From WordPress Womble to WordPress Winner


Summary

Dr Jude Brereton from the Department of Electronic Engineering wanted to embed digital and employability skills into the MSc in Audio and Music Technology programme. This case study is based on over 3 years’ experience of developing the students’ social media skills. Digital and employability skills are assessed as part of the programme learning outcomes. Students produce blog posts and websites for self-promotion and use LinkedIn to develop their professional networking skills. Apart from encouraging self-reflection and independent learning, the experience has shown students the value of using social media for career development.

Keywords: social media, digital capability, employability, alignment of tasks to learning outcomes

Audio and Music Technology students

Aims and Objectives

Apart from its alignment to the York Pedagogy, a key driver for embedding social media skills into the programme was the expectation of employers. Top tips received from a graduate employer said students should:

  • Get a degree
  • Learn to programme, and
  • ‘Do stuff!’ (have personal projects and show some passion)

To succeed in the small world (of Audio and Music Technology), students needed to have a professional online presence and portfolio to showcase their work and interests. This was how they could ‘get known’ in the world they wanted careers in. It seemed remiss to not equip the students with the skills they needed to get the jobs they wanted.

Overview

Jude described her own journey into the use of social media as ‘starting out as a womble’. She signed up for a Twitter account and used it mostly for retweeting (think of it as curating other people’s content), rarely composing her own tweets. She didn’t think anybody would be interested in what she had to say. However, she did want to encourage students to be more engaged in social networks and decided to practice what she preached. She started tweeting, and she set up a LinkedIn group that her students could join to network with previous graduates from the course and view useful information that she posted.

Methodology

Jude decided on the following activities in the programme:

  • Personal/professional website (using WordPress but students could use Blogger or create a website if they wanted)
  • LinkedIn Profile
  • Weekly blog (for example, about team-working for the Public Engagement event or about their research)

For the blogging activity, Jude aimed to ‘build in intrinsic motivation’ and to ‘incorporate active learning’. She wanted the activity to be ‘authentic’, not just something that happened while the students were in University. She also wanted it to be challenging and enjoyable while developing their digital and employability skills.

Staff provided the framework for the website/blog site, nudging and support, and advice on how to blog, what to say and why, and the ‘voice’. Students almost had re-learn how to write for a public audience and gain confidence in writing with ‘I’; they had gotten so used to writing in an academic style. Students provided all the content and had to find ‘followers’ or learn to engage an audience to subscribe to their blog posts. To help them understand how their assignment would be graded, they were asked to devise ‘marking criteria’ as an exercise- what made a good blog site? This made them more cognizant of the traits of good sites and was an effective way to make them critically aware of effective marketing techniques they could implement, for example, offers of free downloads next week as hooks to entice people to return to the site or to subscribe to posts. Students were then able to provide each other with constructive formative feedback.

The assignment formed 70% of a 10-credit module on being a personal professional practitioner. Students were asked to identify and curate their best blog posts (4 – 6) and cut and paste them into a Word document for submission.

Outcomes

“It’s because you made me do a website!”

Some students started off being critical about the assignment in their blog posts, viewing some of the activities as not being ‘marks related’. With time, however, their updates showed how they were developing a depth of understanding. The website and blog helped them to develop their personal brand, show their digital skills and employability skills, demonstrate self-efficacy and increase their self-confidence. Those who were resistant to the blogs at first became very engaged professionally. Employers were able to look at the blogs and one student was hired as a result.

The use of social media paid off in other ways: Jude was given a window into the students’ lives and aspirations and could be supportive outside of contact time. With the MSc being so short, students can feel like they’re suddenly out there on their own without the support from the University. This made building up connections from day one to carry them beyond University even more important.

Their LinkedIn profile was particularly undervalued while they were on the course but suddenly became an asset in the job-seeking world. Graduates from previous cohorts would often post job offers in the LinkedIn group set up by Jude to connect them.

Transferable lessons learned

There are some things to be aware of when implementing this kind of non-traditional assessment. Assessment criteria needs to be clear but flexible (for example, they won’t all look the same). The assignment can feel very open-ended and be costly in terms of staff time and resource for support. However, despite the down sides, there is payoff in terms of learning gain.

Next Steps

Case study last updated: Mar 2018