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Wilfrid Laurier University Leaf
December 2, 2016
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Selfie-directed learning a snap

Communications, Public Affairs & Marketing

Jul 9/14

There isn’t much in popular culture today that’s more frivolous and lighthearted than the cell-phone self-portrait – aka the “selfie” – as viewers of this year’s Academy Awards will probably recall. For a group of educators at Wilfrid Laurier University, however, the selfie has become a portal into students’ lives, and in turn a means of engaging and inspiring their minds.

The group – made up of a course instructor, a librarian, two writing instructors, and a technologist – reimagined Sociology 102: Critical Analysis of Social Issues as a multimedia extravaganza integrating traditional lectures, essays and quizzes alongside workshops, one-on-one sessions and social media-style updates featuring selfies. The results, say both the instructors and students, were improvements in student outcomes far beyond what they had anticipated.

“We were amazed by the response from the students,” said Kimberly Ellis-Hale, sociology instructor. “Not only were they unusually engaged and inspired, but the quality of their work on the assignments was stellar. My feeling is that this type of integrated and engaged approach to learning has enormous potential, and I’m hoping we can do more of it here at Laurier going forward.”

At the beginning of the term, each student in the course chose a research topic of personal interest – ranging from ”volun-tourism” to music genres. The students then participated in a series of workshops and one-on-one sessions with Librarian Anne Kelly, who gave them hands-on guidance on researching their topics, and writing instructors Boba Samuels and Jordana Garbati, who worked with them to craft effective written papers.

“I really got to know the students and to get into the nitty gritty of library work with them,” said Kelly. “By the end of the course, they were referring to me as ‘my librarian’ – we’d built a relationship that will continue to benefit them as they move through their studies at the university.”

So where did the selfies come in?

At each step in the process of crafting their final papers, the students took photos of themselves at work and uploaded them to an on-line, social media-style platform developed by educational technologies administrator Stefan Todoroff within Laurier’s internal MyLearningSpace platform. Alongside the photos, students shared comments recording and reflecting on their progress.

Ellis-Hale intends to continue the course in future terms with ongoing assistance/collaboration with professionals across the Laurier campus, and to conduct research on how their collaborative, digitally integrated model can improve student outcomes, in order to verify and quantify their qualitative observations of the course’s impact.

“The strength of the course is bringing people who excel in their teaching fields together with students in the class – to create a real community of learning,” said Ellis-Hale. “I’ve been teaching Sociology 102 for almost a decade, and this is the most successful group of students I’ve seen.”

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