Social Media in Student-Centered Course Design

My Very First Blog Post Ever

The debate about whether and how to include social media in online learning is more robust and contentious than it needs to be because of one thing: digital immigrants. The terms “digital immigrants” and “digital natives” were popularized a decade ago by Marc Prensky in his seminal 2001 article entitled, Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants ( Digital immigrants are people who did not grow up with technology surrounding them. Digital natives have known nothing else. Almost all young people today are digital natives, and almost all those who are teaching them are digital immigrants.

This makes me recall the time I history when cars were invented. All the carriage makers and farriers probably thought the whole idea of moving around like that was absurd and would never catch on. They were also afraid that they would be out of a job.  It is the resistance to accepting a new reality that makes it harder than it needs to be. Imagine 20 or 30 years from now, when all the digital immigrants have retired, and all the digital natives are running things. The debate of whether to use social media will be over, and the entire focus will be on how best to use these tools to facilitate learning.

There are some forward-thinking digital immigrants who are already out there. They’ve accepted the new reality, and know that they need to become as fluent as possible to keep up with this new world.. These are the immigrants who push themselves to use the new media, to experiment with it, and to find the best ways to incorporate it into learning of all kinds.

It’s not hard to determine whether you are a digital embracer or a digital obstructer. If you are a digital immigrant, are you trying the social media yourself?  Have you blogged?  Commented on a blog?  Participated in an online community?  Added to a wiki?  Created your own website?  The list of possibilities is long.  It is my goal to become fluent in as many Web 2.0 technologies as possible.

These technologies require students and instructors to assume new roles and responsibilities.  Here is a table that discusses these new roles:

Web 2.0 social media and the role of the instructor and student in a student-centered course design

Course Component Role of Student Role of Instructor
Development of the course content Students should not be shy if they are interacting with course content that they find boring or unhelpful.  Instructors and institutions need this feedback, as well as students’ ideas, even if they do not seek it.Students should also understand and embrace the importance of learning to collaborate with their fellow students, since this is a key skill for thriving in the future.  The best students will take responsibility for milking as much as they can out of every course they take, especially by actively participating in learning communities. Develop learning outcomes with the student in mind.  What does the student need to be able to do at the end of this course?  Give as many options as possible in order to address varied learning styles.Be open and flexible to student feedback.  Make sure every activity addresses a specific learning outcome.  Take some structure away – just keep enough structure to keep students on track.  Use real-world activities, case studies and simulations whenever possible.  Tie course content in with the social media – send students there often so that they get lots of practice.
Learner interaction (learner-to-learner and learner-to-instructor)
 Learners are responsible for knowing the course requirements, finding the time, posting using forethought and proper netiquette.  Students should look to make interesting points, ask thoughtful questions, and seek clarification where possible.  Accept that thoughtful interaction and collaboration are important factors that contribute significantly to their learning outcome.  Make an effort to get to know your classmates wherever possible.  Be sure to contact the instructor if you are struggling or have questions. Set participation guidelines.  Allow students to negotiate some of them.  Create opportunities for students to get to know each other with ice-breaker activities.  Set the tone.  Respond quickly to student emails.  Consider virtual office hours within 24 hours of assignment due dates.  Have an equal presence in discussions, and do not dominate.  Get involved if students are getting off on the wrong track.
Use of social media in the course Embrace whatever social media are used in the course.  Seek to master it.  Take the time to create thoughtful, detailed responses and questions.  Do not be afraid to disagree politely – this is where a lot of learning occurs. Include at least one social media technology in every course possible.  In a specific program of study, for example, use Twitter in one class, in another use a blog, in another try a wiki, and so on.  This way, students will have exposure and practice in all the key social media.  Know the medium personally.  Keep up on the latest research.  Be flexible and open to feedback in order to continuously improve how these tools are employed to facilitate learner engagement and knowledge creation.
Implications of social eLearning courses to the institution Social learning increases student engagement and improves learning outcomes.  Institutions that incorporate social media appropriately will most likely experience increased student retention, an improved reputation, which in turn will attract new students. Instructors will be required to accept and participate in the new digital reality and will develop their skills in utilizing Web 2.0 technologies.  Instructors will also have to learn their new role as facilitator and mentor.   The most cutting-edge schools will require this new type of instructor.

So no matter whether you are a digital native or a digital immigrant, the responsibility for learning is shifting to the student, allowing them more control over their experience.  This can be scary for some, but those who embrace it will be richly rewarded by being well-prepared to navigate this quickly-changing landscape.


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Patrick Mahoney on November 6, 2011 at 6:55 PM

    Thanks for your post. It puts into words some unease that I have had with our current system. I like your re-inventing the wheel analogy, because I am, most definitely, a digital immegrant. I am currently in the creative writing program at Rio Salado and have been partaking in the Writers@rio blog. I find the the process of interacting with other students and teachers to be very rewarding. I’d to see even more.

    Patrick Mahoney


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: