Breaking Out of the e-Learning Courseware Box: Integrating Social Media

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Steven S. Vrooman, Ph.D.

Dr. Steven S. Vrooman is a Professor of Communication Studies, Chair of the Department of English and Communication Studies, and Director of General Education at Texas Lutheran University. Following his B.A. in English at Loyola Marymount University, he earned his M.A. and Ph.D. in Communication from Arizona State University. He spoke at TEDxSanAntonio on how our brains work like Twitter. He is the author of The Zombie Guide to Public Speaking and writes The MoreBrainz Blog, which offers help for public speaking and pedagogy. He can be reached via email at svrooman@tlu.edu.

We are sure e-learning works, although we often act as if all online practices are the same as we continue to investigate online vs. face-to-face modes and find them equivalent. The finding remains the same over the course of ten years (Schaik, Barker, & Beckstrand, 2003); Mativo, , & Godfrey, 2013), yet each online course seems to have different designs.  Additionally, although we also believe that social media is good for learning, Facebook, to take one platform, sometimes works (Kivunja, 2015) and sometimes does not (Moran, Seaman, & Tinti-Kane, 2011), and my reading of the studies seems to indicate that it depends on what we use it for and how.

In reviewing the growing literature on e-learning and social media and the various course practices that bridge them, it is clear, as with PowerPoint an educational generation ago, that when we drill down to exact practices, some things work (see, I’m sure, the past fifteen years of each of our teaching, right?) and some don’t (Adams, 2006). Specific analysis of specific practices is the only way forward. To paraphrase McLuhan, it’s not the medium, it’s the pedagogy.

To that end, I have used the following social media practices in class:

  1. Blogs: Students post data analysis, drafts, final projects and peer review them, publically.
  2. Public Blog Comments: Alumni/outside experts invited to critique student work.
  3. Discussion via Facebook Event: Including alumni/experts.
  4. Students Publicized Work: They did work on Instagram and shared it & blog work via Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Qualitative assessment of the outcomes of these results suggested the following positive outcomes:

  1. Better Work: Public work is better work, especially when outside voices tell them to improve it and students are promoting it.
  1. Engagement: Social media, used in certain ways, can increase engagement more than courseware, which can feel like a waste-of-time, count-my-comments-for-the-grade echo chamber.
  1. Portfolio: Students can retain their entire work to show progression or just the final versions to demonstrate their expertise.
  1. E-Learning Bonuses: Most gamified elearning practices work better on social media than in courseware. For example, debates have more at stake and engage the public. Creative projects get a larger audience and thus bigger reaction.
  1. Skillset Development: For my communication studies majors, social media skills are key. For other majors, they are more important than you might think.
  1. Alumni Engagement: Many LOVED the opportunity to reconnect with professors and students in this way and share their new skills and perspectives. Mentoring happened in many cases. And it set the stage for increased inclusion of those alumni in face-to-face events with students.

It also revealed the following challenges:

  1. Age:
    1. Nontraditional students: They had troubles: unwilling/critical of social media, self-doubt due to lack of familiarity, higher privacy concerns.
    2. Traditional students: They had troubles: difficulty adjusting to violation of “fun” space, difficulty with academic self-promotion.
  1. Sign-Ups:
    1. Technical Difficulties: Fewer than with courseware & easy to Google answers to, but signing up for accounts is surprisingly very hard for them.
    2. Secondary Accounts: Younger students often do not want classwork in their personal accounts, but second email addresses are often required for multiple accounts. Managing multiple accounts is easy for some platforms (Twitter) but hard in others (Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn).
  1. Oversight: Hashtags are not enough to find their work. You need them to @ you or you won’t see everything.
  1. Content ABOUT Social Media is Needed: Things like how-tos, technical difficulties, privacy, etiquette, bullying/flaming, etc. probably need class time/resources to go over (however, offloading classtime experiences into social media helps offset this).

References

Adams, C. (2006). PowerPoint, habits of mind, and classroom culture. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 38, 389-411.

Kivunja, C. (2015). Innovative methodologies for 21st century learning, teaching and assessment: A convenience sampling investigation into the use of social media technologies in higher education. International Journal of Higher Education, 4 (2), 1-26.

Mativo, J. M., Hill, R. B., & Godfrey, P. W. (2013). Effects of human factors in engineering and design for teaching mathematics: A comparison study of online and face-to-face at a technical college. Journal of STEM Education: Innovations & Research, 14, 36-44.

Moran, M., Seaman, J., & Tinti-Kane, H. (2011). Teaching, learning and sharing: How today’s higher education faculty use social media. Babson Survey Research Group. ERIC: ED535130.

Van Schaik, P., Barker, P., & Beckstrand, S. (2003). A comparison of on-campus and online course delivery methods in Southern Nevada. Innovations in Education & Teaching International, 40, 5-15.

 

Motivate Learning Through Online Games

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Holly Lutze, Ph.D.

Dr. Holly Lutze is an Assistant Professor in Business and Economics at Texas Lutheran University with 12 years of experience teaching Operations Management. She holds a B.S. in Industrial Engineering and Engineering Management from Oklahoma State University. Her M.S. in Engineering-Economic Systems and Operations Research and Ph.D. in Management Science and Engineering are from Stanford University.

Professors often have students demonstrate classroom learning through simulation games. Textbook publishers underscore the need for high quality, meaningful, and practical experiences to exercise new knowledge (Barko & Sadler, 2003). These simulation games are wonderful but are often applied only after the instruction takes place (Squire, 2003).

Simple, free, online games can effectively introduce ideas and provide playful examples for use later in a semester. My students may play with Legos, throw paper wads, or dig through my garbage. However, their interest is piqued when I ask them to bring laptops or tablets to class.

Video games can be used to stimulate learning in the classroom. Some instructors resist this practice due to time constraints or because they believe the strategy conflicts with their traditional teaching methods (Kirriemui & McFarlane, 2014; Squire, 2003) The challenge of engaging students with different interests, backgrounds, learning styles, and aptitudes is one we all face (Barko & Sadler, 2003; Kelly, 2005; Bowman, 1982).

While my classes may teeter on the edge of chaos at first, pulling a classroom into productive discussion fits well with my pedagogical strategy.  I want to form an environment where all students feel comfortable interacting with classmates and with me (Kelly, 2005). My instruction frames what students observe in a game and expands upon it (Squire, 2003). Sometimes concepts relate immediately, and sometimes I refer to the games later in the semester, as examples.

One game I use effectively in Operations Management is Patient Shuffle, available through GE Healthcare Partners. Used to introduce the differences between production organizations and service organizations, the premise of the game is to run a hospital. Patients follow different sequences of treatments, spend varying amounts of time in each room, and leave by either foot or helicopter. Student performance is measured by the number of patients treated and the general mood of the patients.

Students audibly express frustrations throughout the game, but these frustrations are exactly what I am looking for. To elicit student engagement, I follow up five rounds with the following four questions.

(1) What made this game difficult? Comments lead to discussions of measuring productivity, customization in a process focus, and resource limitations.

(2) What would have made the game easier? Comments lead to discussions of capacity planning, scheduling, and strategies for process-oriented layout.

(3) What did you do to improve over time? I point out that they already demonstrate problem solving skills that can help them be successful operations managers.

(4) Who did the best, and what was the secret to his/her success? We talk about benchmarking and, time permitting, allow students to try to improve performance at the end of the fifty-minute class.

Finding free online games that relate to my teaching goals can be tricky. If a game elicits relevant answers to the above four questions, I know I have found a good one. Bottling the magic of Pac-Man in a productive and educational learning environment (Bowman, 1982) is not impossible. 

References

Barko, T., & Sadler, T. (2013). Practicality in virtuality: Finding student meaning in video game education. Journal of Science Education & Technology, 22(2), 124-132.

Kelly, H. (2005). Games, cookies, and the future of education. Issues in Science & Technology, 21(4), 33-40.

Bowman, R. F. (1982). A pac-man theory of motivation: tactical implications for classroom instruction. Educational Technology, 22, 14-17.

Squire, K. (2003). Video games in education. International Journal of Intelligent Games & Simulation,  2, 49-62.

 

Beyond Pro and Con: Re-thinking MOOCs

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William J. Barry

While pursuing his research interests, which include effective technology use, especially among students in transition, William J. Barry teaches developmental reading at St. Edward’s University.  He also trains adult educators in partnership with the Texas Center for the Advancement of Literacy and Learning (TCALL), and teaches first-year seminar at Texas State University, where he is a PhD candidate in developmental education.

Questions of access and affordability remain at the heart of the developmental education discussion (Braun, 2016; Floyd, Felsher, & Ramdin, 2016), and as the results of Moore’s Law continue to bring the world increasingly powerful technology, stakeholders turn to ones and zeroes for answers.  Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) represent one such proposal enjoying ample coverage in the literature (e.g., Bastedo, 2016; McClure, 2016).  Advocates say MOOCs increase the accessibility of high-quality education while decreasing the costs (Carey, 2012; Teo, 2015), and critics point to the low academic rigor of MOOCs, while suggesting they profit at the expense of faculty and students (Axmann & Atkins, 2016; Marshall, 2014).

Despite this crucial debate, MOOC critiques rarely consider college students’ perceptions and attitudes.  While administrators, faculty, and media argue apace, it remains unclear how students view MOOCs.  As an educator in the developmental space, I consider students the primary stakeholders.  As such, I expect MOOC policy to benefit students first.  I expect researchers and faculty interested in MOOCs to focus on how students perceive these issues.  After all, their education faces significant transformation in the face of widespread MOOC implementation.

Such expectations drew my attention to a recent study (Cole & Timmerman, 2015), which examined students’ MOOC perceptions.  Using thematic analysis, Cole and Timmerman (2015) suggested students believe MOOCs hold the potential to augment lifelong learning, even though they serve as inferior alternatives to traditional coursework.  Students made their determinations based on several interesting criteria (see Figure 1), which suggest a deeper appreciation for what works in education.  These kinds of nuanced student responses also suggest the value of asking deeper questions regarding MOOC utility, rather than yielding to seductive pro/con binaries.  Answers to such questions inform decisions with regard to the place of MOOCs in higher education, and those decisions stand to affect each one of us in yet unseen ways.

Figure 1.

bill barrys infograph

Click on image to enlarge.

References

Axmann, M., & Atkins, R. (2016). Online community-based practices for massive open online courses (MOOCs) at Open Universities Australia: A case Study. User-Centered Design Strategies for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), 83.

Bastedo, M. N. (2016). American higher education in the twenty-first century: Social, political, and economic challenges. Baltimore, MD: JHU Press.

Braun, H. (2016). The dynamics of opportunity in America: A working framework. In The Dynamics of Opportunity in America (pp. 137-164). New York: Springer International Publishing.

Carey, K. (2012, September 7). Into the future with MOOCs. Chronicle of Higher Education, 59(2), 29.

Cole, A. W., & Timmerman, C. E. (2015). What do current college students think about MOOCs? MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 11, 188-201.

Floyd, D. L., Felsher, R. A., & Ramdin, G. (2016). A retrospective of four decades of community college research. Community College Journal of Research and Practice40(1), 5-22.

Marshall, S. (2014). Exploring the ethical implications of MOOCs. Distance Education, 35, 250-262. doi:10.1080/01587919.2014.917706

McClure, M. W. (2016). Investing in MOOCs: “Frenemy” risk and information quality. In Globalisation and Higher Education Reforms (pp. 77-94). New York: Springer International Publishing.

Teo, T. H. (2015). Just-in-time teaching visual instruction for cohort base interactive learning for engineering course. GSTF Journal on Education (JEd)3(1).