European Conference on Social Media – Day Two LiveBlog

Today I am at the European Conference on Social Media 2015, in Porto, Portugal (where I presented on the University of Edinburgh’s Managing Your Digital Footprint campaign and research work yesterday – see Day 1 LiveBlog).

As this is a live blog so corrections, comments etc. are welcomed – and please be aware there may be errors and typos though I’ll tidy those as they are spotted!

After last night’s lovely dinner we are now all gathered back together for day 2 of ECSM2015 and are kicking off with another keynote:

Dr João Batista, Institute of Accounting and Administration, University of Aveiro, Portugal
Social Media in Higher Education: Issues and Challenges

My main research interests are focused on communication technologies in higher education, and some issues and challenges will be discussed. And I’m going to start with the mission of University (Ortega y Gasset 1940, 2003) which talks about the changing role of university, and the shift after the second world war towards three main functions:

  • Culture transmission, and the transmission of ideas.
  • Teaching professions – society needs doctors, lawyers, engineers, etc. and the university is to train them.
  • Scientific research and the education of scientific people – needed for innovation and development.

But that was a utopian view. Sigmund Bauman (2007) say that we are living in liquid times and that we are now living in short time perspectives, we are “forgetting of outdated information and fast ageing habits” and we expected to be “free choosers” and flexibility. Do we feel we have long term security, do we expect to be in the same place, doing the same things for the long term? The future that claims to suit the future best is not about structure and rules, but about flexibility. Bauman (2011) also talks about Pointilist time – where we jump from place to place, to interest to interest. We discard data and information that is not useful anymore, replace with new information to remain up to date and useful to the market. But that gives a sense of huge uncertainty.

It is also true that we are now in a very connected world. Boundaries are blurred. Old communication processes are changing – when big events/news breaks we hear it first through social media rather than traditional media. We communicate more, and have a greater need to remain connected digitally at all times. And the way in which we are connected also encourages pointilism. Our contacts, data, etc. all connect together with our lives a network of connections and points, and we also have to have the power to discard these from time to time. We are more and more individualistic. Are we really connected? Yes, we are getting to be all connected.

The very last “Internet Yellow Pages”, and the ironic comments on it, speak to the swiftness of change we have seen in terms of information availability… When you first arrive at a conference, what is the first thing you do? You want the password for the internet! Sometimes we connect less with those in the room. But we are connected: almost half of the world’s internet population are active internet users (Global digital snapshot 2014), and there are over 3 billion unique mobile users…

So, what does this mean in teaching and learning? Diane Laurillard (2007) talks about teaching and learning using technologies to maintain our practices, rather than to change them.  Research (Batista 2011) found that learning management systems were mainly used for distributing lecture notes/materials. Email mainly used to answer questions. Our practice is the same, the technology is changed.

Looking at teacher training (Batista 2011) we see that teachers are getting technical training (50%) but they are less convinced about the pedagogies around technologies – only 36% felt that their training equipped them in that way. Meanwhile we are also seeing a growth in connected devices in higher education… Why do we mind students using connected devices to do something other than listen? How many of you are doing this now? Why should it be different for our students?

Think about 10 or 20 years ago. Studying involved library books, photocopies… we sometimes had financial, time or access barriers to the information we needed. The connections to find the right information are crucial. Siemens et al (2009) talks about connectivism being about knowledge and cognition being distributed across networks of people and technology and learning is about harnessing those connections.

An example of connectivism, Pablo Boixeda, won a top mathematics student prize, but when he describes his day he talks about attending class, studying… this is important, hard work is still what makes for a success.

Some issues of using social media in higher education include privacy and security, including issues of preservation and privacy of materials for assessment (e.g. a blog), and how the institutions accesses/has a role if material hosted elsewhere; institutional frontiers; copyright and authoring – if learning materials are open, how do you retain copyright. And if students submit work, how do we ensure that is original?

Another issue here are MOOCs – the first MOOC ran in 2008 by Siemans et al, and they are proponents of connectivism. At the end of 2014 (Shah) there are 400+ universities, running 2400+ courses, for 16-18 million students. There are issues around these including drop out rates (very high, often around 90%), when students are engaged the drop out rate falls.These courses are free to take, but they take huge resources to put together. Assessment and certification is also interesting here – how do you know who the student is, if it is them submitting the work. Less of an issues if students do not want a certification that is not so much of an issue, but where there is demand we are seeing authorisation systems etc.

Nonetheless MOOCs are having a significant impact, and some employers are recognising them, particularly from prestigious institutions [cue a video on Udacity on computer science MOOCs]. In this video the student, Kelly, mentions a MOOC she took, and then the full course she undertook via Udacity (Full Stack Web Developer Nanodegree) – this is not for free, but is $200 per month, for 6-9 months. Students are expected to work 10 hours per week and receive feedback within 24 hours. This is a course designed by industry. This is not unheard of, but is unusual in a MOOC, and shows that university is keen to be part of these scenarios. We can see that institutional frontiers continue to be more fluid…

The changes now taking place enable more people to access university, particularly via MOOCs [although our speaker is not noting the trend in MOOCs for students to already be unusually highly qualified]. In some research in MOOCs (Reich 2015) sees engagement translating into learning. This is an opportunity to research learning processes. To study the effectiveness of learning and teaching approaches it is also necessary to compare individual courses – the data to allow researchers to cross courses is needed, in order to make comparisons of instructional approaches. But closed systems and privacy policies are a barrier to this approach.

So, to revisit the mission of the university… Everything is now more blurred and uncertain. It is hard to see a common set of shared values, and more likelihood of flexibility in terms of employment location and culture making it hard to focus on a particular set of bales. So culture transmission is complex. Teaching professions is about preparing students to be open-minded, flexible, short-time competencies. MOOCs are important here, as that video makes clear. Scientific research and education of scientists does remain important.

And with that I close my presentation and ask you for questions.


Q1) I was wondering about different subjects, different fields of studies. When we talk about high tech subjects, the MOOCs are OK and are needed – the knowledge in high tech areas grow very fast. On the other hand universities have another kind of subject. I am from Psychology and there the knowledge does not change that quickly, and in the humanities that is broadly the case… What do you think the role of MOOCs is there – is it different? When the presence is importance to get some skills, what do you think?

A1) An interesting question. The wide range of subjects taught in universities… represent different challenges to distance learning in general, and in the MOOCs. But in MOOCs the humanities are well represented. Some very successful MOOCs are in this area. If you search for what are available you find many in arts, creativity and so on. I’m not sure about psychology, but I’m not convinced that distance is a problem for humanities subjects even if people from technology are also more keen to use technology… But then we are all keen to use technology nowadays…

Q2) An interesting presentation but I would like to hear your opinion on some of the changes taking place. In the US many universities are being forced to change in person courses into online courses. They have to compete with online and MOOC platform. Online courses see faster sign up than in person courses. When an academic was asked about using open courses, stated that MIT does these things to reach everyone, but in the knowledge that people will sign up for classes, will get students, because of the value and camradarie in-person. That was controversial in the US. Do you think MOOCs etc. mean we are depriving students of that social interaction they get in in-person courses.

A2) I think some trends are not unstoppable… But the availability of courses online is part of visibility, that is unstoppable. But not sure about the other side of that, of students not coming for online courses. I’m not sure how to stop that… We are now communicating with people 2m away digitally, even in conferences where there is a huge trend for applying for a conference at distance… I haven’t an answer for that trend of students not coming to classes. Maybe universities have to reinvent their approaches… I think that pedagogical preparation is crucial, because when students have interesting teachers, they go to classes. In Portugal the only level you don’t need qualification to teach, is higher education and that is a problem. But on the universities the concentration is on research, papers published etc… Why worry about pedagogical training etc… That is an issue that directors and politicians have to solve.

From me (not our speakers): given some of the discussion of MOOCs here, I think you might be interested in my colleagues’ Bayne and Ross (2014) HEA report on the Pedagogy of the MOOC for a UK perspective and a critical take on the phenomenon. I had questions for our opening keynote as I think to talk about some of those shifts without referencing the cost of Higher Education, particularly in the US context, is to miss some of the important factors that are very different to social media or changes in how we connect/engage with information. For those interested in a different take on the role of in-person vs online education I also recommend the University of Edinburgh’s Manifesto for Online Learning, which provides provocations and recommendations for treating online teaching and learning as a beneficial and positive model, with beneficial affordances and opportunities, when it is done thoughtfully and well.

And to finish this section of the morning, we have just seen a short video on ECSM2016, to be held in France. And we are now moving onto posters – we’ll be browsing those until 11am so expect more updates here after that.


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About Nicola Osborne

I am Digital Education Manager and Service Manager at EDINA, a role I share with my colleague Lorna Campbell. I was previously Social Media Officer for EDINA working across all projects and services. I am interested in the opportunities within teaching and learning for film, video, sound and all forms of multimedia, as well as social media, crowdsourcing and related new technologies.

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