain names and web hosting and students take control of their work.   Creating a domain of one's own may be the most important wickedly subversive education innovation of our times (Waters 2014).  Listen to Ted talk by Jim Groom and find out why Jim Groom rocks.
Bass 2014 wrote "E-portfolios are at heart a set of pedagogies and practices that link learners to learning, curriculum to the cocurriculum, and courses and programs to institutional outcomes."  Here is a place for the student to reflect and narrate about their learning experience, show the artifacts of their learning, organize and curate their scholarly works, and share with others.  Most importantly, ePortfolios are leaner-centric and may demonstrate a student's creativity and sense of wonder better than any exam.   I use ePortfolio as a course-level demonstration of student learning; it's been ten years since I gave students the option of creating a hard-copy portolio.  Students can choose to make their final ePortfolio private or public.   For one example, click here.   The easiest way to initiate this trial is to develop your own teaching portfolio and use your struggles and successes to help model the ePortfolio development process.   See My Teaching Portfolio.

Try one of these ideas!  Social media have vastly changed how we communicate online. Our students are no longer just consumers of online media.  Fisheries educators have a key role to play in training fisheries students in the  communications of fisheries issues for multiple diverse audiences. Students 2.0 are content creators, curators, distributors, editors, opinion makers, and much more. Consequently, it is our responsibility as educators to help student 2.0 to navigate through the social media.  It is also our responsibility to remind students and instructors that not all learning is digital and, further, outreach to some publics must be face to face (see The Grapevine).  While the media landscape has changed dramatically, the criteria for evaluating the credibility of media (arguments, evidence, conclusions, implications) have not.  If you choose not to adopt social media, you might be damned with the curse of irrelevance.

Bass, R. 2014. The next whole thing in higher education. Peer Review. Winter 2014, 16(1):35.   
Bik, H.M. and M.C. Goldstein. 2013. An introduction to social media for scientists. PLoS Biology 11(4): e1001535. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001535 
Brooks, K. 2010. You majored in what? Mapping your path from chaos to career. Plume. Penguin Group. New York. 322 pp. 
Carr, N. 2008. Is Google making us stupid? The Atlantic. July/August.
Couldry, N. 2012.  Media, society, world: social theory and digital media practics. Polity. 242 pp.
Dahlstrom, M.F. 2014. Using narratives and storytelling to communicate science with nonexpert audiences.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111 (Supplement 4):13583-13584.  
Grossman, G. D., D. J. Orth, and J. Neuswanger. 2016. Innovative teaching methods in Fisheries Education.  Fisheries 41(8):451-457.
Kumpulainan, K., and J. Sefton-Green 2014. What is connected learning and how to research it? International Journal of Learning and Media 4:7-18. doi:10.1162/IJLM_a_00091
McLuhan, M. 1964. Understanding media: the extensions of man. Signet, New York. 318 pp.
Ohler, J. 2013. Digital storytelling in the classroom: new media pathways to literacy, learning, and creativity, 2nd Edition.  Corwin. 304 pp. 
Waters, A. 2014.  Beneath the cobblestones...a domain of one's own.  Hack Education.  April 25, 2014.  
Wenger, E. 1998. Communities of practice: Learning, meaning and identity. Cambridge University Press, New York.