Seven rules for academic social software users

Seven rules for educators using social software and other tools have emerged from a case study at the University of Glamorgan. The rules address issues surrounding copyright, privacy and data protection, consideration of the implications of the terms and conditions of external sites, software interoperability, backups, security and accessibility. Details are reported in the International Journal of Innovation and Learning.

Norah Jones, Esyin Chew and Haydn Blackey of the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT), at Glamorgan, explain how social software offers the means to enhance learning, teaching and assessment. The benefits are to the students’ learning experiences and to improvements in teaching practices. As such, academics need to be made aware of the available social software tools, including Wiki and blogging software as well as collaborative learning tools, they need to be encouraged and supported in embedding the across the university curriculum and key issues and considerations for using social software in learning, teaching and assessment must be highlighted. This is of particular importance for courses being offered online, beyond the traditional bricks-and-mortar lecture theatres.

The team’s case study of exemplar social software that is in place at Glamorgan revealed that many potential users considered social software to imply private, social life activities rather than teaching and learning. They also saw potential problems with plagiarism, originality and copyright. Some suggested that these tools might contribute to a sense of information overload and some lecturers were unable to unable to get up-to-date nor maintain currency with such software.

As such, the team has developed seven guidelines that hopefully address all concerns while allowing social software to be efficiently and effectively integrated into an academic system.

1: Academics using external social software in their learning, teaching and assessment are expected to make students aware of the need for multiple logins and the fact that a login for the internal system will not function on the wider internet.

2: Students are expected to be informed of the possible security risks when using social software.

3: Academics using external social software need to ensure data is backed-up effectively.

4: Staff should be aware of the potential performance and technical support issues for external social software and consider how they will deal with these if issues occur during a given course.

5: Academics should inform students that any use of social software means a direct link between the student and the service provider and not with the academic institution.

6: Before making use of social software, staff are strongly advised to explore the site’s terms and conditions of use, with particular emphasis on content ownership.

7: Academics are advised to consider the copyright issues before posting University materials to any external site.

These guidelines may form part of the policies of the institution in the case study but will apply equally well to other centres using social software as an integral part of their courses.

Jones, N., Chew, E. and Blackey, H. (2014) ‘A classroom without walls? The institutional policy for social software in learning, teaching and assessment’, Int. J. Innovation and Learning, Vol. 16, No. 4, pp.417–427.

Author: David Bradley

Award-winning, freelance science writer based in Cambridge, England.