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Use of social software in an MSc in structural biology by distance learning Dr. Clare Sansom School of Crystallography, Bi...
Birkbeck’s Distance Learning MSc  <ul><li>First Internet-only course launched 1995 </li></ul><ul><li>Students study part-t...
Modular Course Structure Year 1 Year 2 - or -  Plus a project module: literature or data based  PPS TSMB PX Each taught mo...
Widening Participation <ul><li>Course fees are still prohibitive in many countries outside the West </li></ul><ul><li>Two ...
Web 2.0:  Yesterday and Today <ul><li>Students and tutors meet and talk in real time using a  MUD   </li></ul><ul><ul><li>...
Introducing Social Software <ul><li>We have been exploring further Web 2.0 tools with the PPS students </li></ul><ul><ul><...
The PPS Syllabus <ul><li>The  Internet  for biologists </li></ul><ul><li>Primary  and secondary  structure of proteins </l...
Prior Social Software Experience <ul><li>Students’ prior experience surveyed November-December 2007: 27 replies (~90%) </l...
The PPS Blog <ul><li>Blog created using blogger </li></ul><ul><li>Postings relate current research (from seminars and rece...
A Wiki for Project Work <ul><li>Each student produces a Web based dissertation on an aspect of protein structure </li></ul...
Instant Messenger vs. the MUD <ul><li>Advantages of IM </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Familiar to many students </li></ul></ul><ul>...
<ul><li>Students taking PPS in 2008-9 spontaneously set up a Facebook group </li></ul><ul><li>“ Principles of Protein Stru...
…  And Second Life? <ul><li>We have been testing Second Life with a “focus group” of past and present students…  </li></ul...
End of Course Survey <ul><li>Students surveyed October 2008: 15 replies (~50%) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>All intend to complet...
Student Comments <ul><li>“ I found the software… very easy to use” </li></ul><ul><li>“ Although each [MUD] session is desi...
Conclusions and Outcomes <ul><li>Social software does (seem to) enhance learning… </li></ul><ul><li>It can be popular with...
Acknowledgements <ul><li>David Moss, Peter Murray-Rust and Alan Mills, course pioneers </li></ul><ul><li>John Walshaw, Chr...
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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.
Dr Clare Sansom
School of Crystallography, Birkbeck College

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

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

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