This past January I had the opportunity to participate in #DigPINS with a cohort of colleague both within and outside of SNC. Between the readings, conversations on Slack, video calls, and blogs, this experience pushed me to get outside of my comfort zone and has changed the way I interact with my students both inside and outside of the classroom significantly. I’ll be taking you through my #DigPINS journey and showing you how I incorporated what I learned into my classroom project!
Week 1: Who am I, really?
This week focused on Digital Identity and immediately got me thinking about who “I am” and what that really means. We dissected our online identities and created a visual that helped us pinpoint what online spaces we frequent and our participation in these spaces. This week really made me think about the importance of a digital identity and for whom is it most important. I started thinking about how all of my students have digital identities, and I wanted to find a way to tap into those identities, which I will discuss below when I address the project I had students do throughout this Spring semester.
Week 2: To interact or not to interact??
This week focused on Digital Networks and challenged us to think critically about who we interact with online. Social networks are everywhere and somewhat unavoidable. What this week made me realize the most is how digital networks change based on an individual’s needs at any given time. This week got my wheels turning and wondering what type of interactions were my students having online? Were they all just superficial and did their networks mainly consist of the Instagram, snapchat, and twitter spheres? How many of them were engaging with networks online for some type of positive change? Aha! This was my aha moment when my project—although I had already proposed one—became more clear. Stay tuned for more details on that below!
Week 3: Learning from a Disaster
During week 3 we focused on Digital Pedagogy which basically required me to relive my first digital project that was slightly disastrous. I leapt before testing the waters and was overwhelmed by just how much work digital pedagogy entailed. I learned that I should go to the experts to learn more about how to incorporate digital projects into my classrooms and received a lot of support from the IT department at SNC. Thanks, everyone!
Week 4: The Scholarship Dilemma
This week focused on Digital Scholarship, which I spend a lot of time thinking about as a tenure track faculty member who needs to disseminate their scholarship. I want to have a broader reach and create scholarship that impacts the people that it is relevant to, not just other academics. This got my wheels spinning, once again. I decided that I wanted to create an online space for students to develop scholarship that would reach beyond academia and would be accessible to those who need it!
My overall initial proposal focused on integrating a digital component to my courses. I slightly steered away from my original plan, and developed a project that students could connect with slightly more than the initial project. Basically, I had students in my Social Work Practice: Organizations, Communities, and Institutions class develop an online blog that would give them the space to assess, identity, and thoroughly plan out an opportunity for change in the community that they are from. This was a three-part blog assignment that students worked on throughout the semester.
The first blog was asked students to do some research on their community and assess it thoroughly, the second stage asked them to identify the needs of their community and the ways in which other communities have created change around similar needs, and the last stage required them to develop an in-depth intervention plan that would improve their community. I altered my original project because I wanted to create a project that drew on some of the topics that we discussed during the 4 weeks of DigPINS. I wanted students to think about their digital identity, move beyond the typical social networks that this generation typically uses, and create scholarship that is accessible for everyone. I also wanted students to be committed to the project and feel like they were producing something more than just a paper for me.
Because I wanted to tap into my students’ digital identities, I required all of them to post a picture of themselves on their website. This was a way for them to take ownership of the content of their website and have their posts be a reflection of who they are.
The first post was due in early March and the last post was due in early April. Each blog built on the previous blog and were housed in the same website so students, as well as I, could easily see their growth and progress. I couldn’t have expected the types of blogs that I received. We actually worked on the first post in class a few times so that students could check in with me and run ideas by one another. The level of attention to detail, the creativity, and the overall engagement in this project was amazing! I really think that the reason students were so into this project is because it drew on their skills and what they enjoy doing – being online. There was a visual component that traditional papers don’t allow for. There was also a deeply personal component. They also had the option to embed videos, which many did, to give further background on their community’s needs. It allowed for the reader to SEE the need. The digital component truly changed everything and even made the grading process quite entertaining!
While many of the students originally struggled with formatting and working with WordPress, they frequented the Service Desk repeatedly and truly learned how to navigate the site. They learned about design thinking through their effort to place images, videos, and text in a way that portrayed exactly what they wanted to. They learned about digital survival skills, as the projects asked them to conduct research and engage in the literature. Lastly, they learned about data analysis and presentation, as they had to determine what they would report based on their analysis of their community needs.
Students goals were assessed by me using a checklist. Students were given the checklist of what should be included in the blog in advance. I found that most students included everything that was asked of them and there was no confusion, unlike written assignments.
I would like to stay in contact with this first cohort of students and see if any of them are interested in disseminating their blogs to people in their community. There are some extremely creative plans for change that are ready to go with the right support. I plan to also get feedback from students to see what worked and what could be improved moving forward. This will help with future digital projects that I will develop for other classes.