Prof. Graham Meikle, Professor of Communication and Digital Media
For over a decade, I have used a range of social media and other web-based platforms in the classroom. One core Level 7 MA module includes a weekly blogging assignment in a shared class space at Blogger, a photo-essay to be posted on Tumblr, and a visual presentation to be posted on YouTube.
Much of what I do in the social media assignments enacts Biggs’s concept of constructive alignment (Biggs & Tang 2011). Learners are asked to apply concepts from the module to their own experience or examples and reflect on these in a social media artefact such as a blog post. So the learning outcomes and course readings are addressed in active ways that draw upon the learners’ own online practices. The development of these assignments also draws upon my own published research on social media. Different assignments develop different kinds of literacy, with some emphasising written texts, others emphasising visual communication; in this way, the assignments respond to the diversity of skill sets and learning styles within a class (Northedge 2003). So for a class session on visibility and privacy in social media, they might be asked to research themselves online, and to consider how much of the material they find about themselves is under their control. For example, if there is a picture of them that they find embarrassing, are they able to remove it from the web or not? They are then asked to write a blog post reflecting on what they found and evaluate the significance of it in relation to both the course content and to their own experience and practice of using social media.
I have embedded the use of blogs in modules on news and journalism theory, on research methods and dissertation preparation, and on internet cultures. Each week, learners are asked to write a blog post responding to the week’s readings or themes, or in response to a simple task. The blog form offers a flexible and accessible writing tool, and the weekly assignments provide for consistent engagement with the module and its readings throughout the whole semester. Above all, the learners are writing for an actual audience, rather than just for their lecturer. Every learner is expected to write at least two comments each week on posts by their classmates; this provides the learners with a tangible sense that what they write is being read by their peers. The rationale for this is that it encourages the learner to reflect on the nature of this reader-writer relationship, and also to edit their work to a good standard before posting it on the blog. Learners are for the most part inexperienced in actively blogging before taking one of my modules, so I offer examples and in-class demonstrations, as well as preliminary feedback after initial posts. For guidance, learners are told that a good post should make a point, and a good comment should start or contribute to a conversation and I provide a detailed learner guide to blogging that I revise every semester and include on Blackboard for my modules.The social media assignments ask the learners to extend their engagement with course concepts into non-university contexts. One reason for situating these tasks outside the VLE of Blackboard is that the real-life environments of a platform such as YouTube encourage the learner to see the material as something whose relevance is not confined to the classroom.
Biggs, J. and Tang, C. (2011) Teaching for Quality Learning at University, SRHE and OU Press.
Northedge, A. (2003) Rethinking Teaching in the Context of Diversity, Teaching in Higher Education, Vol 8, No 1, pp 17-32.