"I thought you were down with the kids? Why do you keep sending me email! "
That was the response I received from a student when asking why he had not responded to me trying to get in touch with him over assignment work .... 6 years ago! It was at that moment I realised that I had to start communicating with students the way they communicate with each other and so took my first step away from Lecturing Sports Science and towards working in the field of Technology Enhanced Learning.
I'd always been a gadget geek, loving technology and always wanting to find the latest apps that could help me with my teaching, so the first thing that sprung to mind was social media. Being tech savvy I felt very safe using ‘open' social media networks (such as Facebook) and over the first two years my closed student groups were working well. I was asked to up skill and share my innovative approach with other departments. 'Great' I thought, but how wrong I was!
The problem was that staff started using the groups as they would in their personal life, adding students as ‘friends’, being able to view profile pictures and any content that was shared by their students. This massively blurred the lines between their professional life and personal life, a very dangerous game! On top of this, as an organisation, the college I was working at had no way of controlling or managing the information that was being posted to the group timelines. Looking back it was a minefield!! I'm therefore so glad that when I left the institution in question I did so with them using a safe and secure platform that staff and students could confidently communicate on (more on that in a bit). I have heard arguments from users of ‘open’ social networks about their safety policy in letting managers have access to accounts etc.. and I know that these staff and tutors are only using these platforms to help with engagement and communication and from first hand experience I know that these platforms can do this in bucket loads. But year on year I was seeing a drop in the number of students agreeing to join open social network student groups, why!?
Well it was simple really, and something that I never thought about in my early years of social network use in education...the feelings of the students. From student focus groups we were being told that just because they are in a class of 20, it doesn't mean that they are friends with all 20 and by an institution forcing them onto a platform that opens up their personal space they feel uncomfortable in doing this. I then started thinking more about the safety aspect of using ‘open' social media platforms from both the staff and students' point of view and the scariest outcome was not being able to track communication between staff and students and students and students. I was forcing students onto a platform that I could not track, audit or manage appropriately. Anybody can photoshop a social network post and use this as evidence against other members of their institution, which as a staff member and as an establishment, we had no way of proving was a real post or not! It opened a can of worms, and emphasised how wrong I was to start using ‘open’ social networks.
The concept was right, the reasoning was right the issue was the platform. I needed a platform that could do everything a social network could do but with the safety, security and the managed audit trail that an institution must have to safeguard the professional integrity of their staff and the welfare of their students. Thankfully I found that platform in ontrack:buzz and not only did it put all mine, the students' and the institution's fears to rest, it developed into the institution’s very own private social learning network facilitating peer to peer support, collaboration, independent learning and better face to face relationships between staff and students.
The best bit? ontrack:buzz integrates with your existing MIS, not only saving staff time by automating administrative processes, such as monitoring student absence, but also the institution money by replacing costly SMS services.