Exploring the application of alternative digital platforms and digital tools

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.

Reflections on ASCILITE’s Community Mentoring Program

By Helen Farley
University of Southern Queensland

Recently, as ASCILITE Executives, Mark Northover and I were tasked with taking over ASCILITE’s Community Mentoring Program from Sue Gregory, ASCILITE’s Vice President. Sue has continued to do an amazing job for a number of years but with each passing month, she’s taking on more and more and it was just time to share some of that work around. Mark and I hope we are worthy successors!

I’m excited about becoming more involved with the program and it started me thinking about my own experiences with ASCILITE’s Community Mentoring Program.

My first engagement with the program was as a mentee; a new academic matched with a senior leader from another university. The experience scared the pants off me because I had spent my career dodging the attention of such people! Now, there was no dodging it! My mentor was very busy and securing scraps of his time was a challenge but his commitment to me was unswerving. And under his guidance, I met with other academics from across the globe with who I could collaborate, we wrote a paper for the ASCILITE conference and I ran a workshop there too. I thought that he would be there to help me but it turned out he couldn’t be. I was absolutely petrified running a workshop by myself; I’d never done it before! But you know what? It went really well and some of the folk that came along are to this day some of my closest collaborators. I couldn’t have done it without his belief in me.

From being a mentee I progressed to being a mentor, a role I’ve enjoyed for a number of years. I’ve been a one-on-one mentor but a couple of times, I’ve also worked collaboratively with another mentor. When we think of mentoring, we generally think about what the mentor brings to the mentee. And of course, as a mentor we can bring our connections, experiences, wisdom and sometimes our knowledge of sector politics! But without a doubt the mentees bring as much, and sometimes more, to the relationship.

I’ve been surprised and delighted when a mentee can bring new knowledge to my own research, becoming valued collaborators and writing partners. The relationship lasts longer than the term of the program and projects are born that provide opportunities for both of us (or more of us) to expand our publication lists.

Another consequence of the mentee/mentor relationship that has surprised me is that it helps me to be kinder to myself. As an academic, I’m always wishing I was doing more, writing more, getting more done at the cost of my life outside of academia. I can be more objective with my mentees than I can be with myself. I always advise my mentees to strike a balance: get enough exercise, eat well, sleep long enough and maintain their connections with family and friends and all of that will help with the job at hand. But for that advice to be convincing, I have to model it myself. Mentoring has brought me a sense of perspective and helps me realise just what it is I’ve learned over my many years of being an academic.

Is the mentoring experience always so positive? No, of course not but it’s never bad. Sometimes personalities don’t match up; timetables don’t align; mutual goals may be elusive. But in my experience, mentors and mentees approach the relationship with great respect for each other and something is gained irrespective.

So, I would urge you to consider becoming a mentee or a mentor in the ASCILITE Community Mentoring Program. The potential rewards can be powerful.

If you think you might like to have a go but would like more information first, take a look at the Community Mentoring Program page on the ASCILITE website. We’ll also be hosting a webinar on Monday February 13 so you can ask questions and learn more.

Welcome to the New TELall Blog

By Dominique Parrish, ASCILITE President

Welcome to the newest ASCILITE initiative the TELall blog. This is a forum to engage with others about issues, topics, theories and research in regard to the use of digital technologies in tertiary learning and teaching.   Everyone is welcome to connect and share articles so please join us in making TELall a successful initiative. Articles are most welcome and should be sent to the ASCILITE Secretariat.

I recently attended a digital transformation leadership institute aimed at enhancing the skills of higher education leaders to facilitate change, in regard to the use of digital technologies in learning and teaching. This forum identified issues that are challenging higher education leaders and the potential for digital solutions. I was not surprised that the challenges being discussed were the same issues that I have been facing but what did alarm me is that we seem to be at an impasse in effecting change on some of the key issues such as:

  • Providing high quality education to a rapidly increasing and diverse student population.
  • The compromise between flexibility in the online delivery of courses and the provision of support for students, particularly those entering tertiary studies through non-traditional pathways.
  • Overcoming academic resistance to integrating digitally enabled learning and teaching and harnessing the potential of new and emerging technologies.
  • The need for learning and teaching strategies to cope with issues associated with social media.
  • Millennials, digital visitors, digital residents and digital natives … is there a need to revise strategies for teaching this new cohort of students?
  • Are we adequately preparing students to be career ready and employable in an uncertain future?

There are no new insights in these challenges and the affordance of technology in addressing these difficulties is also not a new proposition. As higher education leaders grappling with how to encourage academics to employ engaging, practice-based activities in online environments, which harness the potential of new and emerging technologies we share a common dilemma. I found I walked away from my time at this leadership institute with more questions than answers, more concerns than reassurances and a pervading desire to find solutions. Societies like ours in ASCILITE bring experts in the field, from across different contexts, not only to present new and evolving ideas, initiatives and dilemmas but also to discuss solutions. I am looking forward to robust discussions, thought-provoking presentations and most importantly the opportunity to connect with like-minded eager practitioners at the 2016 ASCILITE conference.

Post conference there a number of ways we can continue to engage on these issues including webinars, this TELall blog, and a soon to be introduced initiative called FIKAs. We would also welcome member’s suggestions for topics of interest and how we can better align ASCILITE initiatives to the challenges we all face.