Social Writing

writers-block
Image by Drew Coffman via flickr

I appreciate that in writing about “6 Underappreciated Skills for Social Media Professionals,” Evan LePage includes writing as one of those six.

If you do social media, you spend a lot of your time writing.  Short tweets and posts, captions and comments are all important – and not without skill and design when done well – tasks of a social writer.

The obvious writing task is blogging which is generally a kind of journalism, technical writing or an essay.

As the author points out, even our growing visual networks, such as Instagram and Youtube, require titles, tags and captions and those are all important factors to getting found online and pushing engagement.

I still have to point out to people that working online also requires a lot of reading. Students in my online graduate courses who are new to that kind of learning environment are often surprised (not happily) about the amount of reading and writing required to do well.

We are becoming more and more digital, but reading and writing are not going away, though they are evolving.

Making Learning Visible to Increase Student Engagement

I gave a presentation on “Making Learning Visible to Increase Student Engagement” at the NJEDge Faculty Showcase this year.  I was partly inspired by the educational research from the Project Zero group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. I talked about using a public forum in both undergraduate and graduate online and face-to-face classes (at NJIT and at Montclair State University) and having students publicly reflect on their learning experiences.

Requiring students to document their work in a class forum immediately changes student ownership of their work. This type of documentation makes learning visible, rather than the private 1:1 relationship that assessment and evaluation often has between a student and instructor.  I explained the documentation and process reflection methodology and showed student examples. This practice borrows on earlier use of and the pedagogy of portfolios.

The Making Learning Visible (MLV) Project was based on collaborative research between Project Zero researchers and educators from the Municipal Preschools of Reggio Emilia, Italy. MLV investigated how best to understand, document, and support individual and group learning for children and adults. I read about it in Making Thinking Visible and Visible Learners. The five key principles are that learning is purposeful, social, emotional, empowering, and representational.

In particular, the aspect of learning and teaching in MLV that I identify most strongly with is the role of observation and documentation in deepening and extending learning.

Documentation involves one or more specific questions that guide the process, often with an epistemological focus (questions on learning).

Documentation also involves collectively analyzing, interpreting, and evaluating individual and group observations. Serendipitously, the keynote speaker at the Showcase was Etienne Wenger-Trayner who is a leader in the field of social learning theory, and coined the term “communities of practice,” and their application to organizations.

This process is strengthened by multiple perspectives and so it is necessary to make the learning visible. It becomes public when it is shared with other learners, parents, teachers or the public.

Prompting reflective thinking during learning helps learners develop strategies to apply new knowledge to the complex situations in their day-to-day activities. Reflective thinking helps learners attach new knowledge to prior understanding, and also understand their own thinking and learning strategies.

I find that this practice is also very beneficial to me as an instructor in grading student work as it reveals the hidden process that cannot be seen in only grading a final product.

Ultimately, I have found that this is another way to promote student engagement. Teachers in K-12 have known intuitively that displaying student work lets students know that their work is valued and that the classroom space is shared.

Macro-Level Learning through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC)

My wife, Lynnette, and I contributed a chapter to the new book, Macro-Level Learning through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): Strategies and Predictions for the Future

Our chapter is titled “MOOCs: Evolution and Revolution.”

This chapter introduces the evolution of the MOOC, using narratives that are documented by research generated from the educational community. It concentrates on the history and progression of distance learning and its movement toward online education. The authors’ perspectives focus on their own anecdotal evolution, from traditional classroom teaching, infusing distance and online learning, to designing and teaching in a MOOC setting. In examining whether the MOOC is more of an evolution or a revolution in learning, they explore questions that have emerged about MOOCs including what distinguishes this model from other online offerings, characteristics of learners who succeed in this environment, and debates regarding best practices. Critical reaction and responses by proponents of this learning format are presented and acknowledged. The research, perspectives and debates clearly impact what the future of the MOOC appears to offer. This continues the discussion within the book section ‘RIA and education practice of MOOCs,’ aligning to the discussion on the topic of ‘educational training design.’


Because it is a big (and expensive) book (tell your librarian to order it!), I did a 3-part article about some of the ideas in our chapter on my Serendipty35 blog.

In Part 1, I write about the MOOC as revolution and an evolution.

In Part 2, I cover some of the path Lynnette and I followed in teaching and learning face-to-face, then online and finally in a MOOC environment, which probably parallels many other educators development.

The third part covers the pre-history of the MOOC, which is a backstory that encapsulates how distance education developed into online learning.