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Guest post written by Jim Lusted.

“Our classrooms are changing – and I don’t mean the posh new room designs and furniture at Waterside campus. Since I started teaching at Northampton in 2009 the students I have taught have become increasingly diverse in their ethnic background. I’ve gone from having only a small handful of Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) students to now regularly teaching classes with an even split of people from white and BAME backgrounds. It’s not just in my own department, Northampton has seen a significant increase in the intake of BAME students. This isn’t, however, reflective of the sector as a whole, which has seen very little increase in ethnic diversity across the whole student intake.”

“…our research recommended that staff make a more concerted effort to create groups that offer students the chance to work with a wide range of students, not only their peer or friendship group.”

Read the whole article.

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Introduction and Rationale
Scott Parker ran a Social Work module using a flipped classroom model and social media in order to stimulate analysis, critical thinking and discussion in seeking deeper learning of themes, topics and issues. One of the key issues underlining this project is that online resources and social media should support the more ‘formal’ teaching process rather than replace it totally.
NILE does have the facility to set up ‘blogs’ or discussion boards’ which can offer similar access to learning materials and opportunities for discussion. However the decision to use Facebook as a platform was an effort to shift the focus from purely academic ‘work’ to a more fluid discussion base beyond the confines of lectures and University based software. Scott points out that clearly there are some caveats within this area of study. There is blurring between the personal and private within user’s lives with potentially risky outcomes, for example; comments can be taken out of context and there is the potential for exploitation of vulnerable users.
Relevance to Practice and lecturing role
The volume of information students need to be exposed to far exceeds the modular structures and ‘contact hours’ stipulated by the Social Work programme, one answer to this is utilising online resources such as Panopto recordings (online video/information dissemination recorded by tutors allowing students to watch at their leisure) to utilise the ‘flipped classroom’ i.e. the online materials are used to ‘set the scene’ and present facts/figures/data etc. With the next face to face teaching session used to assess learning via electronic ‘polls’ or seminar work. This can offer insight into individual student learning/understanding and can serve to direct the focus of onward teaching aimed at deeper understanding and potentially further use of social media to engender peer discussion and debate.
Face to face teaching remains an expectation within a University environment; however this must be enhanced by additional activities and resources to enrich the learning process. Use of social media in teaching may also enhance the collaborative nature of learning; students can discuss/debate issues online and potentially this can include the lecturer, particularly when planning an activity or setting a task for students to complete as part of independent study or group work. This can also support effective reflective practice, illustrating how the ‘original’ theme/discussion item has developed and ideas have ‘evolved’ offering effective feedback for reflection.

Size and structure of Group
The cohort focus was upon level 5 Social Work Students engaging on an Adult Services 20 credit module. Out of a total 35 student in the group it was hoped that at least 20 would consider taking part; in the event 24 participated. Scott was also able to seek feedback from students who declined to participate, particularly with respect to their perceived value of digital/social media to learning.

Emerging Themes
The discussion pages material prompted debate; however students clearly expected more ‘stimulation’ of material by the tutor, despite being informed that the discussion page sought to encourage peer debate and discussion students remarked on how the material and discussion challenged their views and thoughts. This illustrates the overall pedagogic value of enhanced opportunities to offer material in varied and accessible ways in supporting student learning and engagement. Additionally when considering student satisfaction, the module evaluation reported a concurrent level of satisfaction in student expectation, engagement and learning outcomes.

There was evidence that uses of a range of ‘external’ resources i.e. those outside the formal teaching or seminar structure, add value to student understanding and learning.
The students who did not participate stated that time was a factor in not accessing the discussion page and clearly this was also true of my role as tutor in ‘stimulating’ discussion, as the project took place during a particularly heavy teaching period; this would have to be addressed in using such methods in the future; possible setting aside a specific time to have ‘live’ discussion, which students could engage directly with and after the ‘live’ session contribute or merely read the discussion dialogue. This could then be used as a ‘starting point’ in seminar sessions to make effective links between module teaching material and wider discussion/engagement.
The project also sought feedback regarding the use of Panopto (video/powerpoint) material to support learning. Generally there was a very positive response to the value of this, which again aims to take the teaching out of the formal lecture theatre/seminar session to an accessible and re-useable format. This suggests a mix of learning tools continues to be appropriate in meeting a diverse range of learning styles and whilst this is time-consuming to prepare, the value to learning and the potential enhanced quality in understanding and engagement with material appears worthwhile.
Anecdotally, it appears that there may have been some impact upon academic achievement as the previous year cohort average module grade was C, whilst this year it was B-. Clearly there may be other factors involved in the improvement of student achievement; however the themes identified in this project suggest that additional resources offer tangible benefits to students.

Click Scott Parker Research Project PGCTHE June1014 – v1  to download Scott Parker’s full report “The use and added value of digital resources and social media in supporting formal learning and teaching at HE level”

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