The role of Social Media as a Learning Support System in Project Based Learning

Sue Beckingham @suebecks
Sheffield Hallam University

This research paper evaluates the use of social media within a digital toolkit as a learning support system for project based learning.

Project based learning is “a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an engaging and complex question, problem, or challenge.” (BIE 2015). Projects may be undertaken by individuals or within groups. The outcome of a project might be a report, presentation, poster, artefact or prototype (physical or digital). When undertaking a project there are a number of key stages the project owner(s) need to go through. These have been identified as question, plan, research, produce, improve, present and evaluate. At each stage students will engage in a variety of activities. This multifaceted form of learning present opportunities to engage in authentic and meaningful problems and develop a range of skills.  Reflecting upon these experiences, enables students to reconstruct what they’ve learned, the skills they’ve developed, and how they’ve applied these.

A primary aim of introducing a digital toolkit (which includes social media and other technology) is to introduce students to a support system that will help them engage in feedback dialogue and the recording of active reflection at each stage of the project. In the context of group projects this may include both personal and shared feedback and reflective practice.

The digital support system builds upon the work of Laffey et al (1998:75) in that it considers support for six areas:

  • Instructional: 1) scaffolding and 2) coaching and
  • Learning: 3) planning and resourcefulness, 4) knowledge representation, 5) communication and collaboration, and 6) reflection
  • The digital toolkit and associated guidance are intended to empower the learner/project owner and provide them with the means to take ownership of their own learning experience through the creation of a personalised toolkit. This moves away from providing a prescriptive approach, and in place:
  • offers a contextual framework highlighting the variety of affordances social media can provide and enables a personalised digital toolkit to support project based learning at each stage;
  • allows individuals and groups to self-construct digital records of their learning (Papert 1991) within student-centred learning spaces that blend the online with face to face;
  • introduces the learner to the concept of openness and transparency (Jarche 2014) and ‘working out loud’ (Stepper 2015);
  • provides a stimulus to keep the learners in flow (Csikszentmihalyl 2008) through digitised reflective practice, including ongoing feedback that can be re-visited within their chosen spaces;
  • encourages students to develop digital capabilities using their own smart technology (Nerantzi and Beckingham 2015) and graduate attributes (SHU 2016) Participants at the session will also be shown how the toolkit was established, exemplars of its use in practice and feedback from the students who have been involved.

This short paper will share the outcomes of research undertaken with both undergraduate and postgraduate students, who have been introduced to the digital toolkit to support project based learning. An appreciative inquiry methodology (Cooperrider and Srivastva1987) is used for the evaluation.

Participants at the session will also be shown how the toolkit was established, exemplars of its use in practice and feedback from the students who have been involved.