February 3, 2016
Eleanor Ross for The Guardian.
It’s hard to imagine a world without social media, yet many academics still view Twitter, Facebook and Instagram as distractions rather than tools. But these resources can be harnessed to create more challenging and stimulating learning environments. So what apps could you be using to lighten your load and liven up your teaching?
The popular photo and video messaging app can engage students with learning materials in real time. Beryl Jones, a lecturer at the University of Kingston, started using Snapchat at the beginning of the academic year to encourage questions in large lecture theatres.
“It’s meant the students are more actively engaged,” she explains. “What I hadn’t envisaged was them taking screenshots of my slides while in the lecture hall and annotating them before sending to me. They used this to address things they didn’t understand, as well as answering the questions I posed.”
Essentially an online sticky-note tool, Trello links pictures, videos, and documents in threads that can be shared between group members. The tool organises discussions into boards like Pinterest, so you can pin, share, and curate relevant information.
Six-second, looping videos are all over social media – and they can be a resource for higher education institutions too. They can be used to show off the university campus or promote events, but they’re also a great tool for wider engagement.
If an interesting speaker comes to a university, Vines can be used to capture the highlights of the talk, and can be easily shared around the student community (perfect if an event is sold out). Vines also have the potential to go viral and can be shared between different institutions – if there’s a keynote in Melbourne, students in London can find clips almost immediately.
This bookmarking service allows users to collect and download article links to curate their own online magazines. Users can follow the curated feeds of other “pocketers”, which means that students can link with professors who have publicly shared relevant links and articles. It saves the hassle of a group email and can be updated instantly.
Using collaborative documents isn’t a new thing, nor is giving peer feedback on assignments. Mixing them together, however, to enable students to give instant feedback on each other’s work, is immensely useful. Google Docs allows tracked editing and comments, which means that students can work in groups in their own time, without having to take part in structured seminars, and the document can be sent to the lecturer for feedback.
Andrew Middleton, head of academic practice and learning innovation at Sheffield Hallam University, has drawn attention to the rise of collaborative working in Google Drive.
He says: “The possibilities to support learning by organising collaborative research activity, underpinned by Google Drive, are endless. And such project-focused learning activities reflect what is happening in the world of employment.”
Primarily used as a recording tool, this is one of the best ways to capture lectures and upload them online, or share via email. There’s an option to change the quality of sound recording, and transferring between devices is quick and simple.
Some students are more organised than others, and the disorganised ones can be the bane of their tutors’ lives. Organisational app Wunderlist allows students – and lecturers – to create folders for each module, with notes, due dates, comments, contact lists and, perhaps most crucially, reminders of upcoming deadlines.
It’s not just for selfies; the image-sharing tool can be harnessed to collect real-time data for coursework. Rather than passively relying on data collected by others, students can engage in their own collection of all kinds of evidence.
Instagram also provides an opportunity for collaboration – students can upload, tag, and comment on pictures on each others’ feeds, thus expanding the reach of discussion.
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