26. September 2012

The relevance of social media for distance learning (Skript and Folien)


Vollständiges Transkript und die Folien

meines Vortrag auf der EADL Conference 2012

Dear collegues from all over Europe,
I am very pleased to take part at my second EADL Conference – my first one was the one in Paris, 2006. I am very thankfull for this invitation and for having the chance to discuss my ideas and my questions about social media and distance learning with you.
So first of all: Why me? In the run-up of this event I tried to list up my references fort his topic:

I am a 40plus digital immigrant – like most of you are. But I am quite social media addicted and a heavy user of social media and social networks. As I have been working in the field of public relations for over ten years I have explored over this time the growing relevance of social media for corporate communication – and I decided two years ago to combine and merge this knowlege and to mobilize my virtual network for a special project: the development of a distance learning course with the degree „Social Media Manager“ at the ILS in Hamburg. By the way: This distance learning school – ILS – has payed my salery fort he last ten months as I am the new customer relationship and community manager at this distance learning school. Beyond that I am an active part of an international so called edupunk network and deeply influenced by the ideas of Georg Siemens and Stephen Downes – the two innovators of massive open online courses (so called MOOCs). I will come back to these ideas later on...

Let me start with a provocation:
For sure I am not the first one talking at an eadl conference about social media concerning distance learning – and doubtlessly you all have an idea of using social software to enhance your distance learning courses. On the other hand we all know that most of the pioneering work still has to be done – and we should be honest: Most of the pioneer work is currently done by schools and universities with an original portfolio of in-class courses, courses with compulsory attendence.
Why that?
Because they are used to the idea of peer-to-peer interaction and collaboration in learning communities – so they simply bring these concepts into virtual or online environments. For a paper-driven distance learning provider with a portfolio of self-learning materials and the idea of one-to-one lessons it is not that easy to change a successfull business modell during ongoing operations.
But: We all know that new generations of distance learners expect from us that we include digital learning technologies – and when I am saying „learning technologies“ I do not think of computer or web based self-learning programms without any human contact but of collaboration tools like wikis, blogs, newsgroups, lifestreaming or virtual classrooms. We should have left behind the academic discussions about eLearning – we are amidst a changing mode of digital communication worldwide.
Two trends make this change obvious: the growing number of Facebook members and the growing number of users of mobile devices.
For sure the brand Facebook is only an episode... But we must admit that Facebook finally has changed the understandig of beeing connected via internet – generation-spanning: Nearly 900 million Facebook users over the world, every other in the USA has got a facebook account, one of four in Europe (remember: even babies are counted here!). The everage age of Facebook users is 29 and a half.
The other point: Smartphones and tablets. They have changed the understanding of being availible. They have opend new options for ad hoc informing and interacting. Just remember: The iPhone is just five years old, the iPad just two years. But most of us and of our target groups already get used to be online where ever they go. And they expect others – they expect us – to be online when they are...

1. Definitions: Social Software – Social Media – Social Networks
Let’s do just one intermediate step and have a look at some definitions:
What is social media in dissociation from social software?
Social Software enables people to build up communities and networks and to publish user generated content and share this with others. It enables people to work together at the same documents (and even in real-time) in a very democratic or non-hierarchical way.
Social Media just means social software that is publicly available via internet and enables everyone to publish one‘s own created content to the public.
Or the other way round: Social Software ist Social Media used in a closed area without any public access.
To go a step further: Is there a difference between Social Media and Social Networks?
Some experts want to reserve the term Social Media to the idea of publishing and sharing of content in terms of pieces of work (literature, pictures videos and so on), with a focus on the user generated content and the distribution of this content. Best examples are YouTube for videos and Flickr for pictures.
Whereas Social Networks represent the idea of connecting and interacting, with a focus on the person (profil) and the relationships (social graph). Well known examples are Facebook or LinkedIn.
So you might want to differenciate between social media and social network to clearify your goals for the usage. If you like it that differenciated than you should – in my opinion – distinguish a third group: collaboration platforms or tools. They are made for working together at the same documents with the purpose of getting one piece of work out of it. Examples are Google Docs or Piratepad.net ... I love PiratePads as they are really easy to use. You should have a look at that: piratepad.net
Anyway, I will go on talking about social media as an umbrella term...

The are some key words connected with social media all of you might know: 
  • The idea of a Platform providing of space and technique
  •  The idea of user generated content as nonprofessionally produced content
  •  The idea of friends simply to translate as a reciprocal suscription of the content anybody publishes...
  •  The idea of sharing, rating and through this curating the content published by others
  •  The idea of a status update as a public notification of what somebody is doing at the moment – including automatically generated notifications which document somebody downloaded or which wheter somebody received a new grade
  •  And of course corresponding to that the idea of a timeline as a stream of suscribed content
  •  The idea of a community and of a Social Graph mapping of how you are related to others at social media
  •  The idea of open source as open access at no charge and with the permission to use and edit content without any copy rights
These key words lead us to the main mind-set behind social media – if we talk about social media not as a technique but as a culture (expressed in the Cluetrain Manifesto, 1999). The mind-set behind social media is the idea of non-hierarchical publishing and communication with open access to all sources.

2. Relevance for whom....?
Back to distance learning we have to clarify the question for whom in the distance learning process social media might be relevant:
  •  for the students?
  •  for the course developers and authors, teachers, tutors and lecturers?
  •  for the marketing chief or the customer relationship manager?
Off course for all of them!
1.    Social Media enlarge the scope of peer-to-peer communication and of building learning communities – a very important aspect for students who dont’t need to feel lonesome anymore and who have nowaday the chance to be connected with the other course participants and to learn and work together.
In a way this development is not only a chance, but even a challange or a provocation... I give you an example:
A few weeks ago I was told about a distance learning university with an empty online campus. What happend? The answer is simple: The students started to meet at Facebook. They could-shoulder the learning platform of the university and founded a facebook group. One evening at a regulars table a tutor of this distance learning university saw students looking magnetized at their smartphones – shouting out every minute the increasing number of group members – in the meantime, inbetween some weeks, the newsgroups and boards at the online campus have degenerated into a desert... What would you suggest to this university?
The first lesson to learn is: Distance learning students nowadays get used to smart public software socutions for networking and collaboration. So they need very good reasons to use another platform, the platform offered by you if they feel more comfortable with Facebook or whatever. So if you are interested in their commitment you should offer them options at your platform which they wouldn’t want to miss and which they can’t find at at their favored social network.
The second lesson to learn is: Think open! Is there really a need to control the spaces where your students network and work together? Why should a distance learning school any longer try to bond their students at a closed platform? The development of social media gives us the chance to think about concepts which allow students to bring along their own digital learning equipment, their personal learning environment (PLE).
But of course it is still your business – the business of the distance learning school or highschool – to bring the content, the exercises and the people together, to guide and to empower the students to communicate and to collaborate efficiently via internet.
That leads me to the answer of the second question: Are social media relevant for the course developers and authors, teachers, tutors and lecturers?
Again: YES! Why or better: how?
Social Media change the way of preparing, presenting and publishing the learning content.
Three main chances and challanges for developers and tutors come along with social media:
First of all: the revival of the learning community accompanied with the need to implement classroom-based methods of knowledge transfer. This can simply be the duty to fill a wiki and to discuss in a newsgroup or board. That’s what we did with the distance learning course „Social Media Manager“. The first version of the Wiki was simply the glossary written by the authors of the textbooks. From then on the students had to complete the artikels... And as we all know the WikiPedia, this is a never ending story...
More sophisticated are formats like WebQuests – a type of excercie which guides students to organize their new knowledge by their own research. The students have to work out the solutions rather than just acquiring information by memorizing fact-laden instructional materials or watching ex-cathedra teaching videos (Frontalunterricht).
The second challenge is the idea of openess. The social media age is also the age of open source. To say it in the words of David Wiley, Associate Professor of Instructional Psychology & Technology at Brigham Young University and founder of the Open High School of Utah: „With the growth of open source software and other related trends a culture of openess is advancing from the edges of society to the core of academic culture.“
I guess you all have heard of the Khan Academy with its slogan „Watch. Practice. Learn almost everything for free.“ Some universities already pioneer the field of open content by offering their lecture scripts and videostreams of lectures for free. This business modell is driven by the idea of teaching as a service not as a product – and this ist he way we should think about distance learning. Don’t worry: As the content is for free the people are still willing to pay: for feedback, support, community management, fort he exams, the certificate... For sure this provoces a totally different business modell – and this is what the new internet age forces us to think about.
But instead of discussing business modells for open content I want to put another idea across: Have you ever thought of opening your courses to the people outside of your courses? Social media is a great chance to bring your students into contact to external experts and to a larger peer-group to broaden the horizonts of your students and to expand discussions and collaborative work.
The University Tübingen in Germany (NOT a distance learning university!) made this experiment last year: One course about workplace learning of the degree programm „Psychology“ was opend to the masses at the internet. With the help of a blog, a hashtag at twitter to tag all tweets concerning the course and a group at a bookmarking platform the two worlds – the students and the web people – were hold together.
Well, please keep in mind my third point – that social media are the better learning tools – and have a look at the third group for whom social media are – or should be – relevant: the marketing people.
Social Media implicate new requirements for referral marketing and customer relationship management.
Social media provide publicity. That’s it. To empower your students to use social media during their studies means to provoke them to notify publicly that they study at your school, that they like your course, that your content and your service is excellent. Hopefully it is...
Just a little charming example: We ad the first graduate at the social-media-course last month and the first she did was tweeting about her success. Of course I congratulated her – and as one of our followers saw that we were asked where you can pass this course – the answer: At the ILS!
From Twitter to blogs and just some words about blogging! What I discovered is that a blog is a great opportunity to focus and hold together a group of learners. That’s for example what I do by blogging about social media issues around the distance learning course „Social Media Manager“ and by offering the adress of this blog to all my students from the very beginning. ... It works. They get linked.
I know that there are some other experts in other sectors who work as distance learning tutors and who are blogging as well. As more and more people get used to this medium and accept blogs as a serious way of publishing high-value content, I think it could be the right time to widen this option to make the know-how of our authors and tutors more visible and to link with the students – the current and the potencial ones – via blogging.
What you see here is a blog post about the development of one of the textbooks of the social media course... I arranged it as an open process with samples of the text so my readers could discuss it with me. I was inspired to do this by a collegue from another distance learning school. Anne Oppermann, maybe some of you know her, from the Fernstudienakademie in Münster, Germany, has been blogging about the process of developing a new distance learning course for more than a year now. This provokes a lot of publicity besides all the feedback of her community and the fantastic search engine optimizing...

Ok, now a backword roll to the aspect of social media as the better learning tools:
Course developers should be aware of the fact that the best learning platforms already excist – for free – so there is no need to blow money into a indiviudal solution that at the end is much weaker... but only if you are willing to think open and if you are without fear to loose the control over what your students do while they are using the internet to learn.
Lets have a look at the annual survey of Jane Heart: „Top 100 Tools for Learning 2011“ based on the contributions of learning professionals worldwide.
  1. Twitter - micro-sharing site  
  2. YouTube - video-sharing tool
  3. Google Docs – collaboration suite
  4. Skype - instant messaging/VoIP tool
  5. WordPress - blogging tool  
  6. Dropbox - file synching software  
  7. Prezi - presentation software  
  8. Moodle - course management system  
  9. Slideshare - presentation sharing site  
  10. (Edu)Glogster - interactive poster tool  
  11. Wikipedia - collaborative encyclopaedia  
  12. Blogger/Blogspot - blogging tool  
  13. diigo - social annotation tool  
  14. Facebook - social network  
  15. Google Search - search engine  
  16. Google Reader - RSS reader  
  17. Evernote - note-taking tool  
  18. Jing - screen capture tool  
  19. PowerPoint - presentation software  
  20. Gmail - web-based email service   
  21. LinkedIn - prof social network  
  22. Edmodo - edu social networking site 
  23. Wikispaces - wiki tool  
  24. Delicious - social bookmarking tool  
  25. Voicethread - collaborative slideshows  
  26. Google+ - social network  
  27. Animoto - videos from images  
  28. Camtasia- screencasting tool  
  29. Audacity  - sound editor/recorder  
  30. TED Talks - inspirational videos  
Above the first 30 tools the tools at the places 2, 3, 12, 15, 16, 20 and 26 belong to Google. Combining these tools Google offers a complex personal learning environment including a collaboration suite and a virtual classroom that is able to replace Adobe Connect. So basically all you have to do is to instruct your students how to use google efficiently...

3. Add on or core element?
But of course you all have already produced your own individual social software as you all offer a form of learning platform or online campus. But before we all go a step further on we should be honest about the pivotal question: Do we adopt social software as an add on? Or as a core element of our distance learning courses?
The typical way to include social software – or even social media –  is the use as an add on, simply wrapping the social media elements arround the established methods and processes:
o   Staging a password protected learning platform with newsgroups and boards without any content management or community management and for the optional use only.
o   Or setting up a Facebook page (or Twitter, or YouTube ...), but with the usual one way marketing communication and without any further strategies for community building or market research.
Regarding social software or social media as an add on has the following typical effects: Ignoration, misuse and damage of image.
Ignoration means: Students don‘t develop and capitalise the opportunities – and that means: Only few of them interact with each other or with the school.  Lack of time is an important issue for distance learners. So if they do not realize the advantage of using the offered social software (or if the software is too complicated and the instructions manual too incomprehensible) the ambitious ones go on learning on their own, only the uncertain ones (ort he lazy ones) cry for help – and the kindhearted ones help them...  Is this the effect you want to provoke by offering social software?
The other typical effect I mentioned is: Misuse
Misuse means: Students feel like talking off the records so they use the offered platform to moan and to complain or even for the try to deal with solutions of the tests... This moaning and complaining of course irritates the new students. This has nothing to do with a constructional peer-to-peer learning process. And if you let such complaining uncommented you risk a  
... damage to your image!
Another special effect of your offered social software as an add on is emptiness. Newsgroups or boards without any content intensify feelings of lonlyness and lack of interest on the part of the school or the tutors.
Do you remember the story of the fast growing facebook group and the empty learning platform on the other hand? The main question is: Why should students build up their network at a learning platform when they can do better at Facebook? Is there any benefit of the network platform you offer? Have you any further features or tools Facebook hasn’t which help studying the way you want them to study? Any excercises or challanges they need to fullfill by using your platform? No? So you won’t see them again... Does that matter? Yes, because they pay for the course and therefore have some expactations... Maybe you do – but your students don’t think of distance learning as a product, fort hem it’s a service! They want to experience the value in excess of the lecture notes. And as they become more and more used to smart social media solutions these expectations should be thought-provoking for you...
To be honest: If you haven’t done your homework to integrate social software as a core element of your distance learning methods I would strongly advise against taking a step forward! Using social media just as an add on has got the same negativ effects – but now these effects are public at once!

And some more wagging fingers for you...
If you are willing and disposed to integrate social media in the distance learning process, be aware of the following aspects:
  •  First of all: You need a community! à Be sure that there are enough students to revive your concepts.
  •  Than, of course, be aware of too much scheduling in form of live-online-events. à Don‘t loose your core benefit – the flexibility!
  •  And be prepared for new questions about privacy and security! 
  •  Above that you need course developers and tutors with corrresponding skills.

4. Some visonary thoughts
Let me end up my lecture with some visionary thoughts:
To argue with a quotation of Georg Siemens: „Connections are the central point from which we need to cast an educational system.“ And these are my words: Distance learning is no longer a product it is a service. And social software and social media are the tools to give a better service than ever before...
Social Software has the power to change the distance learning world as it brings back the idea of learning together and from one another. We all are social beeings and so our learning processes are.
Rethink your didactical concepts of your learning media mix and of the communications and colaboration you make possible! The other way round:
If you go on offering text books full of excercises the students have to do for their own and if you go on offering a one-to-one contact to the tutor as the only connection that is really necessary to get a degree at the end – than you stick to a modell that servces the institution well but not the learners.
Social media and the rising culture of digital communication have the power to enhance the concepts of distance learning:
  •  With social media you can guide your students to what they really need in the future: the ability to build networks and to learn with and from people widespread all over the world.
  •  With social media you can train the ability of using modern technologies for a lifelong – formal or informal – learning process.
  •  With social media you can encourage your students to build up a personal learning environment that can be extended even after the finish of a formal training or study.
In a nutshell: Don’t miss the chance to make your students fit for a knowledge-based economy where digital communication, virtual teamwork and knowledge management via internet is taken for granted!
We distance learning experts have been so often so proud of the skills our students develop as side effects: excellent time management, high intrinsic motivation, purposefulness... Using social media our distance learning courses will breed more skills, new skills needed in a new era of economy and working world.
So at the end it is clear now, that discussing the relevance of social media affects all three main areas this conference wants to focus on:
·      Learning media
·      Service and tutoring
·      Business model

Thank you!

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