Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Millie the social networking teacher

Some time back I gave a talk at Richard Huish college in Somerset. Some in the audience were openly hostile to my recommendation that teaching needs to wise up and open up to the use of technology and social media in particular but I also received emails from teachers who apologised for their 'luddite attitude' with the message that they planned to do something. Millie, a teacher in the audience, young enough not to have been infected with the ‘ostrich virus’ popped up a year later, with something extraordinary, social media at the heart of her teaching. Millie sings the praises of the OU, as she dropped out of a more traditional University and found the whole non-lecture based OU approach far more relevant - and it tells.

Millie’s Blog: What I Taught in….

Millie has a blog called What I Taught in Geography This Week. Stephen Wheeler has given a detailed account here of why blogging is such a powerful amplifier for teachers, and Millie is its living embodiment. What better way to interact with her students than to give them what she’s taught online, supplemented by useful videos, links, geography film reviews and relevant books. For teachers and lecturers to simply turn up and deliver verbal stuff in classrooms and not record or and supplement that teaching with useful resources and cool stuff seems odd to me. A blog does nothing but enhance the reputation of the teacher and gives students a second chance to access and use that teacher’s expertise.

Millie’s student Blogs: What I Learnt in….

Her students have responded in kind, creating their own What I Learnt in Geography This Week blogs, contributing content, film and book reviews. One student, who’s applying for Cambridge this year, has used her two year blog as part of her UCAS application, as it shows her deep commitment to the subject. The first line from another student blog says it all, “So I am a geography geek and got added so I can blog too. What can I say, I love it absolutely love it! I'm not really that clever but it doesn’t stop a love I have for the subject, I also study environmental science and geology.” Now I challenge anyone who has doubts about this to read these blogs and say it doesn’t motivate and enhance the students’ learning experience. The very act of writing this stuff gives them reflection, reinforcement and confidence.

Facebook: Richuish Geography

Not content with blogs, although she and her students like them, she set up a Facbook account for her course. More than this, she started to integrate her blog, Slideshare for presentations, discussions (lots on mutual help on revision), Flickr, YouTube (relevant videos) and citeme (pull out a citation in the correct format for research). Closed tutor groups are now being developed.

After a year it’s running at around 13000 page views a month and they’ve only had to delete one comment, which in any case, was pretty tame. And with success in the trial subject, geography, they’re rolling it out to other subjects with Philosophy and Photography up and running.

Coveritlive: online workshops

Millie also used live events through coveritlive. This app runs through the blog and allows a realtime workshop to be run, especially useful for revision sessions. The teacher has complete control over the comments and content and it can be replayed at any time. The –re-exam sessions were well attended, performing the useful function of getting the students to revise through a scheduled event.


All of this was achieved on the back of some visionary teachers, good staff training and the will to help students. As the social media tools took hold they started to move away from Moodle with its log-ons and limited interactivity. My own view is that this supports my last two posts on feedback and good practice in teaching. If, as I believe, teachers often fail students through too much focus on summative scoring and not enough formative assessment through specifically constructive comments, then social media is the way forward. Almost everything Professor Paul Black has to say on formative assessment can be implemented through these tools. Far too long have teachers been stuck in ‘hands-up’ questioning in class, scoring tests and giving vague feedback. This opens up dialogue between teachers and students, especially those who are somewhat introverted in class and who need constructive support and help. Go Millie.

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