How I use social media in teaching Part II: Wikis on Blackboard

As I mentioned in my first post on using social media in teaching, I use Twitter (and all social media tools) within Victoria University’s Blackboard learning system. This is because students all have access to Blackboard, to campus computers, and to the internet on campus. I don’t expect students to sign up to platforms such as Twitter just for my courses. Also, while many of them do own smartphones, iPads, and laptops, I do not assume that they can all afford (or want) to. Blackboard has a clunky interface and is not the sexist learning environment out there – and student feedback indicates that they don’t particularly like it – but keeping everything ‘in house’ for me is a way of ensuring ease of access.

Tutorial Group Wikis on Blackboard

I teach a large introductory anthropology course and this year adopted a new learning approach to tutorials inspired by Mike Wesch’s World Simulation. I like students to be active participants in tutorials, which I believe should be distinct from lectures in style and content. Rather than summarising set readings or reviewing the lectures, during tutorials each I have each group engage in a collaborative task to help students learn to use the concepts presented and to prepare for their assessed coursework.

I assign each tutorial group to an area on a map of the world and students collectively research and become experts on a real-world cultural group (such as the Trobriand Islanders). Each student chooses a particular aspect of culture to research (e.g., religion or systems of trade and exchange – the list of aspects they choose from aligns with my weekly lecture topics) and works with one or two others to learn all they can about that aspect as it relates to their cultural group. In this way, tutorial groups build a full ethnographic description of the cultures they are assigned. Each student then writes an ethnographic essay based on their aspect of culture which is individually assessed – this is not a form of group assessment.

Wikis are an important part of this collaborative tutorial task for two reasons:

1. Wikis contain a crowdsourced list of relevant references.
This is a research exercise and students are expected to find at least one unique academic resource on their aspect of culture. I encourage them to share relevant resources (by listing the full reference and providing a brief summary of its contents) on their group’s Wiki on Blackboard. When everyone in the tutorial group does this, they build a collective repository of approximately 20 resources they can draw on for their ethnographic essays and other coursework.

2. Wikis become a valuable resource for their coursework.
Part of the essay requires students to discuss how the particular aspect of culture they are focusing on is integrated with the other aspects of their cultural group (e.g., the role of religion in systems of trade and exchange). They do this by participating in tutorials on a weekly basis. The Wiki lets them continue these conversations and work on their essays outside of the classroom setting. When everyone shares their research findings on the Wiki, they collectively build a full ethnographic description of the cultural group they are studying. The Wiki becomes their first ‘go-to’ place when they write their individual essays and prepare for other assignments.

2013 was the first year our class worked with Wikis and I received some wonderfully critical and constructive feedback from students about how to ‘tweak’ the exercise for next year. I am currently processing this feedback and rewriting the collaborative tutorial group instructions for 2014.

Do you (as a student or teacher) work with Wikis on Blackboard? What have your experiences been? What might you do differently (or keep the same) in the future?

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How I use social media in teaching Part I: Twitter

In an earlier post I discussed why I use social media in teaching: as a pedagogical tool, and for my own professional development. In this post (the first in a series on how I use social media in teaching) I focus on how I use Twitter.

Until recently, I have not had much luck in using Twitter as a teaching tool within the classroom. In 2011 I experimented with Twitter as a backchannel for students in a small 300-level (third year) anthropology class. I set up a class account, which I used, and embedded the Twitter stream in Blackboard for everyone to see. I tweeted during lectures to show them the difference between thick and thin tweets (as David Silver describes it) and encouraged them to set up their own Twitter accounts. I designed in-class activities that involved composing 140-character questions and tweeting them to the authors of the films and articles we were watching and reading at the time. (The authors were all anthropologists I followed on Twitter, and I checked with them beforehand to make sure they were happy to receive and respond to student tweets.) I also monitored the class account and class hashtag during and outside lectures so I could respond to any student queries or comments.

Despite my efforts, it did not take off. The students just weren’t into it. As one student put it, they felt that Twitter was for “old people” like me.

Today I still embed my Twitter stream in Blackboard (using my own account rather than a class account) but I don’t encourage students to set up their own accounts or tweet questions to me during class. Instead, I talk about Twitter during lectures and draw their attention to my Twitter stream to model how I use this form of social media as an anthropologist. Most of the time they are astonished to find that I follow hundreds of anthropologists on Twitter and that we tweet about things other than what we had for lunch.

I have had more success with Twitter at Honours level. As I mentioned in a recent post, students live-tweeted from our recent Anthropology and Agency Honours Student Conference. They seemed to enjoy the experience and the interested generated within the wider academic community about their research (which they are keen to collate into a journal and make publicly available later this year).

For me, Twitter is most useful as a way to find out about current research, to engage in conversations about teaching practice, and to source new lecture material. In future I might try using Twitter to “co-construct” lecture content (an approach described by Daniela Retelny, Jeremy Birnholtz and Jeffrey Hancock), but based on my past experiences I think this would be best suited to a smaller, 300-level or above class.

There is quite a bit of information available on teaching with Twitter (e.g., Teaching with Twitter by Stephanie Hedge on Inside Higher Ed, and this guide on Web 2.0/3.0 Teaching from Dartmouth College Library). I am keen to hear how others – especially students – use Twitter in a university setting. What has worked for you? What hasn’t worked?