Social media and e-learning in history teaching in UK HE – filling a gap?
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Social media and e-learning in history teaching in UK HE – filling a gap? Dr Jamie Wood, University of Lincoln. TWO PARTS. E -learning and history teaching in higher education: a survey (2012-13, HEA) My experiences of using social media Questioning the Medieval using social bookmarking

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Social media and e-learning in history teaching in UK HE – filling a gap?

Dr Jamie Wood, University of Lincoln

TWO PARTS filling a gap?

E-learning and history teaching in higher education: a survey (2012-13, HEA)

My experiences of using social media

  • Questioning the Medieval using social bookmarking

  • Other experiments


Research questions

PART I: E filling a gap?-learning and history teaching survey


What are benefits of e-learning for student learning and staff teaching in History HE?

What are the challenges and drawbacks of e-learning?


METHODOLOGY filling a gap?

Survey ( administered to 1st and 2nd year students at 5 UK History departments

  • 38 students responded (11 x 1st years/ 27 x 2nd years)

  • Mainly History, but also joint degrees

    Interview with 1 member of teaching staff at 5 UK History departments

Types of technology used

RESULTS (from students) filling a gap?


How important are technologies to your learning between 1 and 10 where 1 not at all 10 essential

HOW IMPORTANT ARE TECHNOLOGIES TO YOUR LEARNING? (between 1 and 10, where 1=not at all; 10=essential)

frequency =>

importance =>

What is the most important technology for learning

WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT TECHNOLOGY FOR LEARNING? and 10, where 1=not at all; 10=essential)

Virtual learning environments (31 responses); used as:

  • repository (21 responses)

  • site for assessment and feedback (5)

  • means of communication (5)

  • site for enhancing learning (3):

    • ‘refreshing my memory’

    • ‘enabled me to easily organise my learning’

    • taking ‘own personal notes’ to learn by ‘observing things’ 

      YouTube/ online library resources/ databases/ university portal (2 responses each)

EXTENT TO WHICH TECHNOLOGIES ENHANCED LEARNING IN FOLLOWING AREAS... (students provided rating from1-5, 1=not at all; 5=a great deal)

Preparing for class: 4.26 (staff: 8.3/10)

Preparing for assessment: 4.26 (6.6/10)

Working independently: 4.05 (6.9/10)

Reflecting on learning: 4.03 (5.9/10)

Subject knowledge: 3.79 (6.9/10)

Skills development: 3.03 (5.2/10)

Collaborative working: 2.45 (3.1/10)


Technical issues

Repositories are useful, but too much reliance on them:

  • ‘sort of dumbing down or levelling out [...] these things might encourage a bit more spoon-feeding’ (staff)

    Some skills are not developed:

  • ‘hasn’t really developed skills that I believe are essential part of uni process. i.e. teamwork, discussion and developing your own interest of study’ (student)

Summary of staff perspectives



Students are not ‘digital natives’, esp. within discipline

Researching using the Internet is challenging

Over-reliance on e-learning can reduce independence

A ‘narrowing’ effect, esp. among 1st year and weaker students (the VLE repository contains ‘everything’)

Some resistance to learning activities outside classroom and to interacting with one another


Virtual learning environments predominate and, in general, are viewed positively by students and staff

Issues, e.g.: ‘Getting all lecturers to embrace technology would be a step forward‘

Limiting features

  • Staff AND students think that it doesn’t help that much in certain areas (team-working; developing some skills)

  • Narrowing/ a closed body of knowledge? Esp. for weaker students perhaps

  • Can promote teacher-centred/ transmission approaches

PART II: Questioning AREAS... the Medieval using social bookmarking... and other adventures in social (and not so social) media

Social bookmarking

social bookmarking AREAS...

Internet users manage bookmarks of web pages online (not on a browser) using tags/ descriptions, not folders

Active engagement – students have to do something

Online/ social element – enables collaboration, sharing and visibility

See Taha and Wood (2011) for more on this

‘Challenges AREAS... ’ and ‘opportunities’ (or ‘problems’)

Y1 lecture-based module in History

My perception:

  • Lack of student preparation or maybe lack of engagement with reading


  • Difficult to plan seminars and to carry them out

  • Over preparation; formulaic/ rigid structure; double preparation

    Solution = use visible & active learning – i.e. require the students to do something outside class that we could all see

Diigo AREAS... education edition

Private, separate logins




Basic weekly activity AREAS...

Students find online resources relating to the weekly topic

Students ‘tag’, describe and share resources

Then post questions based on reading to discussion forum in diigo

Resources + questions = my seminar plan

For some of resources see:

But variety is key
But variety is key... AREAS...

  • Non-written sources

  • Find and bookmark a non-written source (YouTube; Flickr)

  • In description, explain why this source is relevant to the seminar

  • Locating and bookmarking source(s)

  • Find and bookmark primary/ secondary source

  • Add description and tags

  • Highlighting

  • Highlight and comment on relevant sections of a pre-selected document

  • Essay writing

  • Respond to feedback on essays by bookmarking a relevant site

  • Revise thesis statement from first essay and post to discussion forum

  • Questioning

  • Post a (specific kind of) question based on reading to the discussion forum

...otherwise it gets boring

See appendix to Wood, 2011, for more on this


Practical: for preparing essays

Independence: enjoyed the opportunity to find own sources

Freedom: ‘There is more freedom of choice about what to read’

Variety: ‘it is much more interesting, and because you are not only reading, it is easier to absorb information’.


‘it has been good to see what other people have put and there was probably more variation in the questions than if the tutor was to set them.’

‘it allows you to see a wider range of issues that come up from sources - some that you may not even have thought about.’

+ 12 out of 15 students felt that their research skillshad improved


‘it forces you to think about the source material and be analytical in response to it’

‘it makes you think about what you're reading a lot more, and opens up the area of reading to different paths of thought.’

Taking charge of learning:

‘I used to prefer having the questions set for me but I think it has been more useful setting them myself as it has made me think about the reading more.’


Models disciplinary processes

  • [+ it’s realistic and honest]


  • Disciplinary skills: summarising; using sources

  • Knowledge: students have to read AND think

  • ‘Generic’ skills: technology; information literacy; research

For more on this see Wood, 2011 and Wood and Ryan, 2010

Another brief example generative learning objects glos
Another (brief) example: generative learning objects (GLOs) AREAS...

  • GLOs: learning objects that can be customised, adapted, edited or recombined (based on free templates at

  • DIY: developed 2 GLOs (click on images below for links) based on the Evaluating Multiple Interpretations (EMI) template

    • Students presented with images/ information about a physical object

    • Students complete questions/ activities

    • EMI revolves around audio footage of experts offering their interpretations of various aspects of the physical object.

      • For more info click here


Theology and Religious Studies looking outwards: knowledge transfer as a strategy for learning and assessment in the curriculum (UoM/ HEA, 2012)

  • Website includes links to blog and case studies

    Mini examples:

  • Students create maps of historical events/ processes by adding ‘tags’ to Google Maps and annotating them: The Spread of Lutheranism (collaboratively; 1 seminar)

  • Students create a website using Google Sites: Women in the Middle East (collaboratively/ independently; seminar series)


Making ‘outward looking’ resources in collaboration with students in the curriculum using Xerte toolkit

  • i.e. like the GLO project above, but the student learn by making learning materials for use by others

    Developing online repositories for primary sources,

  • partially as a venue for dissemination of outward looking work

  • but also to enable more ‘open’ student inquiry online


Practice is piecemeal and not universally popular with staff/ students (‘new-fangled’; not what ‘proper’ History is about)

But Social Media develops skills that VLEs don’t seem to (if well-designed and supported):

  • Constructive and ‘open’ research on the web

  • Collaborative learning, developing team working skills

  • Visible ‘outward looking’ products of learning encourage students to think about audience, genre, register

MORE ABOUT ME AREAS... (L&T and other presentations/ papers) (homepage at Lincoln)

[email protected] (email)