Online subscriptions

I subscribe to a lot of ezines, blogs and forums. I do this to keep informed about developments within my industry (public relations, journalism and professional communication).

I subscribe to an enewsletter by Tony Jacques about crisis communication. Called “Managing Outcomes” the newsletter is emailed to subscribers and generally features a case study based on current events.

I subscribe to a lot of forums and groups on LinkedIn. I have experimented with a number of forums and providers. I have settled on LinkedIn because of its professional focus. There is also the added benefit of linking directly to my electronic resume. If I comment, people can see who I am to be making such comments. Likewise, I can view everyone else’s profile too. I mainly subscribe to the public relations and professional communication groups. The other advantage of LinkedIn is that you have to be accepted into a group. This means that you will know other group members (at least by industry). For example, the Public Relations Institute of Australia group only accepts current paying members of the PRIA.

I subscribe to many, many Twitter accounts – mostly relating to public relations and journalism. Some are linked to blogs like @jayrosen while others are linked to hashtags like #commschat. Most are reputable news sites and emergency services, like the Queensland Police Service, Breaking News and ABC. I love being able to follow events from start to finish and knowing immediately. It can become compelling however, and distracting, so I use Tweet Deck to order some of my subscriptions and avoid becoming overwhelmed.

I have several RSS feeds that let me know when blogs I am following have a new post added. Much easier than checking the blogs individually each day!

ProfComm@CQUni also has a Facebook site, a You Tube Channel and a Twitter account. We use this to reach our student groups – informally, rather than in any targetted pedagogical way (except for You Tube which hosts all of our online lectures).

The readings in Theme 5 have encouraged me to look further at these subscriptions. All of them, without exception, are about my industry rather than about learning and teaching. Whilst I use examples from this information within the class setting, it is to illustrate a point and to keep my content current, not to improve my teaching. The blog by Graham Attwell, Pontydysgu, as recommended in our readings for this activity is excellent. The number of international visitors and the depth of information is awesome. I notice that Graham Attwell also has a Twitter address and Facebook group.

So now I have started adding to my subscriptions. Being a Twitter nut, I have found @moocsNews, a learner-focused online directory of MOOCS, and @insidehighered featuring higher education news. This led me to the Inside Higher Ed blog at which, although American based, provides some great international news about the university sector – including trends in learning and teaching. Then I found a fantastic blog about how changes in the world are redefining excellence in tertiatry teaching. Then I found a group on LinkedIn called “Higher Education Teaching and Learning” – I submitted a request to join the group, my joy at the LinkedIn restrictions may yet come back to haunt me!

This has been a very useful and productive exercise for me. It has reinforced to me that I need to look beyond my area of expertise to  the nature of my teaching.


Students rating their learning experience

I try very hard to engage with my students. As a read the literature about student engagement, I am struck by how many of the engagement boxes I tick. Engagement, it seems, is not just about making learning tasks interesting (although this is part of it), it is just as important about the lecturer’s enthusiasm for the course. If a lecturer is engaged, it is more likely that a student will be engaged, so goes the research.

I have found this in my experience. It helps, I think, that I believe in what I teach and I genuinely like working with the students. I like sharing stories, I encourage other students to share stories and relate their learning to real life. I chat on the forums, I email regularly and I call students on the phone. I take students’ calls at any time (except during meetings, and then I will return the call quickly). Many students have expressed surprise to me at how available I am. Kindly, they have made this feedback through “Have Your Say” as well. Whilst they are surprised at my availability, I am surprised that other lecturers are not as available. It was brought to my attention that one lecturer had not posted on Moodle, ever. I have to think hard to try and work out how that lecturer can perform their job. Some students have told me of emailing lecturers and not getting a response. What has come naturally to me is not standard process – although not all lecturers are like the non-responsive one! But still, it remains surprising that a basic level of engagement from the lecturer is not consistent throughout the university. I support the minimum requirements through Have Your Say of 50% response, but the 4/5 rating is not reflective of the most appropriate question. It is not about whether students enjoyed the course, it is about whether they were given the opportunity to learn. A student who fails a course may not enjoy it, but that is not because the lecturer was inept. It is a difficult thing to use qualitative measures for quantitative concepts.

Having said that, I have never scored below 4, even from students who fail the course. I tend to get well above 50% response rates. Some students wait until after they have received their last grade to provide their feedback, which I find amusing. The majority of the comments tend to be an assessment of me more than an assessment of the course, which I also find amusing.

Main areas of feedback – the students love the level of contact and the level of engagement. Students really like the use of video lectures. The access of the video lectures through You Tube seems to be preferred than access through the default media player – so I post a link to my YouTube Channel. The students like the fact that the course material is up on Moodle at the start of term – so the keen ones can jump ahead. And I have had a lot of feedback about the quality and format of my Moodle homepage – but I suspect this might become a moot issue with the move to standardising designs through Moodle 2.

Engaging students

I am really enjoying this theme about engagement. I love the idea of integrating technology into our courses as a means of engaging students. This serves several purposes. The first, of course, is to communicate to students who exist in this technological world. I’ve had classes where the students teach me about how to use the technology! The second purpose is that it shows the students that the University is not stagnant. We are willing to change and to embrace technology as it becomes available. I have a more phlosophical view about technology integration, than a view which incorporates specific technologies. I will try and explain it.

I share with my journalism students an anecdote about the New York Times, a leading newspaper in the United States. Newspapers all over the world were going out of business because of the move to online news. Advertisers were taking their revenue to online sources, or setting up their own websites. The need for advertising in newspapers has gone. Without advertising, newspapers have no revenue. Plus, the desire for immediate news means that people are no longer willing to wait until a newspaper is published the day after an event. So newspapers all over the world were closing down. Two large newspapers – the NY Times and the Tribune – took different approaches to this threat on their existence. The Tribune decided people would continue to buy newspapers if the content was interesting – so they wrote about sex and scandals and porn. Problem was, it wasn’t news. And it turns out people want news. The NY Times took another position and went digital. It lost paper advertisers, so the paper copy was much smaller than it once was but it continued to print newspapers. All of the stories were also published on the website. The sales of newspapers continued because people saw the news on the web but preferred to read about it in the newspaper. Then the iPad was invented. The NY Times was one of the first to invent a newspaper App. They charge a subscription fee for the reader and have advertising space online. The NY Times is still going strong, churning out thousands of words a day in news. The Tribune is bankrupt. The NY Times embraced the technology. For my journalism students, the moral of the story is to think about the target public and to choose the medium most appropriate to reach them. For us lecturers, I think there is a similar moral. Just because the technology exists does not necessarily mean we jump in head first, but if embracing the technology allows us to teach more efficiently and allows the students to learn more readily, then we have a level of obligation to our industry to try different teaching methods.

I love the idea about using Twitter in classes. That immediacy is just what the students are used to. I’d be interested to see if it worked in a class setting. It has been my experience that students prefer Facebook. In my course, we look at Twitter from a journaistic perspective, and it is fascinating just how few students use it. Twitter (according to my students) is too hard. (I love Twitter: its brevity, its immediacy, and its potential to link through to more details.) Now, Facebook however is a different matter. From a quick show of hands in my class of 25, about 24 had iPhones, all of which were turned on. Half were on Facebook checking status updates during class and three had posted an update in that class! Professional Communication has its own Facebook page. When we update a status, it is sent to our “friends” and it appears in their news feed. The student can choose to read it or not, but the message is getting through. I have not posted during a class – but after this Twitter suggestion, I might just do so.