Friday, November 4, 2011

Using social media in an undergraduate course

Banner for the unit. Image by Karenkayho on Flickr
Over the past 13 weeks, I've been working with Keith Lyons teaching a unit called Business, Politics and Sport. Our goal was to modify the pre-existing unit outline enough so we could run an open, flexible, invitational learning event, where we could curate a guest lecture series, put everything online (not so much on university systems, but on real-world web sites), to make attendance intrinsically motivated, and to set assignments that were challenging and that make a contribution to wider, open knowledge communities. It worked, and we're getting really good feedback.
  • In the end, we used UC's Moodle in a very basic stripped back form, making it open access, and providing a link out to the unit website, with a forum set up if anyone needed it
  • We set up a unit website on Blogger, which fed through to a Facebook page, and used these to document progress in the unit
  • We used Wikiversity to prepare the unit content, and develop and submit the assignments
  • There were three assignments: an essay on Wikiversity, an online presentation, and an "open book" exam, where open book means the use of personal computers and the internet in the exam.

The exam is next week and everyone seems quite excited by it, partly because no one has sat an open book exam quite like this one. We're encouraging the use of chat and other online communication throughout the exam, and of course we're designing the questions with that capability in mind. Let's just hope the UC power circuits and wireless hold out for it. We have some contingencies in place.

Most of the essays are in, as well as the presentations, and almost all of the 93 participants have really risen to the challenge. We have some fascinating essays and videos published, from pole dancing to rock climbing, all with copyrights (hopefully) cleared, some with open standard format videos embedded, one in Arabic (although he will need an extension due to outside pressures), and many having been peer reviewed by other participants. The full list of works are here on the BPS2011 category on Wikiversity.

We have gained some really nice feedback so far from two of the participants already, and we're hoping for more when the exam and assessment is out of the way. We plan to produce a PediaPress printed book from some of the best essays, in combination with work from Ben Rattray's group working together on Wikibooks, producing a book of factsheets about disease and exercise.

It has been a pleasure to see this model of teaching work so well, and we can only hope to see it scale more with other staff taking up the principles and practices here. We're directing participants to engage in productive, real world knowledge communities, using contemporary information and communications technology, to produce openly accessible information from their work, drawing more on their intrinsic motivation than not, and it seems to have worked well.

When the unit is over, and the mountain of assessment is out of the way, I'll be using BPS2011 as a case study in my PhD. We were given an opportunity to implement some of our ideas on open education and networked learning, and while we couldn't take it all the way - for example, I would have loved to have tried open and rolling enrollments, or done more in terms of coordinating with other similar units or community groups, or mapped several of the learning objectives to vocational competencies where they obviously connect, we did manage to show something of a model worth thinking about. The workload has been well within the recommended limits - although the marking will be hefty, the learning objectives have plenty of evidence of being met, and the student feedback is looking excellent.