Mar 262014

Using social media tools to affirm study skills

Zoë Allman is the Programme Leader, Media Production BSc, Faculty of Technology and a DMU Teacher Fellow.

Up until the 2013/14 academic year, one of the modules that Zoë taught was the Social Media and Technology module; the learning outcomes of which are focused on students developing their study skills such as how write group essays, revision techniques and other study skills. The module also focuses on how to write for social media platforms and the importance of keeping an up to date online profile.

Traditionally, when engaging with study skills tutorials, students would work in isolation during lab sessions and in quite a didactic manner, feedback would be given on the pieces of written work that the students had produced. It was obvious to module leader Andrew Clay, supported by module tutor Zoë, that this approach to teaching study skills as part of Social Media and Technology was not pedagogically appropriate as students were seen to have forgotten what they had learnt through the feedback and therefore they set about to innovate the teaching and assessment techniques used in this part of the module.

Andrew and Zoë decided to marry the subject of the module ‘social media’ with the study skills learning outcomes. This made sense as this created a situation where the students would be using the tools that the module is focused on to develop and construct their knowledge relating to study skills.

Students were already using Facebook and Twitter in other modules and in their personal lives so in consultation with the students the module team agreed that Facebook and Twitter would be used as a platform for students to engage with each other and work collaboratively on their study skills – this approach also lent itself to the curriculum as one of the summative assessment tasks is to produce a group essay.

Initially, Andrew and Zoë adapted the traditional approach by building in the use of social media. As a module team they encouraged students to share their attempts at writing in an academic style using a Facebook group. The students found that being able to see and formatively critique each other’s attempts helped them to understand the principles behind academic writing and to learn from each other’s feedback.

This approach helped students to retain what they had learnt about study skills but the breakthrough came when one group of students decided to take their learning into their own hands.

An assignment was set whereby small groups were tasked to produce a piece (written or otherwise) to demonstrate that a specific study skill had been mastered. All groups, with the exception of one, submitted either a written document or a short video in a piece to camera style.

However, Zoë was pleasantly surprised when she reviewed one group’s submission to find that they had taken a popular song, parodied the video, re-written the lyrics and presented a produced ‘pop-video’ style piece that demonstrated fully that they had learnt how to write a group assignment.

The following week, as part of the co-teaching activity, Zoë showcased this submission to the other groups which prompted one group to go directly to the media production studio and create a parody of Beyoncé’s Single Ladies for the following week.

Now, rich multimedia content has become the normal for students working in groups or individually on the study skills assignments as part of Social Media and Media technology. Submissions are now shared and critiqued using the DMU Commons rather than Facebook but the principles are the same and students also use the DMU Commons to blog using the FutureMedia site as championed by Rob Watson, Principal Lecturer.

Andrew and Zoë also encourage the students to Tweet about their learning experience. With guidance from Dr Andrew Clay, Principal Lecturer, Critical Technical Practices, Zoë and the students have been making use of the storification tools in Twitter to build up a chronological portfolio of reflective Tweets that others can see.

Students are also encouraged to stay up to date with social media trends when using these platforms to collaborate and produce pieces for assessment. For example, students embraced the ‘Harlem Shake’ trend and group’s submitted Harlem Shake style videos to demonstrate their understanding – this links to the social media focused learning outcomes of the module as it encourages students to not only use such tools for their own assessment pieces but through using these tools they are also learning how to use them in the context of their course too.

The students enjoy these approaches to teaching and formative assessment, and have taken control of their own learning by pro-actively extending their use of social media by parodying videos and talking about their experiences and the work they have produced in these spaces.

The students described here are all first year students and through these activities they are encouraged to begin to take control of their own learning through these innovative approaches to teaching study skills.

Ian Pettit