By Emily Sharp and Collette Sosnowy, Sarah Lawrence College
One of the challenges of teaching a technology-focused course is, of course, the technology. Unless it’s a lab-based course, an instructor needs to keep the time spent setting up, teaching, and troubleshooting the tools to a reasonable amount. It’s all too easy to lose time to spend on developing course content and preparing for class.
When Collette Sosnowy, visiting faculty in psychology at Sarah Lawrence College, was designing her interdisciplinary seminar “You Are What Your Tweet: Identity and Social Media,” (Spring 2014) these were her concerns. The course centered around using social media to learn about the psychological implications of social media: how we present ourselves online, perceptions of the public and private, and issues of identity and relationships.
At Sarah Lawrence, independent work is a large component of the curriculum. For this class, each student maintained a blog throughout the semester, which served as an ongoing record of their independent projects. The goal was not only to have them produce the work, but to critically engage with the medium in part through using it, as well as publicly document their research process.
Collette initially considered using a blogging platform like Wordpress until she attended a workshop with the college’s Web Services Advocate, Emily Sharp, about using the school’s learning management system (Jenzabar eLearning, branded on campus as MySLC). Collette realized that not only could the system meet her technology needs, but could provide institutional tech support as well!
MySLC is most widely used by faculty for uploading syllabi, emailing students, distributing readings, and moderating online discussion. Far fewer faculty use the blog feature or give students the ability to create and manage content.
Emily was on board with the idea and prior to the semester, she and her student workers devoted much time to setting up a subsection in the course webpage. Each student got a page in the section containing a blog area and a place to embed their social media feeds. Permissions were set so that students could only add and edit content on their own pages.
Emily put together a user guide and gave a workshop on getting started with their blogs, including how to forward their domain name to their page, configuring their blog, posting their first entry, including images, and embedding Twitter feeds, videos and other media.
Over the next few weeks the students got started while behind the scenes, Emily tweaked the setup of the pages as needs arose - adding a static “About” section and a “Blogroll” (a list of links to their classmates’ and other blogs) to each. Some small technical issues that came up and a few students needed extra help but after the first few weeks, the kinks were worked out and students were blogging prodigiously.
The way Collette and Emily used MySLC was radically different and focused much more on the social tools and integration capabilities of the system. The collaboration was successful from both perspectives: working with Emily and her staff gave the class a familiar platform to work with and provided much-appreciated tech support. Students saw the experience as both learning important technology skills as well as critically engaging with the very thing they were studying. Emily and her staff were able to stretch MySLC to accommodate an out-of-the-box method of learning, a model that other faculty could adopt in the future.
Tips for a successful collaboration:
1. Start early. It takes time to get together, discuss the goals for the class and logistics for the project, set it up, test it, etc.
2. Establish a good relationship. Emily and Collette got along really well and were equally excited about the project, but even if you don’t become chums with your instructional technology staff, be clear about what you both want from the project and what you can each give to make it a successful collaboration.
3. Similarly, have clearly defined roles. Emily and her staff set everything up and she visited the class to train students on the platform and had written a detailed instruction guide. She was patient with students who continued to have trouble learning to use it, but since the students had been given the tools to work out problems, the responsibility was theirs.
4. Give and get feedback. Since this was a new project, it was important to assess how well it worked, how it could be improved in the future, and, if there’s interest, how it could be applied to other types of classes, sizes, etc. It’s also a good idea to keep documentation of communication and resources.
You can view the archive of blogs at: youarewhatyoutweet.net or see the class Twitter feed: @youtweetSLC #tweetSLC