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Study Advocates for Technopedagogy: Considerate, Informed Use of Technology in Classroom Assignments

By Henry Kronk
June 05, 2019

Most educators and academics involved in researching education technology no longer ask questions regarding whether or not online learning ‘works.’ Instead, their practices and research revolve around how digital technologies can be best applied, and under what circumstances. A recent study titled “Applying Attributes of Contemplative Technopedagogy to a Social Media Assignment,” explores how best to tap social media for an undergraduate assignment. It was authored by Montana State University, Bozeman professors Justin Shanks and Scott Young.

The authors begin by pointing out that the value of using social media for class assignments has already been well-established. Platforms like Twitter, Reddit, blogs, and others provide both avenues of learning and a forum to share what one has learned. Social media has been found to encourage what academics call “reflective learning,” “individual knowledge construction,” “community building,” and “low stakes idea sharing.” In other words, social mediums provide a platform where students can get exposed to new ideas and create a dialogue around them, while receiving feedback.

Developing a Technopedagogy

None of these positive outcomes can occur, however, if instructors do not consider how best to use them. They need to reconcile their pedagogy with the technology they use. Or, as Shanks and Young write, they need to thoughtfully form their own technopedagogy.

Citing previous research, they write, “Contemporary university students are often hastily lumped together into the catchall category as ‘digital natives.’ Conversely, instructors are routinely depicted as ‘digital immigrants.’” This practice obviously obscures a more nuanced understanding of both instructors and students.

When developing an effective technopedagogy, therefore, “educators should take a thoughtful pause to contemplate when, which, to what extent, how, with whom, and for what purpose to integrate digital technology into the teaching-learning environment,” Shanks and Young write.

With their study, they set out to do just this.

The authors designed two case studies to test out the use of Tumblr for a course assignment. They chose Tumblr for a few main reasons. First, it strikes a balance between common social media features like hashtag, liking, and commenting, while also allowing for longer and more diverse forms of posts. In addition, it had not been previously studied by any education researchers.

The Case Studies

For their first study, the researchers asked 53 upper-level students enrolled in a community nutrition course to “develop a variety of communication skills sufficient to use in pre-professional practice.”

The intended learning outcomes primarily centered around translating academic findings about nutrition to a civilian community. Students had to write seven Tumblr blog posts over the course of the semester.

The second case study involved an introductory library sciences course. “[S]tudents were asked to coordinate weekly reading assignments and communicate responses through peer-learning networks using Tumblr,” the authors write, “… Each week, students were asked to produce one original post and two comments in response to classmates’ Tumblr posts. Students were encouraged to explore ideas openly and without a prescribed word length, while incorporating external resources as appropriate to the discussion.”

The Results

Following both studies, students were asked to fill out a questionnaire about their experiences on the platform  using a Likert scale (a scale of 1-5, 1 being ‘strongly disagree,’ 5 being ‘strongly agree’) and to provide comment. As a class average from the first case study, students agreed that the Tumblr assignments:

• Were useful for learning about nutrition topics (3.9 ± 0.86)

• Helped the student learn from colleagues about nutrition topics (4.0 ± 0.80)

•Helped the student apply course material to larger world issues addressed in the course (3.9 ± 0.77).

For the second case study, students were assessed before and after the assignment. The authors write, “Students’ comfort level utilizing Tumblr significantly (p = 0.00) changed. Pre-assignment students disagreed (2.3 ± 1.00) that they were comfortable navigating Tumblr and post-assignment students agreed (3.9 ± 0.99) that they were comfortable navigating Tumblr. Data also suggest that there was a significant (p = 0.02) change in student’s opinions about the usefulness of Tumblr for learning course topics, from neutral (3.4 ± 0.95) to agree (4.1 ± 1.03). Significant (p = 0.01) changes were observed in student’s pre and post answer to the ability of Tumblr to help apply course materials to larger world issues, from neutral/agree (3.5 ± 0.98) to agree (4.3 ± 0.94). A large difference was found between Tumblr use in the student’s personal life before the assignment vs. Tumblr use in the student’s personal life post assignment from 4 to 42%.”

While Shanks’ and Young’s study was limited in diversity and scope, it provides a path forward for instructors interested in incorporating digital tools of any kind into their course to develop a technopedagogy. It calls attention to the fact that, when applying new technologies to the classroom, instructors need to think critically and considerately about their use if they hope to achieve desired outcomes.

Read the full study here.

Featured Image: Sara Kurfeß, Unsplash.