Moving forward with social media

This is a very quick post, I promise, reflecting on the experience of leading a project looking ar the role and impact of social media and its value in learning and teaching. As well as describing the project, there is some reflection on project management – if nothing else, prompted by engagement with the #ocTEL Mooc.

The Project – Aims and Objectives

The aim of the project was to understand and bridge the divide between the virtual learning and social media. As such, the project could be seen as a more current, institution specific contribution to the going debate within Higher Education, going back to initial discussion of whether it has a positive or negative effective, and whether staff should stay away or refrain from using it for formal academic purposes.

The specific objectives of the project were to:

  1. listen to the student voice, to extend our understanding of students attitudes to and use of social media
  2. engage staff beyond the core, dual professionals to understands their attitudes to and use of social media
  3. investigate issues in scaling VLE-social media integration across the whole of the institution
  4. evaluate the effectiveness of the VLE-SM integration on student engagement

The Project – Evaluation of Outcomes

The objectives of listening to the student voice (1) and supporting staff (2) were well met by the project and supported the overall aim of bridging the VLE/social network divide. The objectives of considering scaling the integration (3) and evaluating the impact on student engagement (4) were less well achieved. This was in part due to changes in the project plan to address difficulties encountered including the ability of the proposed project team to fully engage, approval and recruitment of participants and re-scheduling of activities around key student milestones.

The Project Management – Approach

In general the project had a clear plan, with associated risk analysis and resource requirements. However, given the project was seen as an additional activity for most stakeholders, a soft approach was taken to project management, in terms of commitments of time, progress tracking and deadlines.

The result was a more collaborative/agile, rather than plan driven, approach involving a wide range of stakeholders including:

  • the central learning and teaching unit as sponsors
  • staff as potential users of social media
  • students potential users of social media in their learning
  • the VLE development team as providers of insight on user behaviour
  • on campus/online programme tutors
  • the Students Union as champions of student experience

The Project Management – Evalution

On reflection, the overall result of a softer approach to project management meant less clear buy-in from participants in changing personal, work allocation and organisational environments. This was not helped by the lack of clear project events (either formal or informal) to mark defined milestones, such as project inception or wrap-up.

Despite a clear sense of purpose among participants, a clearer, better articulated communication plan, including such key events, would help develop a joint sense of endeavor with better clarity of roles, interdependencies and expectation. As ever, this would impact the timing of activities and enable us to better balance patience, given the lower priority of this exploratory project, with the speed that is vital for success. A big lesson learned for next time.

The “Project” – Next Steps

While the explicit project described here has closed, on-going work is planned – which may or may not be formalised into a new project.  In (not necessarily equal) parts, it is hoped that this will include:

  • revisiting the evaluation of effectiveness described above (objective 4)
  • seeing how student and staff attitudes can impact on any new VLE design (objective 3)
  • wider dissemination of project outcomes in seminars, conferences and papers
  • continuing student surveys to understand the changing social media/network/messaging landscape
  • cross institutional staff survey on issues for social media and their relationships (e.g. privacy vs engagement)
  • data analysis to validate conceptualisation/classification of student attitudes and the features that categorise them, e.g. as separatists or integrationists

 

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