Stepping out of the shadows

Key issue I’ve identified to address in work for SLT course = how to engage students and staff and get interaction going on a relatively consistent basis.

My concern as a student: Using time effectively. I’m feeling somewhat alarmed about about fitting in 126 hours of student learning time between now and June – do I have this much time available within what I’m already commited to? It’s going to take a lot of planning. I guess this is the first step. Challenge for me – keeping focused on the clear benefits in the midst of time that on occasion tech skills or lack of tech skill will suck up. I am convinced of the benefits especially as  additive an option for those who it suits but not confident in my own persistence in the face of what will no doubt be frustration at times. However I shouldn’t be too hard on myself as in this area of ease of use, I don’t think I’m any different from most people – if something’s easy to use, we’ll use it; if not we’ll wait till a new opportunity or something better comes along.

In my practical teaching assessment I want to try out activities on students and colleagues – maybe just those on course but also perhaps my teaching team so I’m already starting to give back. This is a brainstorm of ideas I’m tossing round:  try to get a small scale community of practice going. Challenge – getting students to engage with other students; making it genuinely collaborative. There are a number of ways I could go with this – all relevant to current work or projects, and I can’t muck around too long before deciding:

    • Lecturers – re PG supervision
    • PG course work students – 1 cohort
    • Nursing students – spoken lang for clinical practice
    • One of my workshops: e.g.
    • Ac reading and writing for PG
    • Paraphrasing – students or staff
    • Referencing – staff

Atwell, G., & Hughes, J. (2010). Pedagogic approaches to using technology for learning: Literature review. Lifelong Learning UK ( check source)

Notes on above: Chose an initial reading which seemed to be in tune with some of my beliefs about slt and education. With technologies there are greater expectations in terms of how immediate feedback is – if you put it out there you want to get something back. Stuff you write quickly feels stale and if no one comments it may feel like a waste of time or at least that you’re talking to yourself. I see that my key concern about motivating students to add to or create content is reflected here, as in White (2007)  “the issue of how to encourage students to move from being ‘lurkers’ to active participants is crucial” (as cited in Atwell & Hughes, 2010, p.

Instead of Prensky’s division into natives and immigrants, David White (2008) makes a distinction between digital residents and digital visitors – though this seems just like using different words. Questions around the use of the social tools within social tools – it’s possible to use social networking apps in fairly traditional and non-collaborative ways. Just posting about yourself without really engaging with others.

“Citing Bruns & Humphreys (2005) and Landow (2006) as sources, Beetham et al claim that “new ways of sharing content online are blurring the boundaries between creative production and consumption, through practices such as commenting, reviewing, re-purposing, re-tweeting, media meshing. Education needs to respond by focusing on creative collaboration” (p13).

Definitions of digital literacies in this article don’t seem very helpful or earth-shattering – key point I take from it is that digital literacies are essential, and will become more and more important for full social engagement. Doolittle and Camp have as one of eight principles “learning should involve social negotiation and mediation” – yes, because learning is richer as a result. Of the theories around learning with technologies, community of practice is the one that most resonates with me, because it emphasises common interests, the benefits of participation and a range of ways in which participants can engage. I think it also emphasises the temporary nature of many such communities – while some will be long-term survivors, many will have a limited shelf life- such as those created (or is it evolved) around an educational course.

Scaffolding is an approach I’m very familiar with, but usually it’s described as a skill that the teacher has and can ‘apply’ to the learner. It’s quite artful – involves thinking about where the learner is and what’s the next step for that person. An issue with student – student collaboration is that comments on each others input are often not scaffolded, but more random which can be hard to deal with.


6 thoughts on “Stepping out of the shadows

  1. Great to see someone getting going with the blogging.

    You have posed the question of how to get students engaged in social learning technologies. I suggest the first question is should they? Are class blogs and discussion forums the best way to learn?

    The answer depends on how you define “best”. If you mean depth of learning on one particular subject then they probably are. If you mean the most efficient way to learn a subject or to carry out a couse of study, then maybe not.

    For example, in this class there are about 10 students. Each will post 10 plus blogs, each blog should attract a say 2 replies (at least but more if the blog content is to be properly explored). That makes 300 plus blogs and replies we need to read, digest and , maybe, respond to as well as the blogs we research and write. While the discussion will be interesting and useful, the question is are we getting good payback for the time we expend?

    Another problem is that we are all exploring a subject so our blogs are not succinct distillations of a subject. Working together to explore a subject is maybe the best way to get a good appreciation of the subject but it takes time and we have a lot of territory to cover.

    My view is that a lecturer needs to be more than a lighthouse, they need to provide the map -not because the students cannot eventually find their way but because they need to get there quicker so that they can move onto the next exploration. In short I suggest that Social Learning needs scaffolding to be a useful approach in the courses we teach.

    I think that the use of social learning in education can yield benefits but there are some signficant technical issues that need to be addressed and , in my view, you need to step back from the philosophy of student centred learning to use them in a way that actually works.

    • I agree with your point about scaffolding being necessary, and perhaps that’s what I’d like to look out for in future reading that I do. And we can also ask about it in our sessions – what is some of the ‘infrastructure’ that it’s useful to put in place around student use of social learning? What can we learn from the successes and mistakes of those who’ve trialled it. Guidelines so that it can be a more efficient way of learning.

      I think use of a tool like blogging will be student-centred though, and should be, because this is it’s main benefit. It enables and, if part of a formative or summative assessment plan, requires students to think their own thoughts and do their own processing of course material. Even if not efficient in terms of time, that seems to me a good thing.

      • Nice to read this discussion. I agree with the points made by both. I agree with Caroline that SLT needs to be ‘structured’ in some way…even if it is a set of guidelines.It can be a great vehicle for discussion, debate and expression about topics and content, and as such it is a great tool for studying a discipline…although I think each discipline will have different approaches depending on the requirements of the social ‘interaction’.
        Also agree with Hugh, and perhaps this is where the lecturer comes in as something as a navigator as well as a lighthouse…the students need to not only grasp a discipline, but also how to interact within it. Engineers need to talk
        engineering using tools which suit them, nurses would use different tools with different conventions. A nurse’s report will not read like an engineer’s or a builder’s.

        From my point of view as a literacy and numeracy adviser, there are also
        questions such as:
        just what do engineers/nurses/automotive mechanics write, and how can SLT help with that?

        A builder might tweet you a picture with a description saying ‘here’s a pic of the rotten pile I removed’, but a doctor…?

        And when you think of reading, I guess questions such as:
        well how and what do builders, electricians, decorators need to read and understand, and how can we reflect that in SLTs. How do we get SLTs to help us develop this skill when our diagnostics are showing us that reading is a problem for x learner in our class?( Maybe we can reverse the impression that people have…that SLTs are making us dumber and less able to read and write…)

        Similarly, speaking and listening skills: what apps are going to be worthwhile, and how?

        And on the literacy interventions side, which SLTs are going to help. I personally have already seen cases where students doing courses such as Automotive, are writing a heck of a lot more than they ever used to, precisely because they are blogging, and they’re blogging about cars. It allows them to connect writing with their passion, rather than having them write for an exercise. In this sense it is good that blogs don’t seem like straitjackets.

        maybe this is all about ‘affordances’.

        The research I have read shows that students are writing far more than they ever did, and this is due to SLTs. If we can hone and develop our use of SLTs appropriately, we will finally be making better use of them

  2. Thanks Caroline, and Hugh, for adding thoughts to this.I have been lurking but thus far have not dived into this digital conversation. I have a list of ideas I am keen to blog on and these should start appearing soon!

    But just quickly here… Caroline I was fascinated to read of your interest in initiating student-to-student engagement via slt. If properly scaffolded etc this could be one of the key skills or competencies that students could gain from their time with us. It’s easy enough to respond to a set of instructions and fulfill a class brief- but using iniative and curiosity and engaging for the purpose of engaging (not simply for a mark)- now wouldn’t that be something? I can see this emerging nicely also through the growing use of peer-review techniques- of which there must be some web 2.0 component? Whilst students might start out as random collaborators, an explicit goal of increasing metacognition would supports students to internalise models of intellectual engagement in productive new ways. Seems to me that slt are a great way to promote learning as more than an external relationship to/with “expert” knowledge.

    The issue of efficiency is difficult to tackle… so often it is linked to a measurement of time. I haven’t got any answers to this. I would hope that these technologies will make learning a process resistant to being compartmentalised (geographically and temporally). Seems a lot of energy is spent containing information into little packages when indeed the borders are so often permeable. Take our time commitment to this course- many of us are already doing this sort of tinkering in our courses and in that sense there is no border between my role as a student on this course, and my role as lecturer in others. The 126 hours I am meant to spend on this course are hours that I would otherwise be spending trying to work this out by myself!

  3. We seem to agree on the value of SLT, but are questioning the methodology that underpins its usage in any one learning environment. I agree with Nick that having a strategy should guide our implementation of any tool. In the wrong hands some of these tools probably do not promote literacy or learning. However, I don’t see how we can avoid using them, or why we would want to. I appreciate that there is much anxiety over time but I suspect it will be equally draining to keep up a resistance.

    As ’21st century educators’ we should be looking to give our students access to an understanding of the power behind these tools. I’m talking about intellectual power to claim information and contribute usefully to overall knowledge production. Using web tools are a perfect way to open a conversation with students about what counts as knowledge- in that sense, the tool becomes part of the wider process and indeed, with prior strategising, informs part of your content.

    I know some people are concerned with the amount of time this course requires of us (some 126 hours?) but given that I was already thinking about how to apply these ideas to my teaching, I am probably going to save double that amount of time in not having to figure it out on my own!

  4. @Caroline – Excellent start – several issues you have outlined and I am sure these will form the base for your other blog posts. Also might form the foundation of your framework.

    @Nick, @Hugh, @susie – excellent feedback to Carolines post – I guess in a way by commenting on Carolines blog – you all have outlined the areas you would be focusing on in your blog.

    Some interesting reading on the issues: Scaffolding and SLT –
    Borthick, A. F., Jones, D. R. & Wakai, S. 2003. Designing learning experiences within the learners’ zones of proximal development (ZPDs): Enabling collaborative learning on-site and online. Journal of Information Systems, 17, 107-134.

    Digital identity (aligns well with digital literacy and what it means) – the best overview I have myself come across, also has a list of useful references:

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