Enterprise Social Software (ESS) has demonstrated the ability to provide business value to the corporate world and institutions of higher learning alike. This is evident in such areas as reducing travel expenses, enhancing productivity through improved collaboration, streamlining processes among administrative staff, improving the classroom and research experience, and potentially fostering enhanced collaboration among allied universities and private research institutions. Frameworks such as Cisco WebEx Social provide the platform and associated functionality upon which higher education can leverage.
Yet the natural question arises as to whether ESS platforms truly enhance learning and provide a positive impact on teaching. Does it improve student satisfaction, increase passing and retention? After all, that is the primary mission in higher education at the end of the day. In order to answer that question, you need to first answer the question as to what best practices lead to effective teaching and learning - principles that lead to student satisfaction and higher retention rates. One of the interesting findings in this space results from a study begun in 2001 by the University of Maryland University College (UMUC). Its Institute for Research and Assessment (IRAHE) conducted a multi-phase project with hundreds of faculty and students to assess linkages made to both withdrawal and passing rates for students as a proxy for actual learning outcomes.
This discussion takes a brief look at what we can learn from this study (and others) in terms of how ESS systems can make a differentiated impact on higher education - and specifically how one ESS platform, Cisco WebEx Social, can be utilized to accelerate learning and satisfaction.
Although concentrated on online learning, the UMUC study reveals a number of findings from its survey and interviews with hundreds of
faculty members. These include the following twelve principles:
Best Practices Related to the Design of Courses
In addition, below are some correlations made by this study between students' expressed satisfaction and certain instructional strategies related to the design of courses- where high student satisfaction was met when:
Correlations with Student Success and Retention
There were some strong correlations between withdrawal and passing rates and certain strategies. A lower withdrawal rate for students was associated with numbers 1, 7, 8, and 9. Higher passing rates were associated with 7, 8, 9, and 12.
Impact of Social Software
Therefore, how can ESS impact the effectiveness of higher education given these best practices? Certainly traditional Learning Management Systems (LMS) can address some of these principles - such as numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 10. However, there are other principles that are difficult to implement using traditional LMS systems. ESS systems can not only meet these same principles, but others (e.g., 3, 7, 8, 9, and 12) that require collaboration and feedback - especially in a real time and a discussion-oriented approach. Such systems go beyond providing the mechanical aspects of presenting content, performing grade management, and other LMS functionality.
Cisco WebEx Social Usage of Higher Education Best Practices
The table below summarizes how Cisco WebEx Social functionality implements these best practices:
Best Practices Principle
Mapping of Quad Functionality
Timeline for steps to meet course objectives
Event calendar portlet for a class calendar of class events (e.g., assignments due, tests, academic term deadlines, etc)
Post for the course syllabus - which contains the timeline. The post is shared with the community and is visible to the student's activity stream and watch list.
Repeated practice on each objective of the course
Posts and documents to publish course assignments, homework, and quizzes
Commenting by faculty and fellow students to evaluate assignments
Provide support related to individual student needs
Provide feedback via commenting on assignments and discussions
Communicate feedback in real-time via chat/IM, instant meetings, phone calls, and voice mail
Student skills assessed at beginning
Create an assignment via post where students perform self-assessment
Student introductions in discussion forum where the discussion topic is for each student to reply
Students aware of course resources
Provide links in Link portlet to point to posts with course resources
Post to document course resources - and linked on the home page
iFrames to provide web site access on a page
Grading criteria clearly stated with frequent reminders
Post to document the grading criteria and assignment rubrics
News portlet for class announcements and reminders
Microblog by the faculty to announce reminders
Collaboration with others …sharing experiences, discussion, well designed group activities...
Activity streams for updates by followers
Watch list for content following
Real-time collaboration via chat/IM, instant meetings using Cisco WebEx, phone calls using Cisco Call Manger, and voice mail
Discussion forum for topics of interest
Commenting built-in to all of the above
Blogs for a one-to-many sharing of ideas
Wikis and posts for collaborating on content development
Groups to segment class when assigning group assignments
Learning tasks presented in terms of problem solving, not only as accumulated knowledge, and multiple approaches to problem solving encouraged
Commenting incorporated into posts and discussion forums - where class assignments require thoughtful commenting as part of the grading rubric. Thus, the expectation is set that students need to comment on one another's work.
Posts to document individual learning tasks
Students encouraged to draw on their own experience as part of their learning and to incorporate their own goals into course
Commenting incorporated into posts and discussion forums - where students are required to draw on their own experience as part of a thoughtful comment.
Students post their own goals for the course and share with their professor (and optionally fellow students)
Course well organized and a logical format
Posts to document the course objectives, timeline, grading, and resources
Community dedicated to each class and customized to meet needs of the class - while utilizing a template to provide a base level of commonality across all classroom communities
Course lectures and discussions supplemented by activities such as role-playing and simulations
Quad instant meetings using Cisco WebEx. These can be utilized to role play and execute external simulations or other applications. Can be archived and replayed for later use.
Students encouraged to consider alternative interpretations of their own or others' experience
Commenting incorporated into posts and discussion forums - where students are required to consider alternative interpretations of their experience. Students are incentivized by the grading rubric to provide alternative interpretations in their comments.
In summary, the WebEx Social ESS framework provides a platform whereby higher education can not only meet the use cases of traditional LMS systems, but also the best practices that make a big difference in student satisfaction and retention. When the functionality of such an ESS tool is combined with thoughtful ways of maximizing their use, then learning will be maximized. Thus, the faculty member is challenged to consider how to use such functionality as commenting, discussion forums, and real-time communications (i.e., IM/chat, calls, instant meetings) when designing individual course assignments and other learning activities.
Lastly, it is important to note that it is equally important to implement a sound adoption strategy to implement such ESS systems. The effectiveness of any ESS system such as Cisco WebEx Social requires a thoughtful strategy that promotes the necessary cultural change. The tool, while important, cannot by itself transform a siloed culture to one that embraces collaboration. While this discussion does not address these adoption issues and how to establish and measure Critical Success Factors (CSF), they are nonetheless critical to achieve the desired learning objectives above.
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