Tuesday, May 27, 2008

New channels for student support

`Logos What's already clear about the online teaching developments I've got planned for the next year is that things will go wrong, there will be unanticipated consequences and that I'll have to think on my feet. For these reasons, new communications channels for talking to students and colleagues are required alongside all of the traditional ones.

The first thing I've done is to set up a dedicated Twitter account (DrCann) for student support. For this to work, the professional student support channel is going to have to be kept clear from the rest of my lifestream on Twitter as most students won't be able to cope with the signal to noise ratio. Similarly, I've set up a dedicated Seesmic account (drcann) for the same reasons. In both cases, these accounts are linked to my University email account, and of course, all of this is in addition to the existing support channels such as email, Blackboard and face to face. I'm also considering the possibility of setting up a FriendFeed room, but I haven't really grokked that yet.

Near synchronous channels such as Twitter and Seesmic create an expectation of instantaneous 24/7 response, and that's not going to happen. I can also think of plenty of other ways frisky students could break this model, so reluctantly, there will have to be a few rules. (If we didn't have rules, where would we be? :-)

Students will be told:
  • Twitter and Seesmic are external services. The University of Leicester is not responsible for the content of external web sites, and does not endorse any content, opinions, advertisements or any other services provided at those sites.
  • To use these optional services, you must set up a free account at Twitter and/or Seesmic using your University of Leicester username so that I can verify that you are a student on a course I am currently teaching. You can have multiple Twitter/Seesmic accounts and may wish to set up one for University use and one for private use. If on registering you find that your UoL username is already taken, contact me and I will assign you a username.
  • If you send me a message via Twitter or Seesmic, I will do my best to respond as quickly as possible, but if I am not in my office, it might take time for me to reply.
  • Read the Twitter/Seesmic help material and make sure you understand the difference between public and private messages. I advise you to use these services for advice only and not for any private issues. (Contact me by email or speak to me in person if you want to discuss something privately)
  • In the event of abuse (e.g. sending content likely to cause offence), I will block your account so that you cannot send me any more messages. To avoid sabotage (!), keep your passwords private and do not leave public access computers while logged in!

How am I going to persuade students to use these services? I'm not. It's a choice they can make if they wish. The demand will come by viral marketing, e.g. showing them how to pull the feeds into Facebook.

So why are you doing this?
As an experiment, I can't say what the outcomes will be, but the hypothesis that I'm testing is that in the long run (not including learning how to do it), it might provide a better service, save me some time, and both the students and I will be happier. And along the way, we may just do some viral professional development too.


  1. "To use these optional services, you must set up a free account at Twitter and/or Seesmic using your University of Leicester username so that I can verify that you are a student on a course I am currently teaching."

    You could do a handshake - get them to follow you on twitter, you reply to their UoL email address maybe stressing the difference between public and private messages, also including a codeword they have to privately message back to you via twitter so you know they are who they say they are?

  2. I could, but I'm trying to minimize my workload - the medics module I'm involved with in June has nearly 400 students on it. We'll see how it goes first round and then I may implement your suggestion next time.

  3. Hi,

    I'm working with a group of lecturers at the moment and introducing them to how some Web 2.0 tools and services can be used in education. I've been toying with the idea of including Seesmic so I look forward to hearing how you get on with this.



  4. Hi AJ

    Seesmic and several other services are great for teaching/learning. When I first signed up on seesmic, using it for education was one of the first things I thought of. I used Blackboard before, and that service in particular is one that I would approach with a white label seesmic app.

    Okay here is what I have to offer.

    OpenID might be something to consider.

    Hash tags
    To sort the topics

    A naming scheme will be very important. I have experimented with a couple of different ideas. Hard to recommend for your use. IMO, use UTC
    and date. For example:

    This creates a pretty long title. I have also considered using Tinyurl as a way of titling a post. For example you used a TinyURL to point to your blog post. If all students know that a course assignment ID is used to identify a seesmic post, they can match the page to the post.

    So your first post looks something like this:

    Assgmnt #4zbey8

    A student replies:

    @DrCann RE: Assgmnt #4zbey8

    Your reply to student:

    @StudentName/number(NOT THE BLACKBOARD ID) RE: RE: Assgmnt #4zbey8

    (My thinking is, you should pick a Random number to be associated to a student for privacy). There are random number generators that might work for you.

    In combination with services like & there is the ability to sort and search by student, assignment ...

    I will try to remember to send you additional links.

    I think you will have a lot of success using seesmic.

    I hope I don't come across as a know it all, or "I had these ideas before anyone else". It is just that I have been heading down these paths for a while.


  5. Not at all, that's great input of just the sort I was hoping for - very grateful.

  6. "I could, but I'm trying to minimize my workload"

    Get a script built to automate it; if the handshake works, the script subscribes you to the student's feed.

  7. that is, the script automatically sets you up to follow the cerified student...

  8. verified
    b***r, long day, gonna call it one for a bit...

  9. I can't wait to hear how this goes. One of my instructors is experimenting with these things. I am partial to Utterz. I like that participants can select their media and it all links together. You can also have one post sent to several locations. Good luck!