The use of social media to support learning and teaching in Higher Education is not new. In 2008, the Open University Clusters project examined how various social media applications might be used to support students engaging in practice based learning. At that time, microblogging using the Twitter™ platform was a relatively new phenomena and the Clusters project considered it had little value, but microblogging, in particular Twitter™ is now established and being used in both higher and further education settings for a variety of purposes. In this presentation, we explore one such initiative in some detail, draw attention to others and discuss some of the practical and ethical factors that enable or discourage engagement. Recently, a number of academics engaged in delivering social work education have used microblogging to involve students in discussions relevant to their professional development. We discuss some of the practical and ethical factors that enable or discourage student engagement in the use of microblogging in a learning context.
In 2013, student Social Workers from Scotland and England engaged in an inter-country Twitter™ debate to discuss the issue of registration with professional bodies. In Scotland student Social Workers are required to register with the professional body while in England students are exempted from registration. The debate used a social media platform (Twitter™) to examine attitudes and views on the subject from students in Scotland and England. In addition students were required to complete a short online survey describing their use of social media to support their learning and skill acquisition. In our presentation, we also make reference to the use of microblogging in the development of a book club for social work students which uses Twitter™ to engage with students who are located remotely from the institution, perhaps on placement, and discuss how Twitter™ has been used to develop support networks for research students.
Although our focus is on the use of a specific social media tool in a particular discipline, we suggest that our experience can be extended to other groups of learners on both professional and more traditional courses, especially in settings where students have limited opportunity for face-to-face interaction, and also to other social media tools. We recognise that the use of Internet based social media applications can enable interaction between learners in different institutions, both within the UK and internationally, thus extending our own and learners’ professional networks and developing embryonic communities of practice. A further observation is that the use of social media can contribute to breaking down of the traditional hierarchy between academics and students, affirming the contributions and knowledge of all learners. We found students were sophisticated in their use of Twitter™ to support and enhance their classroom based learning, and could see some potential for use of social media in practice.
We hope our experience will encourage others teaching professional and practice based students to explore the potential for using social media in enabling both students and academics to further develop their professional networks.