Monthly Archives: March 2011

Social Networking with Students

Last week I was involved in a University of Ulster Centre for Higher Education discussion forum on social networking with students.  The event was held by video-conference across three campuses and attracted a good deal of interest from staff.  It was useful to hear short accounts from colleagues using social networking with students and to consider some of the issues in getting started in this area.

For some staff there was the feeling that the technology can sometimes be daunting especially if bespoke tools are used that need server set-up and some level of configuring.  However some scenarios were described where Facebook groups had been used to successfully to engage students especially as a number were already au fait with this social networking tool and using it regularly.

Some tips that came out of the discussion and from my own experience are given below.

  1. Why do you want to use social networking with students; is it just a nice tool that we shoe-horn into a pedagogic purpose?
  2. Are tasks on social networking clearly defined?  Students will not just network for the sake of it!
  3. Can students “see the point” in what we are trying to achieve, how do we get them to buy-in to the exercise?
  4. Choice of networking tool.  Are we intruding on their social space by using tools that students consider their private areas?  We need to clearly define the boundaries and use social networking in a context that does not compromise accepted professional standards.
  5. Manage expectations.  How will academics interact with students online; will we be available 9 to 5 or 24/7?  Students need to know!
  6. Don’t ask students to do something you are not prepared to do yourself.  Do you want your students to blog?  Do you blog?  If the answer is “no” it will very soon become apparent to the student group that you are only a by-stander.
  7. Social networking should augment existing communication channels with students therefore important course information should not be communicated by this method alone.
  8. Social networking should help to increase inclusivity within a group.  However, ensure that the chosen exercises do not alienate some within the class who may be uncomfortable using the technology.

Image credit.

Graduate Teaching Assistants in Higher Education

Last Friday the University of Ulster was host to a UK Centre for Bioscience event focused on graduate teaching assistants and their role in learning and teaching in higher education.

The event was part of a Bioscience Subject funded project and the format was similar to that held previously in Glasgow, Manchester and Aberdeen.  A further event is planned for the University of Reading on 14th March 2011.

Following an introduction by project co-ordinator Anne Tierney (University of Glasgow) it was down to Prof Kevan Gartland, Dean of the School of Life Sciences at Glasgow Caledonian University to set the scene for the day.  Kevan provided an overview of teaching and challenged the delegates present to consider what “brand” of teacher they were or aspired to be by drawing analogies with well known high street shops.

Dr Katherine Clark from the UK Centre for Bioscience described the role of the Centre specifically concentrating on resources on the bioscience centre website such as Imagebank but also highlighting the strong network of colleagues that exists throughout the Bioscience discipline.

Group activities throughout the day addressed issues such as what makes a good teacher, small group and practical work, assessment and feedback and designing a course and assessment.

Delegates from the event came from the University of Ulster  and Queens University Belfast with others travelling from Glasgow to attend.
One of the highlights of the day was to see the level of discussion about teaching related issues by those with a strong remit in the research area.  Graduate students and post-doctoral researchers play vital roles in the teaching of under-graduate and post-graduate students.  In many instances post-graduate students find themselves demonstrating to first year under-graduates in large year one semester one modules.  Their attitudes and approach to teaching can therefore form strong first impressions for new students embarking on tertiary study in a daunting environment.  Their role should therefore not be under-estimated and workshops such as this provide a further opportunity for them to develop an appreciation of the role of the teacher.

It would be great to see events like this  being run on a yearly basis, and some students have already enquired about this; sadly with the demise of the Subject Centres this is now unlikely.

Image source.