Learning and Teaching in an International Technological University
Strathclyde’s ‘Learning & Teaching in an International Technological University’ event took place a couple of weeks ago. This annual conference has become a real highlight of the Strathclyde Teaching Excellence Programme. It is designed to showcase best practice in teaching and explore new pedagogic innovations.
What made the 2018 conference special was that it was delivered entirely by speakers from Strathclyde’s own staff. Because of this, it felt like a particularly meaningful celebration of innovation and the culture that characterises teaching at Strathclyde.
Each year has a topic and this year the theme was Social Media in Learning and Teaching.
Marrying Social Media and Academia
At first glance, social media and academia might not sound like the proverbial ‘marriage made in heaven’. But there is good evidence to suggest that social media and open practices like blogging and micro-blogging can be used to enhance the quality of teaching and learning.
A number of recent publications have advanced the conversation about the affordances of social media for academics and teachers in higher education including:
- Social Media for Academics by Mark Carrigan
- Social Media in Academia – networked scholars by George Veletsianos
- Social Media for Academics – a practical guide by Diane Pennington
It was fitting that Diane Pennington provided a keynote address that included a great overview of the many uses of social media in academia linked to digital trends and Policy, both within and outside of higher education.
Many of the other presenters explored the practice of using social media to complement other methods of teaching and modes of communication.
- Suzanne Faulkner provided a lively and entertaining introduction to how she uses Snapchat as a tutorial tool,
- Louise Kelly described how Facebook groups can be used to promote peer engagement and interaction,
- And Aidan Johnstone and Amanda Carrigan explored how they use Twitter as convenient tool for supplementary communication as part of Strathclyde’s programme of MOOCs, and in the School of Education respectively.
Teaching with Social Media
The presentations and the related discussion at the Learning & Teaching event highlighted a number of reasons why social media and open technologies deserve the attention of all academics, particularly those who teach:
- Social media can help with convenient (just in time) communication with large numbers of geographically mobile students.
- Teachers can use social media to connect students to an almost limitless, open field of knowledge.
- Students can leverage teachers’ social networks to make direct contact with experts and innovative ideas in almost any subject.
- Social media can be used to promote peer-learning, peer-feedback and problem solving.
- And in a global economy where social media has pervaded many workplaces and become a mainstay of professional networks, teaching with social media can help ready students for work in the digital age.
However, there would seem to be a number of reasons to be cautious, or at the very least conscious, about the wholesale adoption of social media across an Institution.
- There are risks related to the openness of content shared on most social media platforms.
- Related to this, almost all social media platforms require teachers and students to provide personal data to large transnational organisations.
- Whereas most Universities provide regulated access to Virtual Learning Environments, social media is, by its very nature, a far less regulated sphere of interaction. This has led to questions about cyberbullying and student mental health.
- The promise of ‘just-in-time’ communication is often tempered by concerns about teachers’ work-life balance and students’ study-life balance.
- And from the perspective of access, what of students who are unable to, or prefer not to, engage with social media?
These are among the many questions that all universities are required to learn about as they embrace the opportunities of the digital age.
The effective use of social media, open practices like blogging, microblogging, Wikis, collaboration and productivity tools, content and social sharing can be an important strategy for promoting engagement and a high-quality student experience.
Yet while it is easy to suggest that ‘the risks are counter-balanced by the benefits of open discussion and academic debate in authentic online environments’, there clearly a need for institutions to educate both students and teachers about good digital citizenship and related concepts like professional identity. This, while simultaneously providing training and access to evidence-based examples of best practice.
But what this year’s Learning and Teaching event demonstrated is that Strathclyde is a place where digital innovation is both championed and celebrated. There is support for exciting new ideas, particularly where new approaches carry the promise of enhancing the quality of the educational experience we provide to our students.
Strathclyde can be proud of its many digital innovators. And is wonderful to see that this culture of innovation is gaining external recognition too!
I am an Academic Developer in the Organisational and Staff Development Unit at the University of Strathclyde. My interests include using technology and social media to enhance learning and issues around digital citizenship, health and well-being.