Insight from the Field: Fostering an Experimental Mindset


Jennifer Rafferty

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The Online Learning Consortium (OLC) is reaching out to our global community of thought leaders, faculty, innovators and practitioners to bring you insights from the field of online, blended and digital learning.  This week, Apostolos Koutropoulos, OLC Institute faculty for the Blended Learning Mastery Series and Social Media Mastery Series, joins us to discuss the evolving role of social media in teaching and learning, as well as a variety of other topics.

OLC: How do you define innovation? 

Innovation is one of those words that is used a lot these days, and it’s hard to know what someone means when they say that something is “innovative.”  The dictionary defines innovation as the introduction of something new, a different method, approach, or tool. I find this definition lacking in many ways.  Innovation should be something new, but it should also be better (better than what came before), and it should be accessible. If it’s not accessible to people, is it useful?  It also should be sustainable. Temporary improvement in utility is not all that useful if down the road the innovation costs you more than your previous method.

OLC: There are many opportunities to teach online. Why did you choose OLC and which Institute course(s) do you teach for OLC?

I would say that “teaching found me” instead of me finding teaching. Prior to teaching courses for OLC, I participated in workshops in the OLC Institute for Professional Development to improve my own skills. When the opportunity arose for me to share something with fellow colleagues, I jumped at the chance. OLC (Sloan-C back then) helped me, and this was an opportunity for me to give back in a sense. I’ve facilitated workshops on MOOCs, on collaborative research, and I also facilitate the Social Media Mastery Series. I’ve enjoyed the vibe of OLC courses over the years, and I like the diverse background of workshop participants.  Facilitating courses for OLC is a way to be part of that diverse community.

OLC: How is social media evolving? What changes are you seeing in the field of teaching and learning with regards to using social media in the classroom?

Social media, and the technologies that support it, have been in constant evolution.  Every week you learn something new.  Some social media technologies have become more mainstream in that they have grown from their original mission into something more mature.  A good example is Facebook. It started originally as a social networking site to help people keep in touch with former classmates, and it has now grown into a platform to webcast, to showcase your organization and your organization’s events, and it provides groups for communities to gather and organize.  Other social media have gone the way of the dinosaur, and others face potential controversy which could inhibit use. For example, a change in the terms of service for a social platform could spell big trouble if you’re using it for class! 

OLC: How do you use social media in your own teaching? 

I like to combine social media with mobile learning. I like to use platforms that enable learners to use their mobile devices and reclaim brief chunks of “dead” time to check-in with their class, or to get acclimated with part of the week’s materials. For example, posting short lectures on YouTube makes those lectures available both to learners on a desktop but also on mobile as well. Short lectures (depending on the topic) can be ideal to get a learner introduced to a topic while they commute, and once they have more time on their hands they can spend more focused time on the readings that deal more in-depth with that topic.  Audio podcasts are another great strategy.  For courses with intense discussions each week, I like to provide an instructor summary at the end that highlights important points made by learners as well as some signposts for content they need to revise.  Students can listen to these recordings during commutes, at the gym, or while doing tasks around the home or office.

What do you say to faculty who are resistant to integrating social media into their teaching?   Are there any strategies you use to get buy-in?

A reason for resistance to the use of a new technology, technique, or approach is that the instructors themselves are not comfortable with the technology, or have not integrated it into their own daily use. Even if they understand conceptually how to use the tool, if they don’t actually use it themselves, it’s harder to adopt that technology for use in the classroom.  Add to that concerns about privacy, accessibility, and good old fashioned “Learners these days…” attitudes, and you see a lack of integration.  I think buy-in has two important faces: (1) Good design: any tool, including social media, needs to be there for specific reasons, you can’t just bolt it on, just for the sake of it.  If you have a good design in mind, you can win people over with it.  (2) Instructors need to use the tool as well: being part of a community that uses the technology for specific learning goals can help with the change in attitudes and foster an experimental mindset for fellow faculty members. By seeing what people can do with the technology, they can start imagining new strategies that they can try in their own teaching practice.

OLC: What are the 3 most important things prospective participants should know about the Social Media Mastery Series?

Prospective participants in the Social Media Mastery Series should know that:

  1. This program provides a place to experiment. As we know, some experiments don’t go as planned. However, we learn from the experience and we design a better solution because of what we discovered in our experiment.
  1. Technology is a moving target and our time together is finite. Hence, in addition to being a participant in the Mastery Series, it’s an ideal time to develop habits that will keep you engaged and exploring new tools and strategies after the program is over.
  1. Peer feedback is important both in the context of the workshop and in continuing your professional development afterwards. This program provides a good opportunity to develop (or add to) your professional networks.

OLC: How can people connect with you?  

Twitter: @koutropoulos


About Apostolos Koutropoulos

Apostopolos Koutropoulos

Apostolos Koutropoulos, also known as “AK”, is the program manager for the online MA program in Applied Linguistics at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He is also an adjunct faculty member of the Instructional Design MEd program at UMASS Boston. Over the last few years he has participated in many massive online open courses (MOOCs) and has co-authored research papers with colleagues around the globe. AK holds a BA in Computer Science, an MBA with a focus on human resources, an MSc in Information Technology, an MEd in Instructional Design, and an MA in Applied Linguistics. AK is currently an EdD student at Athabasca University. His research interests include online learning, knowledge management, educational technology, linguistics, and games in education.

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