By Naomi Ryan & Susan Hopkins
University of Southern Queensland (USQ), Open Access College (OAC) lecturers Naomi Ryan and Susan Hopkins have been exploring the application of alternative digital platforms and digital tools in pre-tertiary teaching:
“The negative aspects of social media have been in the news a great deal recently, for example with Facebook ‘fake news’ during the shocking American election campaign and closer to home, with ‘sexting’ scandals on Snapchat and with the growing social problem of the digital abuse of women on Facebook and Twitter. It is timely to ask: can social media be used for more positive and pro-social ends, such as the socialisation and enculturation of marginalised student populations? We believe so, and have used digital tools, including Snapchat and Facebook to facilitate learning, build community and encourage the retention of low socioeconomic youth on non-traditional, alternative pre-tertiary pathways.
We teach within an intensive tertiary preparation program designed to widen the participation of young people from low socio-economic backgrounds. Our aim has been to use digital tools to facilitate learning and socialisation for these disadvantaged school leavers. We have explored Digital Storytelling assessment, Snapchat mobile messaging and the use of the social networking site Facebook as a learning management system. In our action research, we found the use of social media and digital story telling assisted our non-traditional students to successfully transition to university life. Using Facebook and Snapchat helped us facilitate a faster and ‘friendlier’ learning environment. The focus on people and their stories, profiles and pictures in these digital platforms, provides a pathway for enhanced engagement – especially for students at risk of being disengaged by more traditional book-based learning. We prioritise the development of social, career and digital literacies. We believe that widening participation in the 21st Century ‘Network Society,’ also requires developing social and cultural capital through networking new media. We found teaching through digital narratives and social media facilitated the development of digital literacy skills. But more importantly, it also encourages learning and linking to mutually beneficial relationships online – building network capital. We believe building these digital social networks is an important piece of the social inclusion puzzle for disadvantaged young people. Within the TPPIP program, we have attempted to address these new digital forms of identity, sociality and connectivity. Through the creation and sharing of digital narratives, our students have also explored new future pathways, which may be transformative and enabling.