06 Jul

student expectations of postgrad study and resulting challenges for educators

Back in April, I spoke on a panel of educators at the Postgraduate Student Experience Symposium. I talked about our degree, our students, our students’ expectations of the course, and the challenges my colleagues and I are facing as teachers in a multimodal (online and on campus) Masters degree.

The video of my presentation is now available and embedded below.

There were some great presentations on the day, including a keynote from Professor James Arvanitakis. All the presentation recordings are available on the Symposium website.

In my presentation, I spoke about some of the early findings from a project I’m working on with colleagues, called Refining the blend: developing a student centred framework for multimode education. I’d like to acknowledge those colleagues here. The project team is comprised of myself, Professor Helen Partridge, and Dr Elham Sayyad Abdi. We’re supported by a great team of research assistants, namely Katya Henry, Lynn McAllister, Clare Thorpe and Jen Thomas. More about the project.

14 Jun

Why I put all my teaching videos on YouTube

At the beginning of the semester, a colleague asked me if I’d share my thoughts on the best place for hosting video content for teaching and learning with someone new to his team. I thought my response might be useful for others, too, so I’m sharing it here.

I put all of my teaching video content on YouTube. I manage this by making a channel for each of my units. Having separate channels has a number of benefits, some of which will become clear later in this post. But from an administrative perspective, the big advantage is I can give access to other members of the teaching team so they can upload or edit content. 

There are many reasons I use YouTube to host my video content. Here are some of them.


Students can subscribe to the unit channel and have content pushed to them. Using a separate channel for each unit means students can subscribe to just that unit’s channel, and only see updates related to that unit. If they subscribe, students see new content in their subscription feed when it goes live. I’ve only become a big user of YouTube subscriptions in the last year or so, and I don’t think I really understood the convenience factor until I started religiously watching a bunch of channels. While I’m sure students will never be as excited to see my videos pop up in their feeds as I am to see some of the stuff I subscribe to, for frequent YouTube users, I can see the benefits. 

Curating content

Putting videos on YouTube helps me with curating resource sets using tools like Storify. I can easily pull a YouTube video into a curated content set, but I can’t pull in content that’s locked behind a firewall (i.e. any content that’s hosted on my institution’s platforms). 

I can also create playlists for topics or weeks and incorporate my own videos with other videos from YouTube. Then I only have one thing to embed in the page – the playlist – rather than lots of videos. (Caveat: Make sure you point out it’s a playlist, or some students will watch the first video and assume that’s all there is.)

Accessible embeds

I can embed YouTube videos anywhere, and students can play it in context, with no pesky logins required to get the video to start playing. I can embed content captured with Echo360 in external sites, but it requires a log in to play the recording. That’s just one extra barrier to access.

Better mobile experience

YouTube videos are easy to watch on mobile devices. I’ve tried institutional platforms on my phone, and the experience just isn’t as good.

It’s also easy for students to find the content on their mobile devices because they can just search for the channel on YouTube (or better yet, they’d just see it in their subscription feed if they had subscribed). Going through Blackboard to Echo Centre and then watching the video play there is not a whole lot of fun on a mobile device. 

Easy, fast export and upload

It’s easier for me to export from iMovie or Camtasia directly to YouTube or to upload a video file manually to YouTube than to deal with our institutional media platforms. Video uploads and processes much faster on YouTube than using any institutional platforms.

Students like it

It’s become pretty evident over time that students like the way I use YouTube. I’ve only ever had one objection to it (at least that I know about!) and I’ve had a lot of positive feedback, like the comment below from one of my undergrads this semester (used with permission).

having YouTube videos to watch was a godsend. My usual lecture-viewing method involves downloading the video or audio from Echo360 (which, in itself, can be a nightmare due to the downloaded videos sometimes not being the ones you were expecting, poor naming conventions, misuse of new tabs, etc.) and then opening the file in VLC to watch at 1.5-2.0x speed for maximum time efficiency. With this unit, all I had to do was head to YouTube and speed videos up in its video player. While Echo360 supports playback speed adjusting, the player is slow to load, laggy and inflexible with resizing.

I value openness

The Masters course I teach in champions openness and I feel like I should model that by making my content publicly accessible and (when I remember to select the right settings!) Creative Commons attribution licensed for reuse.

In a nutshell…

Basically, hosting my content on YouTube makes my life easier and it makes it easier for students to access the content, which means they’re more likely to watch it. And anything I can do to increase the likelihood that my videos get watched is a good thing!

12 Jun

Audio record assignment feedback


I dislike marking so much that sometimes I wonder if I can actually do this academic gig for the rest of my career. It’s hard to explain my dislike because I also like it at the same time… It’s great to see how students are doing, and I particularly like marking reflective assignments where my students discuss their learning, plus assignments where they’ve built something, like a website, or made a video.

But no matter how much I like marking particular assignments, the relentless grind and the tedium that sets in after the first handful really gets to me.

Part of the problem is that I give stacks of feedback and I can’t seem to stop myself from doing that, which means I am quite possibly the world’s slowest marker. I also find it really hard not to copy edit and write stacks of feedback on the assignment document itself.

But I have found a method for marking that is speedy for me and means the students get heaps of feedback: audio recording my comments.

A couple of years ago, I slipped two discs in my lower back right when all my marking for the semester came flooding in. By necessity, I had to come up with a way to mark while lying flat on my back, and necessity is, of course, the mother of invention! So I came up with a solution where I put criteria sheets in Dropbox and used Good Reader on my iPad to highlight criteria and write the mark on the sheet. Then I saved them back to Dropbox. At the same time, I recorded my feedback on my phone using Voice Record Pro. After I made each recording, I modified the filename to match my normal naming convention, and saved them to Dropbox directly form Voice Record Pro with a single tap on my phone. In this instance, I was marking videos on YouTube, so I just played those on my iPad mini while recording on my phone and annotating the criteria sheet on my iPad. And it worked well. In fact, the audio recording worked great (highlighting the criteria sheets in Good Reader was a bit of a pain, to be honest, but served the purpose).

I have used voice recorded feedback on and off since then, but I’m going to make a wholesale switch to recording all my feedback. The great thing about it is that students get more feedback but it takes me less time.

I highly recommend Voice Record Pro for iPhone. The quality of the recordings is really good and the ability to rename the files easily in-app and then tap to save them to Dropbox is super handy.

In case you’re interested in giving this a try, here is my workflow.


  1. Open the assignment file and criteria sheet on your computer.
  2. In Voice Record Pro, tap the ‘REC’ button. Note this will not start the recording, but will take you to a settings screen.
  3. For the first recording, you will need to click on the ‘Advanced’ tab and choose ‘MP3’ as the format (the app records in MP4 format by default). I also recommend choosing ‘Medium’ for quality. These settings should stick for subsequent recordings.
  4. Hit the ‘REC’ button to start recording. I start with the student’s name and a statement like ‘This is feedback on Assignment 1 in IFN616. I’m going to record comments as I work through your assignment and finish with some summary comments.’
  5. Pause the recording and start working through the assignment. Restart the recording to make comments as you work through the assignment.
  6. When the recording is complete, tap the stop button.
  7. Change the filename to match your preferred naming convention – I name my files* like this: 2015 IAB260 Davis Kate IAB260-2.
  8. Save the file directly to Dropbox from the app, just by tapping ‘Save to Dropbox’ (note the new filename appears at the top of the screen).
  9. I highlight the criteria the student has achieved and write a grade on their criteria sheet. I use the same file name for the criteria sheet except I add ‘CRA’ at the end, so the file name is 2015 IAB260 Davis Kate IAB260-2 CRA.
  10. And then I do it all over again for the next one!

At the very end, I grab all of the audio files and criteria sheets and whack them into the same folder. Because I’m pedantic about file naming, everything files nicely, which speeds up the process of returning the assignments to students.

Just a note on file size: If the files are too big, you can import them into iTunes to compress them. You just need to change your import settings first.

(* Note I’m really pedantic about file naming for assignments because good file naming means less work when it comes to course accreditation because I can easily find the files I need. In particular I like to have the year and unit code at the beginning, preferably in square brackets but the app doesn’t support that, so I add them later.)

#blogjune 12/30

09 Jun

Premium web services worth paying for

I’m always looking for ways to do things more efficiently and I thought I’d share some of my productivity ninja tips in a series of blog posts. Here’s the first!

Public domain image courtesy Pascal via flickr

Public domain image courtesy Pascal via flickr

I use about a bajillion different web services in my teaching, and I pay for premium subscriptions to many of them. This post provides an overview of the services I have premium subscriptions for, how I use them, and why it’s worth going premium.


We use Facebook groups for discussion forums and Buffer allows me to schedule posts to the groups in advance. It means I can schedule all the ‘what’s on this week’ posts, posts reminding about assignment due dates, and posts reminding students about my availability over the weekend when they have assessments due. I also schedule reminders about activities I want them to complete between classes.

I also use Buffer to schedule tweets for my research group’s Twitter account and our Facebook page.

Buffer basically allows me to plan ahead and means I don’t have to clutter my head or my to do list with reminders to make posts at key points.

Buffer’s premium plan is called the Awesome plan and costs USD$10 a month.

The Noun Project

The Noun Project was my find of 2014. It’s a freaking awesome site where you can source Creative Commons licensed icons for use however you like. You just need to attribute the creator. If you don’t want to attribute an icon, you can buy it. I did this for an icon I use on my business card, for example.

They also have NounPro accounts, which are essentially premium subscriptions. If you have a NounPro account, you don’t ever have to cite the icons. And when you make as many presentations as I do, that saves you a whole lotta time.

When you’re a NounPro account holder, you also get a desktop app where you can search for icons and drag and drop them into whatever application you’re working in. Super handy. The only problem with the app is you can’t access your folders of favourite icons (which are called ‘kits’) from the app. But I can live with that.

A NounPro account costs USD$99.90 per year.


WPMU Dev is a premium WordPress support, plugin and theme service. I started subscribing to this service a few years back because I got sick of making my own WordPress tutorial videos for students in the unit where I host students’ blogs on a WordPress network. These guys provide unbranded help videos that you can use on your own site. But this is only one part of the service. They also make premium themes and plugins, and in particular, they make stuff that works with WordPress Multisite and BuddyPress. These make it much easier for me to manage my WordPress based course sites.

Currently you can sign up for 12 months for USD$294.


Earlier this year a small child entered my iPhone password incorrectly enough times that my phone had to be reset. And I lost everything, including video I’d shot for teaching materials. I immediately signed us all up for 200GB iCloud plans and all of our devices now sync to the cloud when they’re plugged in.

200GB of storage costs $4.99 a month.

Web hosting

I have three different hosting accounts with three different providers. One is a shared server plan I’ve had for years, which costs about USD$80 a year. It’s fine, but I feel like a resource hog running a WordPress multisite network on a shared server, so I also have a virtual private server (VPS). The VPS costs USD$50 a month but I bump it up to the USD$100 a month plan during semester when I’m running a multisite WordPress network. I’m really unhappy with this VPS service and as soon as I’ve got time to move the sites that live there, I’ll be switching them to my new host, Reclaim Hosting. These guys are brilliant. Their plans for students are USD$25 a year including a free domain registration. I pay $45 for the faculty or organisation plan, which also includes a free domain. It has been brilliant. I cannot recommend them highly enough. Seriously, don’t pay for WordPress premium options at wordpress.com. Run your own install with a Reclaim shared hosting package.


My life is in Dropbox and I quite seriously don’t know what I did without it. I have to have a premium plan because I need the extra capacity.

Dropbox Pro costs $109 a year.


I think everyone loves Doodle for scheduling meetings. The Premium version gives you calendar integration (unless your organisation prevents it, which mine does), plus the ability to send automatic reminders, see who hasn’t responded, and ask for additional information like email addresses from responders.

Premium Doodle costs €39 a year.

Skype call credit

So this is not actually a premium service, but I always have some Skype credit available for times when I need to bring multiple people into a single phone conversation, or when I need to record a phone conversation.


CudaSign is a tool for filling out and signing forms, and for getting them signed by other people. I actually use it mostly to sign my own forms, where I have to use the same form repeated times. The form is set up as a template, so I just have to put in a couple of details and add my signature. It’s much faster than printing, filling out the form, signing it, and scanning it back in.

It costs US$1 a month per user and you really only need yourself on there as a user.


Spotify is an essential productivity tool because I can’t work in silence. Spotify Premium gives you unlimited access to any content, any time, and you can listen offline.

It costs $11.99 a month.

Your turn

What premium web service do you use and recommend?

#blogjune 9/30

04 Jun

Using social technologies for connected learning

Last month I presented on using social technologies for connected learning at a QUT Twilight Teacher PD event for school teachers.

It was a lot of fun and led me to discover what I’m sure will be my next hobby: making programmable wearables. I have visions of sewing conductive thread through Miss 6’s Elsa dress and making snowflake necklaces. Zomg!

But programmable wearables aren’t the point of this post. The point of this post is to share a recording of my presentation. I broadcast this live using Periscope on my iPhone and I’ve got Periscope set to automatically save videos to my camera roll. The light was quite low in the room, so apologies for graininess. I’ve retrospectively synced the video with slides. There are a few dodgy edits at the very end where I’ve chopped out questions you couldn’t hear.

In the video, I mention I will make my rubric for assessing contributions to the learning community available. You can find it in an earlier blog post.

03 Jun

The role of academic libraries in connected learning

Earlier this year, I spoke at ALIA Information Online about my approach to teaching and learning, which you might call connected learning.

The presentation was designed to be an overview of my approach to teaching, and a provocation. I wanted to encourage dialogue around the way academic libraries currently engage with students. I told the audience that I don’t want a liaison librarian to run a two hour information literacy training session for my students. I’d rather they spent two hours engaging with my students in our online learning spaces. For example, I’d love to have a liaison librarian comment on my student blog posts, to help them with finding and citing resources in an appropriate way.

Teaching the way I and some of my colleagues do means that traditional approaches to librarians trying to embed themselves in courses just don’t work any more. I do most of my engaging with my students online in a learning community. I need the library to be there with me.

While academic libraries are great at providing static resources to help students with learning, I am increasingly aware that it is personal engagement that makes the connected learning model work. I think we’ve seen this play out in MOOCs, where many of the failings in the MOOC model have been about lack of interactivity. Connectedness and community are incredibly important because fundamentally, learning is social.

In my presentation, I emphasised that while I’m not the sage on the stage, I also don’t want to be the guide on the side. Instead, I am in the learning community with my students, facilitating, managing the community, curating resources and sharing. I’m in there as a co-learner.

I finished the presentation with a challenge. I asked academic libraries to consider where they sit, whether they’re in our learning communities or poised to jump in there, and what role they might play.

I am genuinely interested in having a conversation about this because I don’t have the answers. I’m interested both as an educator who wants to draw on the services of academic libraries more, and as a librarian and teacher-of-librarians.

I believe academic libraries need to rethink the way they do business and find ways to engage with learners that work for new and emerging approaches to online education. The library at my own institution have been very supportive in this. Our liaison librarian has created resources for us and jumped into an online community for one of our units. But I’m not sure to what extent this is the norm.

Do you have ideas about how academic libraries could embed themselves in connected learning communities? Or maybe you’re an academic who sees a need or opportunity. I’d love to have a broader conversation about this. Please share your ideas or questions in the comments.

14 May

Assessing participation in an online learning community

A couple of days ago, I spoke at a PD evening for high school teachers on using technology, specifically about how I use social technologies for connected learning. There was some interest in how I assess students’ contributions to the learning community and I was asked if I would be willing to share the criteria I use for this.

I think it’s important to provide some context for what I do and why I do it this way, so I want to share a bit of background, too.

How I came to assess students’ contributions in online learning communities

In my first year of teaching, I had a real bee in my bonnet about online students’ engagement – with the learning materials, with me, and with their peers. So when I had the opportunity to design a new unit that year, I built the assessment around engagement, in addition to the learning outcomes. It helped that in this particular unit, students were learning about personal learning networks. This meant I had both pedagogical and content-driven motivation to get them to talk to each other, to me and to professionals in industry.

I had a hunch that I would need to assess student contributions in the online learning community in order to successfully foster engagement. And as it turned out, that year, I learned that by assessing student contributions in an online learning community, I could draw them into participating in a meaningful way. Some colleagues and I did a bit of a project about online peer engagement and interviewed students about their experience in the learning community in this unit. We also interviewed students from an accounting unit and an education unit about their online peer engagement. We looked at three different online peer engagement activities across the three units: in the accounting unit, we looked at the use of a discussion forum; in the education unit, we looked at Collaborate-based online tutorials; and in my unit, we looked at the whole approach to the unit, which was essentially what we might now call connected learning (but we didn’t have a name for it at that point – or at least, I didn’t have a name for it). In a nutshell, I ran a WordPress Multisite installation where the students each had their own blog, and used BuddyPress to turn the site into a social network. This approach was inspired by Michael Stephens’ and Kyle Jones’ work with WordPress and BuddyPress with a course at San Jose State University. I also assessed students’ participation in the learning community. Their participation involved commenting on my and their peers’ blog posts, having discussions on the site using the social networking functionality, and engaging on Twitter through conversation and using the class hashtag to share interesting material related to the unit.

In the interviews, my students reported they started contributing to the learning community because they were required to for assessment, but they kept on contributing because they found it valuable. Assessment drew them in, but they kept contributing because it was beneficial. And that’s what it’s all about, right? Creating experiences that are valuable to students, not just experiences they have to engage in to satisfy the course requirements.

But how do you assess contribution to the learning community?

The answer is: it depends on what you’re looking for.

I was looking (and continue to look) for meaningful engagement with the content and robust discussion and conversation. I wanted students to form a personal learning network, both within the class, and beyond. I didn’t just want them to connect with each other, but also with industry. I wanted them to feel empowered to learn by playing with technology and critically reflecting on their practice. I wanted them to support each other, to demonstrate leadership, to role model playfulness and personal investment in ongoing continuing professional development.

In that first year, I developed assessment criteria for participation in the learning community that were fairly basic. I also negotiated the assessment criteria with students (which I do in most of my units), so they had the opportunity to tell me what they thought participation should look like. The next year, after conversations with a colleague who does something similar, I added in criteria about demonstrating leadership. And the criteria have continued to evolve each year.

So what exactly do I assess?

When I grade students on participation, I’m looking at

  • analysis and critical discussion
  • leadership
  • extent of contribution.

I don’t know about you, but I really dislike developing criteria sheets (aka rubrics). I dislike it because I invariably come to use them and find flaws that make it really difficult to mark against them. I also find it tricky sometimes to find the right words to convey what I’m looking for. So I really labour over these things and at the end of each semester, I make notes about what worked and didn’t work, and I iterate them from semester to semester. I also trawl the web and academic databases to look for rubrics or criteria sheets that might serve as inspiration.

At my institution, we use criterion referenced assessment. My personal approach is to write really detailed criteria sheets so that I am completely transparent about what I’m looking for. I spend time explaining the criteria to students (although I aim to write criteria that don’t need explanation), and then I give them opportunity to think about the criteria and negotiate them with me. (As an aside, I find negotiating criteria a really powerful tool to help students take charge of their learning.)

Criteria sheet

Download my criteria sheet for assessing student contribution in online learning communities [Word]. It is by no means perfect, but you might find some of the words useful.

Over the years, I’ve been inspired by rubrics shared by other teachers – primary, secondary and tertiary teachers. I can’t remember all of the rubrics I’ve drawn from but this year, I found two in particular very helpful, and I’ve borrowed words from both. They are both from iRubric:

The practicalities

While I track the volume of students’ posts in our various online spaces, I am more interested in what they contribute, rather than how much they contribute (although the latter is important too). This means I need to look at students’ contributions, not just statistics, to grade them. This is not easy and it’s not quick, but I believe it’s worth the effort. When I use a WordPress blog network where students have their own blogs, in combination with BuddyPress, it’s relatively easy for me to go back and see what students have contributed. This semester, my students’ blogs are all over the web, so it’s a bit trickier to track their contributions.  I have a multi pronged approach this semester, but the main thing I’ve had to think about is how to capture students’ comments on their peers’ blogs in a way I can work with to grade them. I’m doing this by aggregating the comment feeds from my students’ blogs into a single RSS feed, which I’m scraping into a Google Spreadsheet.

If This Then That recipe for scraping an RSS feed into a Google Spreadsheet.

If This Then That recipe for scraping an RSS feed into a Google Spreadsheet.

A colleague of mine is manually tracking contributions this semester by tallying them in a spreadsheet. She is much more disciplined than me though! I wish I could commit to that level of tracking, but the reality is I’d fall behind and I’d invariably give up. So automating works for me!

I’d love to hear your ideas for tracking student engagement in learning communities, and any thoughts you have on assessing contributions effectively. Please share in the comments!

12 May

Periscope for live broadcasting classes


Last night I had a colleague Chris Willems come along to my class to run a workshop on talking to camera. In these workshops, Chris does an exercise where he gets students to stand up in front of an iPhone and talk to camera on a random topic that he gives you immediately before counting you in to start recording.

This workshop is a lot of fun, but it is tricky to make it engaging for the online students who are at home listening in via Collaborate. (Note: We bring online students ‘into’ our on campus classroom using Collaborate.) They can’t see what’s happening when the students in class do the activity. We have problems using video in Collaborate because it chews up a lot of bandwidth – to the point where I just tend not to use it at all because it messes with the quality of the audio. So, seeing students would be talking to a phone camera anyway, I thought we’d have a go at broadcasting the activity via Periscope for our online students to watch live.

Here I am having a go at the talking to camera activity - screenshot from the Periscope replay.

Here I am having a go at the talking to camera activity – screenshot from the Periscope replay.

It worked beautifully and the online students loved it. Not only could they see us, but the audio quality was significantly better than Collaborate (not hard to beat that though really!). I’ve been watching the replay back this morning and I’m amazed that the microphone on my iPhone picked me up when I was at least five metres away from it. We just don’t get that in Collaborate using the lapel mics we have in the classroom. As a result, any discussion that happens in the on campus classroom becomes fragmented and unintelligible for the online students.

The other thing we struggle with in Collaborate is getting online students to watch videos at the same time we do in class. This is realllly complicated. I find uploading videos to Collaborate is almost always problematic so I tend to use clips that are online and send the online students the link for the video so they can watch it at the same time we’re watching it in class. But I also have to remember to turn the microphone off in Collaborate so the audio in the classroom doesn’t get broadcast into Collaborate. With Periscope, I just stuck the tripod in front of the projected image in the classroom and it worked a treat. The audio was good and the students at home could see the video. (Don’t worry, all of these videos were Creative Commons licensed so I wasn’t doing anything illegal!)

I didn’t realise I could set Periscope to automatically save videos to my camera roll (I tend to jump in the deep end and try stuff out without reading the instructions. Sometimes this gets me into trouble, but more often than not it works out okay). When I got home last night and investigated, I realised I could have saved the recordings to my phone at the end of the broadcast, as the video was being uploaded for replay, but I don’t think you can do it after that (or at least I haven’t been able to figure out how).

Verdict? We loved it. The online students were really happy with the quality so we kept it running for the rest of class. I turned the broadcast off while we were all working on an independent activity, and the online students asked me to start it again afterwards.

What’s missing? Conversation. Obviously if my phone is on a tripod capturing me talking, I’m not going to be able to engage with the students at home via Periscope. Viewers can heart the broadcast at various stages and they can write messages in the chat (both of which appear on the replay – nice!), but we can’t have a text based conversation.

What we didn’t love? Students without iDevices couldn’t join us (Periscope is currently iOS only).

Will I use it again? Yup, definitely. It’s not a replacement for Collaborate because of the limitations (no conversation and iOS only), but I think it’s an easy thing to run in addition to Collaborate. It will improve the online experience for students who attend live classes via our virtual classroom tools with virtually no extra effort, and that is a very good thing.

PS. I’m @katiedavis on Periscope.

25 Apr

Using Facebook groups as discussion spaces

noun_discussion_114074Last week I ran an online workshop on designing for blended learning and there was some interest in how we use Facebook groups for discussion forums. I offered to share the content we use to introduce students to how we use Facebook, as well as some info on my approach to using it. Here it is!

We’ve been using Facebook groups as discussion spaces for a few years now.

I initially made the move for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I’d had a really positive experience using WordPress Multisite with BuddyPress for one of my unit sites. I found conversation flowed better in this environment than it does on Blackboard discussion forums. Activity feeds on BuddyPress sites basically replicate Facebook walls (although they do it imperfectly). Seeing I’d had success with BuddyPress, I thought I’d give Facebook a try. Secondly, I also found monitoring Blackboard discussion forums really annoying because I can’t respond on my phone and to keep on top of activity in the forums, I have to subscribe by email, which just means more email… And I really don’t need more email. Alerts for Facebook group posts pop up everywhere – on my phone, iPad and laptop – and I can respond instantly.

After one semester of using Facebook for a couple of my units, students started asking for Facebook in other units too (oops. This is why decisions about tool changes should be team decisions. Kinda backed everyone into a corner on this one!). I also quickly realised the level of discussion that occurred in a Facebook group far exceeded the level of discussion I’d ever experienced in Blackboard discussion forums.

Blackboard site content about Facebook

Invariably, every semester we have a couple of students who are a bit hesitant about using Facebook for study, so I wrote up some basic guidelines for participating in Facebook groups. We recently had a web content editor working with us for about five months and she did a lot of work on our Blackboard site content and word-smithed the guidelines so they were a bit less Kate-ish (i.e. not quite so informal and chatty) and better structured.

Here is the content we use on our Blackboard sites to introduce students to using Facebook as a communication tool. Feel free to use it if it’s helpful.

Facebook group for this unit

Join the [unit code and name of Facebook group]. We’re going to use the group wall like it’s a discussion board. [Link the name of the group to your group page.]

You’ll be able to start participating in the group after the teaching staff approve your request to join. That usually takes [X amount of time].

Why we use Facebook

We use Facebook groups instead of discussion forums on Blackboard because they seem to promote more open discussion.

Facebook groups can be easily accessed on mobile devices, which means it’s easy for you to post and respond anytime, anywhere.

For many students, Facebook is a more intuitive tool than a discussion forum. It’s also a space many students are constantly immersed in.

Apprehensive about using Facebook?

We know that some people view Facebook as their own personal space and may not be comfortable with using Facebook for study.

But we also know, based on past experience, how much students benefit from having a Facebook group for the unit. So we’d like to ask you to give it a go and see what you think.

To help you with managing any apprehensiveness about using Facebook for study, we have developed some ground rules.

Ground rules

To make everyone more comfortable, we have some ground rules for using Facebook groups for units.

Use Facebook like a forum

Treat the Facebook group like you would a Blackboard forum. Ask each other questions, share resources, look for assignment partners, and have conversations.

Respect other group members

Treat each other with the respect you would normally extend to each other in a face-to-face classroom. An informal tone is fine, as long as it’s respectful.

Friending is for friends

Don’t send friend request to everyone in the class (including the teaching staff) – unless you are actually friends!

While approaches vary, most teaching staff will not accept friend requests from students.

If you get a friend request from someone in the class and you don’t want to accept it, that’s fine! Don’t feel pressured to accept any friend requests.

Facebook is a bit like your lounge room. It’s a private-ish space where you interact informally with people you know. We’re in this group space to learn, not to become BFFs.

Don’t use private messages to contact staff

Post on the group wall as much as you like, but if you need to send a private message to the Unit Coordinator, send an email rather than a private message on Facebook.


Worried about your privacy on Facebook?

Rest assured: if you are not ‘friends’ with any of your classmates on Facebook, they cannot see your personal profile. Or rather, they can only see as much of it as your privacy settings allow.

Lifehacker maintain a useful, always up-to-date post about managing your Facebook privacy settings [opens in new window].

Making it work

There are a few things I do to make Facebook groups work as dynamic discussion spaces. Here are my tips.

Get to know each other

Get students to introduce themselves with an icebreaker at the beginning of semester. Prompt them to do something fun with their intro – like share one thing nobody else in the class knows about them. This is a good way to get people talking about hobbies, holidays, the talent show they won when they were 12… Then everyone connects as people, not just as classmates. It also gives you some insights you can use later to engage students.

Make Facebook the central place for questions

I ask students to post all questions about content and assessment on Facebook, rather than emailing me, and I’m a stickler about this. Unless it’s a personal question, I don’t answer anything about the unit or assessment via email. This has a huge impact on the amount of email I get from students. But I’ve also recently realised it makes me kind of dread my Facebook notifications almost as much as I dread looking at my inbox. This is definitely a new thing, and probably only an issue this semester because of my circumstances (I’m busier than usual and the notifications can sometimes feel overwhelming). And at the end of the day, a Facebook notification is still easier to deal with than an email.

Set expectations about community

I ask students to respond to each others’ questions on Facebook and to give each other feedback on draft work they post there. We talk a lot about learning communities and the importance of everyone getting involved. Very often, by the time I see a question on Facebook from a student, another student has already answered it.

Set expectations about turn around times on responses

Using Facebook can raise expectations around turn around times on responding to questions. Students will sometimes post something, and then repost a few hours later or tag me in a comment if I haven’t responded. We try to set boundaries around response times and our availability. For example:

  • I tell students they can only expect me to respond during business hours, and if I respond out of hours, it’s a bonus rather than the norm.
  • In the lead up to assignment due dates (which I always set as 11.59pm Sunday -part time students really like to have the weekend to work on their assignments), I schedule posts every couple of days to remind students about my availability. Specifically, I tell them they need to plan ahead to ensure they get answers to their questions. I let them know that
    • any questions they ask by 5pm Friday will be answered on Friday evening
    • I’ll be online 4pm til 5pm on Saturday to respond to questions they’ve asked during the day. Setting a defined time means they can plan to be online so if I need to clarify something related to their question, they will be able to respond. Some of my colleagues just specify they won’t respond on the weekend, and that works too.

Posting online activity work

Since we have both online and on campus students, I design each activity I run in classes so that it will work either in Collaborate or as an activity students can complete independently. Where the activity needs to be completed independently, I ask students to post the product of the activity on Facebook and I give them feedback on it there. They aren’t mandatory, but they are often designed to provide scaffolding for assessment so at least some of the students complete them.

Give feedback on draft assignment work on Facebook

When I provide feedback on draft assignment work (which I generally try not to do, but sometimes it’s unavoidable – e.g. if on campus students are getting feedback in class, I need to provide a similar opportunity for online students), I ask students to post their work to Facebook and I give feedback there. After I provide individual feedback, I write up general comments and post those too. This way everyone benefits and everyone has access to all feedback related to the assignments.

Don’t use Facebook as a content repository

Facebook is for discussion, not for storing content. Any clarification or feedback I provide about assessment, or resources that relate to classes, also get posted on Blackboard so that it’s the central content repository. For example, here’s a screenshot of a summary of feedback I provided on draft assessment work (in this instance, I gave students two dates by which they could post parts of the assignment for feedback).

Screen Shot 2015-04-25 at 9.46.43 AM

This way, any students who don’t want to use Facebook still get the information about the assessment.

Manging students who don’t want to use Facebook

I’ve personally never had a student who refused to use Facebook. Sometimes students may not join the group right away, but they do after a time. Although students miss out on the conversation if they’re not on Facebook, they still get all the content on Blackboard. Even students who are reluctant to use Facebook initially realise the benefits after using it.

Schedule posts to save your sanity

I try to plan ahead and schedule posts for my Facebook groups well in advance. I usually have to make additional posts, but any reminders about assessment items, classes or activities can be scheduled at the beginning of semester or at least a few weeks ahead. I use Buffer to schedule posts and it just means I’ve got one less thing to think about.

Over to you

Do you use Facebook groups in your teaching? How do you use them? Do you have any useful tips?

18 Nov

Using Storify to curate learning resources

This year, I’ve started using Storify to curate my learning resources each week. In this playlist, I give an overview of why I use Storify and how I do it. The first video provides an overview while the second runs through the nitty gritty of creating stories.

A bit of extra background

I connect with my students in a number of places around the web: on our unit site (which might be a Blackboard site or a WordPress site); in a unit Facebook group; and on Twitter using a unit hashtag. Last semester it occurred to me that I could really easily push the weekly learning materials out to my students in all these spaces by curating the resources in Storify.

So for a little while, I put the resources onto Blackboard and then created a story to share on Facebook and Twitter.

Here’s what my weekly learning resources pages look like on Blackboard:


And then I woke up and realised I was doing the same thing in two different ways and I could just use the embed code on Blackboard. Revelatory! So now my learning resources pages look like this:


I create the story, embed it in Blackboard, tweet the link, and post the link in our Facebook group. Embedding, tweeting and Facebooking take about 30 seconds each. Yep, there’s some redundancy in this. I’m making the same thing available in more than one place. But it only costs me 60 seconds to push the story out on social media and by taking the resources to them, I make my students’ lives a little bit easier (and increase the likelihood they’ll engage with the readings and mini lectures before coming to our workshops).

In fact, using Storify actually saves me time. When I post the resources directly onto Blackboard, I use the HTML view and write the HTML so I can make sure it looks nice and tidy. Pulling the resources into Storify and then embedding the story in Blackboard takes me significantly less time than messing about with the HTML in Blackboard.

Win, win, win!

For more information, you can check out a case study QUT’s eLearning Services wrote on my use of Storify.