Overview of Project - 2010

Social media tools, such as Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube, have the potential to increase communication among faculty and students, increase engagement in the classroom, and create peer networks among students, faculty, and the community. Social media tools are becoming increasingly popular in the mainstream. According to Bulik (July 8th, 2009) “Out of the 110 million Americans (or 60% of the online population) who use social networks, the average social networking user logs on to these sites quite a bit. They go to social networking sites 5 days per week and check in 4 times a day for a total of an hour per day. Nine percent of that group stay logged in all day long and are ‘constantly checking what's new’” (para 7). It is obvious that many students already use these social media tools in their day to day lives and campuses across the country are already exploring their potential impact on learning (e.g., http://tinyurl.com/ox92ds).

Due to current budget restrictions facing campuses, social media tools are becoming a more attractive option because of their small price tags and their widespread diffusion among college students. Many college students are already familiar with some of the social media tools (e.g., Facebook), so the learning curve and resources needed to train and support students is low. Along with the already existing, large body of current social media tool users on campus, the lack of funding opportunities for large scale software solutions leads educators to look for low-cost solutions. Examining the learning benefits of these technologies in order to meet existing pedagogical needs in the classroom is necessary. This proposal is to implement social media tools in the classroom in pedagogically effective ways to explore the impact on the classroom, communication and engagement, and student learning.

Project Narrative

Statement of Need/Problem
Faculty across the UW System campuses are faced with the challenge of increasing engagement in their classrooms and increasing communication with their students and among their students. Faculty teaching in a hybrid or online learning environment have found it difficult to communicate with students due to the mediated environment. As Metts (2003) reported that “Over half (52%) said the worst part of the online experience was poor communication. And half of those (26% of the total) said the problem was communicating with their instructors” (para 16). According to a survey by Joosten (2009), students reported that they need good (67%) and frequent communication (90%) with their instructor and good communication with their classmates (75%). They also reported that they need to feel connected to learn (80%) (see http://tinyurl.com/yafu8qz). As Ferenstein (2009) reported “Many universities have internal e-mail systems and message boards. But getting students to routinely check these systems for updates can be a chore” (para 8). Therefore, universities are harnessing the power and popularity of social media tools, i.e., Facebook and Twitter, to help overcome these pedagogical challenges and increase the communication of course information using tools that students already use. Further, these social media tools can incorporate mobile technologies increasing their effectiveness.

Specifically, Desire2Learn (D2L) doesn not provide any "push-down" communication, meaning communication that is delivered to their desktop or mobile device, beyond e-mail. These days, many students do not check e-mail on a regular basis. However, preliminary research conducted (see http://tinyurl.com/yafu8qz) indicates to us that the majority of students would like to receive communication about their course via text messaging and that the majority of students are on Facebook where they communicate most often. Twitter will allow instructors to send out brief messages to students that can be received on students' mobile devices. This allows instructors to get reminders, announcements, changes, etc., to students using a "push down" medium that will send these things right to the student’s mobile phone. Facebook has a similar function that would allow instructors to send out messages to students’ Facebook inbox or post on their Facebook wall. These updates can be forwarded to their mobile phone from Facebook as well. For example, a student receives a text message on Friday reminding him of an exam deadline at midnight. He might not have checked his e-mail, but since the message was sent to his phone, he now can head back home and get working on his exam. Student's ability to manage time and self-organize is one of most challenging skills, in particular, for younger students in online and blended classes. By offering a push-down medium to receive class communication, an instructor is helping their students manage time and be organized, which in return, will increase their learning and satisfaction.

Another pedagogical challenge that can be met by social media tools is increasing engagement and interactivity in face-to-face (f2f) class meetings and lectures. According to Butler (1991) students have reported that they perceive lecture as the least effective method of teaching. Also, Saville and Zinnit (2005) reported that students learn better using other methods of teaching besides lecture. However, our institutions are still using lecture-based, passive learning models, in particular, for foundational, content-rich, lower-level courses. So, how do we make these engaging and interactive? Further, students operate in silos and need more mechanisms to build learning community and peer networks, which have been proven to lead to increase learning and satisfaction. Social media tools can be used to make these environments more interactive and engaging while in class. Also, this increase in interactivity can increase the opportunity to the building of peer networks and learning community, which can be a challenge in larger classes.

There are limited technologies in the f2f classroom to encourage interaction and engagement. These courses are usually over 60+ students (up to 400+), lecture-based, limit feasibility of audience interaction, content rich (heavy), and learning objectives are based on building recall, foundational knowledge. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, we did implement Student Response Systems (see http://tinyurl.com/ywy9z7) or clickers, as they are more commonly known. We have over 15,000 students who own a clickers, almost 6,000 students a semester using clickers, and almost 50 course section a semester using clickers (See http://clickers.uwm.edu or http://tinyurl.com/yk63cj4). However, the information gathered by a clicker is very lean. It can capture students’ responses to comprehension questions and spark discussion, but there is little potential for qualitative feedback or an ongoing dialogue. Social media tools, like Twitter, allow students to "Twitter" or send posts, brief 140 character microblog posts (just really short messages), reflecting on the lecture or discussion taking place. This creates a backchannel, or a dialogue amongst students about what they are hearing in the f2f classroom. Students are able to ask questions, share reflections, and so forth. This has the potential to create an engaging, interactive f2f classroom where traditionally we see passive learning. Further, this creates a peer learning community, since other students will be answering your questions, scholarly debating the issues, and so forth.

Social media may improve learning in the classroom by:
· Increasing access to course-related communication
· Engaging the attention of the students by encouraging participation and dialogue
· Making students active participants in their learning
· Facilitating the creation of peer networks and learning community through the sharing of ideas

This project will consist of several members in different disciplines throughout the campus, who will integrate social media into their course design, to learn if these systems are in fact effective for teaching and learning, and if so, what the most effective ways are to use these systems in courses. We have faculty across several disciplines that have shown interest and will determine which faculty will participate in the project after funding is secured.

The goal is to learn and disseminate “best practices” and other resources for teaching with social media for use by faculty and LTDC staff throughout the UW System through a project website. The project will prepare the campus to support and assist instructors as they become interested in introducing virtual world learning activities into their courses.