Social network workshop

This workshop will be conducted with each class in the department, as well as the relevant staff (and any staff who are interested), in order to prepare them to run the assignments that will form part of teaching modules.

Prior to each assignment, the researcher will conduct a workshop with both the lecturer and relevant class. Before the workshop begins, the class will be asked to participate in a survey (the 4th year project and part of my first objective. During the workshop, students and staff will be required to setup a user profile and share some personal information about themselves to the network. The lecturer will also introduce the assignment to the class during the workshop, with the researcher available to provide technical assistance.



The workshop will fulfill the following objectives:

  • Introduce students and staff to this social network
  • Demonstrate to staff and students the potential of a social network as a collaborative learning environment
  • Demonstrate how a social network can facilitate an informal approach to learning

Structure of the workshop

  1. Login to the network using username / password
  2. Introduction to the Dashboard
  3. Review user profile information and change default password and email address (change to primary address)
  4. Go to the social network and complete user profile
  5. Review each component of the network (e.g. Home, Activity, etc.), completing a short task within each component
  6. Request and accept “Friendship” with someone
  7. 20 minutes “free play” in which to experiment with features and ask questions
  8. Review the assignment requirements and discuss how the social network could be used as part of it

Outcomes following the workshops

Second year workshop
I did the social network / assignment workshop with the second years and their lecturer this afternoon, and it went well. I had some initial issues with not all students being on the class list, which meant delays in order to create their accounts (this was a result of some students in the class being registered in another year but still having to complete this module). No problems for most students grasping main concepts, most seemed to enjoy the session. We covered most of the components of the network, except the blog. Buddypress doesn't yet have an easy way to navigate from the “social” UI to the blogging UI i.e. the dashboard, so I decided to keep things simple. Especially since their assignment doesn't require much reflection, for which blogging would be useful. Their task is more communication-orientated, with the network providing an additional communication channel for the assignment.

Following up on the Activity stream after the workshop, I was surprised to note that most of the comments didn't have much to do with the assignment or physio course, and were more along the lines of name calling and other silliness. They also didn't really get the point of the network…it was a bit of fun, but nothing to really take seriously, and it seemed to be because there was nothing in it that they could use i.e. no content. On reflection though, it made sense, since they didn't know much about the assignment yet at that stage, they have no patient contact or clinical experience of any kind, and not a real understanding yet of the profession. They also see learning at this stage as a transmission of content from us to them. We need to understand that although we might want to believe that these are adult learners (and in some ways they are), many of them are still on the cusp between teenagers and adults, and are still trying to negotiate crossing that boundary, as well as trying to learn how to learn.

I didn't comment much on the random updates of most of the students, but I did engage in a good conversation with one of the students through the direct message component of the network, which is private. He was very keen that the network be implemented in every module. There seemed to be a problem with the conversation stream though, because the entire middle section of the interaction disappeared, keeping only the first few and last comments. Not sure if it's just not displaying, or deleted. If this is a bug that's causing content to be randomly deleted, that's going to be a major problem (followed this up with the student, who reported that the accidentally deleted the content).

I met with both my supervisors following this part of the project, and asked how much input I should give, knowing that my input will have an effect on how the students perceive the network. One of them told me that it depended on what my objectives for the project were, and suggested that I read more about participatory action research, and to make sure that I document every step of the process, something I need to be better about. I had another meeting with my supervisor today (13/04/10) where we discussed this again.

Things to think about for the 4th year workshop on Friday:

  • Make sure the present the details of the assignment first, to avoid confusion
  • Ask students to make comments more aligned to the course content, particularly around clinical placement, as I know that many of them struggle at this early stage of their rotations
  • Test the network / check the network forums to make sure that there isn't an easy way to blog from the “social” part of the network (checked, there isn't…students must log out, then log back in to get to the dashboard)
  • Make sure that I make the changes to my questionnaire following the pilot study with the second years

4th year workshop completed
We began this workshop with the 4th year class completing the survey that my 4th year research group had prepared as part of their research project for the year. The survey went well, except that I noticed that when I changed the order of the questions following my pilot study, I'd not renumbered some of the qualifying information in one of the questions (this has now been corrected). The questionnaires were distributed and students took about 20 minutes to complete them. This perhaps wasn't the best day to do the survey, since it was also the day that the 4th year project proposals were due, and some of the class didn't attend, presumably because they were finishing their proposals.

The workshop went well, with the students making very positive comments about the network. Some of them have already created additional groups for working together outside of the assignment, which is great. The main difference I've noticed between the 2nd and 4th years (after reading through the Activity stream) is that the 2nd year's comments were more negative about the network, as they didn't see the value immediately. The 4th years however, immediately started asking each other questions about their clinical placements, issues they were having with clinicians, patients, their rights as students, etc. Lots of insight gained on my part, and lots of opportunities for engagement with students.

I decided to interact with them on issues that were not around the assignment. So for example, if they had a concern about a patient on a clinical placement, then I would respond, since I'm not comfortable with knowing a student is having difficulty and ignoring it for the sake of a “good result”. On the other hand, since I'll be evaluating their experiences of the network around the assignment specifically, and they have another source of information for the assignment i.e. the lecturer, I felt more comfortable not responding to assignment-specific questions. I also decided to respond to technical questions about the network itself, if no other student was able to help, and if not knowing prevented the students from completing a part of the assignment (why should they suffer a lower grade because of a technological issue?).

I also met with Jose following this workshop and we decided that I would take more of a back seat (except for the exceptions I've mentioned above) for this term, but to take a more active role in guiding the facilitators during next term. That way I'll have 2 groups of students from each term who will have had different experiences of using the network in their assignments. I'm also going to have a focus group discussion with the lecturers following each term, to see how they felt about the project.

Note: the fourth years continue to make good use of the network, with one student creating a group for students who have had patients pass away. The student recognised that this could be a potentially difficult time for other students, and described his own recent experience in this situation. What a wonderful use of this tool.

3rd year workshop completed
27 July, 2010
The 3rd year class had already completed the survey prior to coming to the workshop. My 4th year research group had needed to get the results in earlier so that they could begin the analysis for their own research project. There was no other lecturer in the workshop, because I'll be the facilitator for this group. We'll be using the network for their ethics assignment, which I'm responsible for. They're going to write short reflections on patient rights issues they observe while on their clinical placements in the 4th term, using the blogging component of the network. Each student will have to complete 2 reflections, and comment on 5 reflections from other students. I'm going to try and facilitate conversation.

I've tried to make the network a more social space since the last workshop, adding the “Gift” plugin that allows students to send each other gifts and short messages. I also spent quite a bit of time in the workshop discussing my reasons for wanting to use a social network as part of teaching and learning. We discussed Facebook and the privacy / confidentiality implications of talking about patients in what is essentially a public space. The students were really taken aback by some of what I was saying. It became clear during this workshop that while this class was probably the most comfortable with the network, their understanding of online social spaces is quite superficial.

Having said that, it was great to see them going into their other profiles from other spaces, downloading their pictures and updating our network with the profile images. They caught on really quickly, which was surprising, as I'd expected our 4th years to be more sophisticated. One of the most surprising moments came afterwards when I was reviewing the Activity stream and saw one student posting a link to his Tumblr page with all of his photos. He's an incredibly gifted photographer and it was awesome to see him putting himself out there (for the first time to his classmates). I also realised how funny some of them can be, especially a few of the quiet ones. I wonder if there's any research indicating that students who are naturally quiet feel more comfortable coming out of their shells in social networks?

Note: Since the workshop was done a few weeks ago, there's been very little activity from the 3rd years. I'll be seeing them in the General Assembly tomorrow (20/08/10) and will have to remind them of the dates for their ethics assignment. I expect that activity will pick up once they get back into their clinical placements, which they only went back to earlier this week.

1st year workshop still to be done
Date to be finalised

Phase 2: second group of assignments

Facilitation of teaching and learning

This component of the workshop will address some of the strategies that lecturers can use to facilitate participation in the network.

social_network_workshop.txt · Last modified: 2010/08/19 22:20 by Michael Rowe