Several years ago I decided to eschew my University’s learning management system (LMS) to ‘teach in the wild’ using a suite of social media. This was a gradual process fuelled by my frustration with the pedagogic and aesthetic limitations of the LMS. I teach courses that are fully online, and I felt that the LMS was stifling my creativity as a teacher. I expressed my frustration in a journal article entitled ‘Reclaiming the Art of Teaching’ (Lupton 2013). In the article I critique the practice of corporatisation, standardisation, conformity in higher education. To illustrate the distinction between art and craft I created a model (Table 1) based on the art theory literature. In this model, art is inclusive of elements of craft (such as function and skill), yet it goes beyond craft as being an expression of self (Elliott Eisner calls this one’s ‘own signature’).
Table 1: The art and craft of teaching
|Skill||Underpinned by technique
Going beyond technique
|Focus on acquiring and demonstrating techniques
Set routines & repertoire
|Degree of freedom||Customisation, improvisation responsiveness, risk-taking||Standardisation, conformity, teacher-proofing, risk-adverse|
|Expression||Expression of self-identity: uniqueness, creativity, originality||Expression of corporate identity: standardisation, consistency|
At my current university, the LMS is standardised and locked down to the extent that (in the name of consistency) the main menu items are unable to be edited so that every single course in the university has the same main menu. The menu navigation bar is the corporate brand colour, also uneditable. For me, this is akin to being forced to wear a uniform. My own signature and voice is lost in this one-dimensional cyberspace. (p. 163)
At the time I wrote the article I was teaching three online postgraduate courses simultaneously. This meant that I often had the three courses open in three different tabs in my browser. But because of the standardisation in look and feel, I found I wasn’t able to distinguish between them. (I should point out that my University has changed its policy and now allows editing of menu items and colours in the LMS).
Breaking free from the LMS allowed me to rethink my teaching. I realised that I could create a new approach to teaching and learning which involved the students being a participatory learning community. In my course (unit) handbooks I explain my approach to my students:
This unit is designed using social constructivism as an underpinning principle. Social constructivism holds that people learn through engaging with others. The web conference tutorials, online discussions and peer feedback groups have been designed so that you interact with, and learn from your colleagues in the unit.
Peer formative feedback and sharing is fundamental to this process. The unit has been designed so that you ask each other questions, share resources and provide each other with feedback on your work. This feedback process will allow you to improve your writing and thinking. It will help set the expectations in terms of the standard of work required. I have based this approach on the research of Royce Sadler and David Boud, who argue that students must learn to make their own judgements on the quality of the work they and others produce.
Communication in the unit is related to the peer sharing philosophy. For this reason, I have a policy of not answering individual emails unless they relate to a private matter. All questions should be placed on the Google Community where they will be answered by your Brains Trust – i.e. your colleagues in the class. I will only answer if you need the ‘Voice of Authority’. I also expect you to answer each other’s questions in our web conference tutorials.
So now I teach ‘in the wild’. I don’t do anything fancy. I host my content and materials on WordPress and Edublogs. I curate and share resources using Pinterest. I upload mini-lectures to YouTube. In the past I’ve tried Facebook and Evernote. My classes meet asynchronously in closed Google Communities. The only University-supplied tool I still use is Collaborate web conference software.
Using social media as a teaching and learning environment also changed the way I approached assessment tasks. It was a logical step to require students to create and share content using social media. No longer do students submit their assignments only to me, as a one-way transaction. They create websites, blogs, images and video. They create collections of resources using curation tools. They undertake peer review using Google Docs and by leaving comments on each other’s blogs. Most of my students’ creations are shared on the open web, though some are password protected due to the sensitive nature of some students’ reflections, for instance if they have critiqued something that happened on their work placement. I also allow them to use pseudonyms and create a different identity if necessary.
Using social media and web-based multimedia as assessment has brought into question the relevance of University assessment policies and protocols such as ‘word count’ and ‘due date’. Setting a word count for assignment that requires multimedia is irrelevant. A due date is nominal as students can easily edit their assignment after ‘submission’. As there is no ‘final’ version of the assignment then potentially there could be problem if the grade is appealed. As other students’ work is freely available their work could potentially be copied.
At times teaching in the wild has caused a bit of a fuss. Several colleagues have asked me if I am ‘allowed’ to use Facebook. My University’s social media policy warns of the risks in using social media. Some of my students love using new tools and media, while others yearn for a more familiar and traditional environment. But in having tasted the freedom of the web there’s no way I could return to the LMS. Teaching in the wild has not only allowed me to create my ‘own signature’, but it has empowered my students to learn about social media through using social media, and to leverage the web to create their own professional digital footprint.
Eisner, Elliot (1993) The art and craft of teaching. Educational Leadership 40(4) 4-13.