Networking (and novelty) as criteria for media selection

January 26, 2015 Tony Bates
Figure 9.8.1 UBC's Math Exam Wiki

UBC’s Math Exam Wiki (click on image to go to web page)

Almost there! This section covers the ‘N’ in the SECTIONS model for the chapter on media selection for my online open textbook, Teaching in a Digital Age.

Networking and novelty

These are two quite different factors influencing media selection, of which networking is by far the most important.


This is a relatively new addition to the SECTIONS model and aims to take into account the potential of social media and open education. In essence, an increasingly important question that needs to be asked when selecting media is:

  • how important is it to enable learners to network beyond a course, with others such as subject specialists, professionals in the field, and relevant people in the community? Can the course, or student learning, benefit from such external connections?

If the answer to this is an affirmative, then this will affect what media to use, and in particular will suggest the use of social media such as blogs, wikis, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google Hangout.

There are at least five different ways social media are influencing course design:

  • as an addition to credit-based online software/technology
  • credit course design using only social media
  • student generated learning resources
  • self-managed learning groups
  • instructor-led open educational resources.

Supplementing ‘standard’ learning technologies

Some instructors are combining social media for external networking with ‘standard’ institutional technologies such as a learning management system. The LMS, which is password protected and available only to the instructor and other enrolled students, allows for ‘safe’ communication within the course. The use of social media allows for connections with the external world (contributions can still be screened by the course blog or wiki administrator by monitoring and approving contributions.)

For instance, a course on Middle Eastern politics could have an internal discussion forum focused on relating current events directly to the themes and issues that are the focus of the course, but students may manage their own, public wiki that encourages contributions from Middle East scholars and students, and indeed anyone from the general public. Comments may end up being moved into and out of the more closed class discussion forum as a result.

Exclusive use of social media for credit courses

Other instructors are moving altogether away from ‘standard’ institutional technology such as learning management systems and lecture capture into the use of social media for managing the whole course. For instance, UBC’s course ETEC 522 uses WordPress, YouTube videos and podcasts for instructor and student contributions to the course. Indeed the choice of social media on this course changes every year, depending on the focus of the course, and new developments in social media. Jon Beasley-Murray at UBC built a whole course around students creating a high level (featured-article) Wikipedia entry on Latin American literature (Latin American literature WikiProject – see Beasley-Murray, 2008).

Student generated learning resources

This is a particularly interesting development where students themselves use social media to create resources to help other students. For instance, graduate math students at UBC have created the Math Exam/Education Resources wiki, which provides ‘past exams with fully worked-out and reviewed solutions, video lectures & pencasts by topic‘. Such sites are open to anyone needing help in their studying, not just UBC students.

Self-managed learning groups

cMOOCs are an obvious example of self-managed learning groups using social media such as webinars, blogs and wikis.

Instructor-led open educational resources

YouTube in particular is becoming increasingly popular for instructors to use their knowledge to create resources available to anyone. The best example is still the Khan Academy, but there are many other examples.

Once again, the decision to ‘open up’ teaching is as much a philosophical or value decision as a technology decision, but the technology is now there to encourage and enable this philosophy.


Novelty is a two-edged sword. ‘Innovation in teaching’ will certainly bring rewards these days as institutions jostle for position as innovative institutions.  It is often easier to get funding for new uses of technology than funding to sustain older but successful technologies. Although podcasts combined with a learning management system can be a very low-cost but highly effective teaching medium if good design is used, they are not sexy. It will usually be easier to get support for much more costly and spectacular technologies such as xMOOCs or virtual reality.

On the other hand, there is much risk in being too early into a new technology. Software may not be fully tested and reliable, or the company supporting the new technology may go bankrupt. Students are not guinea pigs, and reliable and sustainable service is more important to them than the glitz and glamour of untried technology. Thus it is better to be at the leading edge, just behind the first wave of innovation, rather than at the bleeding edge.

Questions for consideration

  1. How important is it to enable learners to network beyond a course, with others such as subject specialists, professionals in the field, and relevant people in the community? Can the course, or student learning, benefit from such external connections?
  2. If this is important, what’s the best way to do this? Use social media exclusively? Integrate it with other standard course technology? Delegate responsibility for its design and/or administration to students or learners?
  3. What rewards am I likely to get for using new technology in my teaching? Will use of a new technology be the only innovation, or can I also change my way of teaching with this technology to get better results?
  4. What are the risks in using this technology?


1. I am looking for an example of using social media to supplement ‘standard’ institutional technologies (I made up the Middle East politics example). Any suggestions that are openly accessible (at least the social media parts) will be most welcome.

2. Is it really worth including novelty as a criterion?

3. Any other comments on this section

Next up

The last part of the SECTIONS model: speed and security.

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