(NOTE: There’s a fair bit of context in this post, so the main points are in bold)
When the time came to deliver my new MSc module in Social Media (February 2010) I was feeling a touch apprehensive: firstly, the terminology – since writing the module spec for programme approval a few years ago, attitudes towards the term ’social media’ had changed. The term itself was being seen as increasingly meaningless, the seemingly inevitable downside of buzz-terminology. However, more importantly I was worried about the content, much of which would draw on sociocultural theory, digital literacy and the ’soft’ side of media production (meanwhile the students are working towards technical MScs…). As their other modules were pretty techie I did wonder if they’d object to something that was so epistemologically different and diverse.
Most of my modules now involve guided Digital Identity development and have done for some time, as this is something that I feel passionately about. I feel genuinely privileged in that I am able to use DI as a springboard for pretty much everything I do with students, whether it be blogs, online communities, making mobile phone films or alternate reality games. Essentially it’s about centring the subject on the learner: their interests, their passions, their goals. Because I don’t focus on the really ‘techie’ stuff it’s easy for me to do this – obviously their subject specific modules are crucial in terms of their specialist knowledge, but there’s a growing acknowledgement within the department that the ’soft stuff’ is hugely important, but in a different way (yes, I love my job 🙂
While there is much to say about cross-disciplinary issues and curriculum development (esp. with regards QAA and FHEQ guidelines, and internal resistance to change), the point of this post is to bring attention to, and thank, my awesome MSc students and a couple of leading industry figures whose motivational influence through ‘a blog and a tweet’ were key to the whole experience…
The day our guest speaker had to cancel 10 mins before the start of a session, I had to cobble together a 2 hour fun-filled, action-packed, mind-bending excursion into the social web (ha!). So I did something which I swore I would never do with this group – I showed them how to use Twitter. After explaining that it’s not just a boring version of Facebook status updates, we spent 40 mins looking at tweets, re-tweets, @replies, lists, Delicious link sharing etc. before moving onto something else, and that was that – until that evening, when the entire time was spent socialising online with my students. For the next couple of days we were hanging out on Twitter like we’d been doing it for years. In a rare instance of learning technology perfection, I didn’t really have to use that (spontaneously set up) teaching account again after that, apart from to share the odd link – I didn’t have to, it had taken off. The group were using Twitter to socialise, organise studio sessions, share academic and industry info – pretty much everything. I’ve never known a technology take off so easily (3 days).
After working with student blogs for nearly 6 years, I’ve never seen a community of inquiry develop so quickly– and it’s with twitter and the blogs in conjunction that things really started to get interesting, as the motivation of tweeting a post and being able to see instantly that it had been viewed by X many people was hugely motivating for the students.
There were some hugely influential and heart-warming examples of the benefits of students developing a professional online ID. One of these took place after our IP/Digital Rights week, when each student was asked to write a post in response to Jeremy Silver’s blog. Silver had found this post (pingback?) and left a really positive comment. That was a eureka moment for all – the idea that they could write a post, and one of the industry’s leading figures value their perspective, treat them as peers, and take the time to enter into conversation with them. This was soon followed by one of the group telling me how he’d tweeted his Audioboo blog post, and ’this guy retweeted it, said something really positive about my post – think he might actually work for Audioboo’. It was Mark Rock, the CEO…
When Jeremy Silver and Mark Rock took the time to read the student blog posts, comment positively and re-tweet, they added so much to the learner experience and i’m pretty sure they won’t have realised just how influential those acknowledgements would be – not just to the two students, but to the whole group. They were the missing link between our students seeing themselves as apprentices and professionals, the whole ‘linking education to industry through social software’ idea, which although we have been focusing on for a few years now, has never been experienced in such a potent way.
This really set the scene for the rest of the module: online identity development, thought pieces – they were actually being listened to! The standard of their final projects which were submitted at the end of May was incredibly high – high enough that those who went way over the 4000 word limit (nearer to 10,000! You know who you are) managed to make every word count i.e. no ramblings (unlike this mail).
While I normally have a strict no-friending policy with students, I made an exception with this small group – after the initial period (using the ad hoc module account), i became comfortable with the idea of following back from my ’main’ twitter account. Since then there’s been lots of Twitter contact and we’re still sharing thoughts/resources, and the lines have been truly blurred in the most brilliant way. I’ve really enjoyed our contact over the summer and look forward to seeing them next semester. Especially looking forward to the 2 MSc dissertations – and slightly amazed to think that after my initial worries about relevance several of the group wanted to do a Social Media-related research project (unfortunately not everybody could). I was also really heartened by the module feedback, as the students were pretty much unanimous in their feeling that the module was the perfect complement to the rest of the course, and that it had been transformative in the way that they were now using the web.
So, Jeremy Silver and Mark Rock – THANKYOU; and MSc PSVT and AP 2009-2010: you were fantastic!