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CDE Conference 09/02/2009. C Sansom: Use of social software in an MSc in structural biology by distance learning
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CDE Conference 09/02/2009. C Sansom: Use of social software in an MSc in structural biology by distance learning


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Research in Distance Education conference. Design for Learning strand presentation. …

Research in Distance Education conference. Design for Learning strand presentation.
Dr Clare Sansom
School of Crystallography, Birkbeck College

Published in: Education

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    • 1. Use of social software in an MSc in structural biology by distance learning Dr. Clare Sansom School of Crystallography, Birkbeck, University of London
    • 2. Birkbeck’s Distance Learning MSc
      • First Internet-only course launched 1995
      • Students study part-time in their own time
        • Have come from 5 continents, age 20s-55+
      • MSc Structural Molecular Biology available since 2001
        • A modular course
          • Part time over two or three years
          • Modules may be studied independently as Postgraduate Certificates
    • 3. Modular Course Structure Year 1 Year 2 - or - Plus a project module: literature or data based PPS TSMB PX Each taught module takes a typical student ~ 8-12 hours / week over one calendar year.
    • 4. Widening Participation
      • Course fees are still prohibitive in many countries outside the West
      • Two schemes have provided bursaries
      • Open Society Foundation (1998-9)
        • 20 bursaries in each year
        • Supporting students from central Europe pre- EU expansion: Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Baltic states
      • Commonwealth Scholarships Commission (2007-8)
        • 6 scholarships for 2007, 8 for 2008
        • Supporting students from Commonwealth developing countries
    • 5. Web 2.0: Yesterday and Today
      • Students and tutors meet and talk in real time using a MUD
        • MUD = M ulti U ser D imension ~ Chat room
        • “ Web 2.0” but 1980s technology
        • An Internet environment in which participants move around and interact with each other
        • Mostly text-based; Web interface popular
        • Dedicated server at Birkbeck
    • 6. Introducing Social Software
      • We have been exploring further Web 2.0 tools with the PPS students
        • Blog
        • Wiki
        • Social bookmarking with:
        • Instant Messenger
          • Instead of or in addition to the existing MUD?
        • Second Life
      • Do they enhance our students’ learning? How? Which work best?
    • 7. The PPS Syllabus
      • The Internet for biologists
      • Primary and secondary structure of proteins
      • Protein tertiary structure
      • Protein biosynthesis
      • Protein sequence analysis
      • Molecular forces in proteins
      • Examples of structure-function relationships
        • including Proteins in the Immune System
    • 8. Prior Social Software Experience
      • Students’ prior experience surveyed November-December 2007: 27 replies (~90%)
      • Percentages who “regularly” or “occasionally” use…
        • Wikis 67%
        • Instant Messenger 57%
        • Social Networking 43%
        • Blogs 38%
        • Social Bookmarking 14%
        • Immersive Virtual Worlds 5%
      • Question: what do the students understand by “use”
        • Particularly for blogs and wikis?
    • 9. The PPS Blog
      • Blog created using blogger
      • Postings relate current research (from seminars and recently published papers) to the course
      • Students and staff on the course encouraged to register to post
      • Widely read by students
      • Problems:
        • Difficult to get students – and staff – to comment on posts, or to post
        • When students comment on posts, it is by regular email
    • 10. A Wiki for Project Work
      • Each student produces a Web based dissertation on an aspect of protein structure
      • Students were asked to:
        • Select 10-12 words or concepts related to their project topics
        • Create a short “Wikipedia-like” entry describing each
      • Students were encouraged to collaborate and contribute to each others’ definitions
        • Work on the wiki will not be formally assessed
    • 11. Instant Messenger vs. the MUD
      • Advantages of IM
        • Familiar to many students
        • Contributors easily distinguished via colour coding
        • Much faster
      • Disadvantages of IM
        • No “dedicated space” for the group
          • Students have to be “invited” individually in turn
          • Difficult to recover sessions after computer glitches
        • Some students on old machines or slow lines find it difficult to access
      • A dedicated IM server at Birkbeck may provide “the best of both worlds”
    • 12.
      • Students taking PPS in 2008-9 spontaneously set up a Facebook group
      • “ Principles of Protein Structure Group
        • A group for students… associated with the PPS course… to ask questions and share ideas…”
      • Relatively poor take-up
        • 13 members including two ex-students and one tutor
        • But fulfilling a useful service
      • Deliberately kept student led
      • Blog posts and course announcements copied to the group
    • 13. … And Second Life?
      • We have been testing Second Life with a “focus group” of past and present students…
        • … including one Commonwealth Scholar, and one ex-student with Asperger’s syndrome)
      • May be able to “walk through” molecules illustrating aspects of 3D structure
      • Depends on state-of-the-art hardware and fast Internet lines
        • May remain unusable by students in some countries / circumstances
        • Should that prevent its adoption or modify the way we use it?
    • 14. End of Course Survey
      • Students surveyed October 2008: 15 replies (~50%)
        • All intend to complete the MSc (two are taking study breaks)
        • All found the course “intellectually challenging” and “enjoyable”, and gained useful skills
        • 7 preferred Instant Messenger; three the MUD; four had no preference; one would have preferred asynchronous conferencing
        • Most found the blog “interesting”, “helpful” and “easy to understand” but fewer agreed that it helped them feel part of the Birkbeck community
    • 15. Student Comments
      • “ I found the software… very easy to use”
      • “ Although each [MUD] session is designed for different time zones, they seemed to build on each other… it was better to attend both”
      • “ IM was way better [than the MUD]”
      • “ It was great to interact with course mates and tutors… in the scientific world”
      • “ Crashing and throwing some members out was a problem”
      • “ The PPS blog helped me appreciate the application of molecular biology in real life”
    • 16. Conclusions and Outcomes
      • Social software does (seem to) enhance learning…
      • It can be popular with students
      • Passive use (“lurking”) is more popular than active participation
      • Important to establish a definite use for each technology
        • “ Pedagogy drives technology” rather than vice versa
      • Conflict between sophisticated technologies that enrich learning for some students and simpler ones that can reach all
      • Student use of social software can be spontaneous and unpredictable
    • 17. Acknowledgements
      • David Moss, Peter Murray-Rust and Alan Mills, course pioneers
      • John Walshaw, Christine Slingsby and many others for course material
      • Dave Houldershaw, technical coordinator
      • Centre for Distance Education, University of London