Interview with Simone LeAmon


I was interested to interview Simone about her use of collaboration software with her Industrial Design honours program. In particular I wanted to find how she is using Corus which has gained considerable traction in the school of Architecture and Design. Corus reminds me of how enterprise social software is used in industry, adapted for education.

Do you use Blackboard?

I use Blackboard to lodge course outlines and official documents but I find It’s not a great environment with which to engage and communicate with students. It is adequate for registering and filing documents but it lacks the functionality to accommodate serious collaboration that I now couldn’t do without. It was designed ten years ago so its architecture was conceived differently to how we might see sharing, filing and communication flow now. It was progressive for it’s time but delivering content and managing engagement around information has evolved to the point where I prefer alternative solutions. I see Blackboard as a back-end platform but I certainly don’t see it as an exciting learning and teaching environment.
Now I primarily use Corus a cloud collaboration platform. Prior to discovering Corus I used wikis and email. I used Facebook at one point and I also set up several blogs but I experienced issues in that they have privacy issues and are not designed specifically for collaboration. Blogs and Facebook pages don’t deliver all of the functionality I like and more often I see them as sites for self promotion, for facilitating conversation around content or for sharing of files I find them a bit clunky. I am also aware of students’ behaviour when it comes to uploading and sharing. They are more inclined to self-edit and post what they think is cool and interesting rather than canvas ideas, ask questions and engage in genuine peer-to-peer tutoring. It’s fine using those platforms for other purposes – for social networking they’re great but when used for a learning and teaching environment I find students can’t help but carry over pre-existing behavioural patterns. Collaboration isn’t simply posting and making comments, a teaching and learning environment isn’t simply uploading content for students online. Its about effective communication flow and giving space to the individuals, the group and teacher to engage in a number of ways.


The nice thing about using Corus is that the students see it as a dedicated learning environment. While much of the functionality is modelled around social networking and this means that they don’t need to learn a lot of new functionality, which can be a hurdle, the environment delivers good search capability, logs time around activity and you can populate topics with in a variety of ways. Importantly students can clearly see who is contributing, engaging and who is not. When I introduce students to Corus I emphasise the fact that it is a collaboration platform and what we aim to achieve are conversations on and around learning in view of a topic area. I position it as ‘our’ virtual, private learning environment, where both students and I are on the learning journey together. It is easy for me to be generous with my feedback and compiling and posting references for both individuals and the group. I am constantly bookmarking web references and posting videos and articles for my students on Corus over a week because its so easy to do without interrupting my workflow.  Over the years I have learnt to engage effortlessly online and I think students really respond when you demonstrate interest in their learning outside of formal class time.

Comparatively, I always found that wikis and blogs needed serious project management, otherwise they go stale very quickly. My experience is if an environment isn’t exciting for students they are inclined not contribute. With Corus a student’s post or file upload can link to websites, research papers, Google docs, videos and to-do tasks. Other students and I can both add comments, upload further references and web links etc in the same message field so as not to interrupt the workflow and conversation initiated by the original student. It also tracks and records uploads, downloads, web links and site visits by time and date. For example,  I can see when a student has logged on and I can see when, what and how a student is engaging. I enjoy this because as a sessional teacher with limited face-to-face time with students I can use the online space to manage submissions and feedback effectively, saving valuable class time. There is a great deal of satisfaction knowing that I can support my own teaching using the program. Interestingly, we place a great deal of emphasis on self directed learning and field research in our program, Corus allows me to monitor this by providing a space for students to report on their activities and even demonstrate they process. Students often need a great deal of coaching and support when embarking on independent learning and Corus allows me to assist them with a light touch. I simply can’t do this face-to-face in the classroom when I have twenty or so students because there’s only one of me. So online I can tailor and deliver tuition for each student spending very little time. Its amazing how valuable students find even a small amount of online feedback and guidance extremely helpful.I also have a memory of the online discourse with each of students individually that I can build on in class. Its true that some of my colleagues see my commitment to online tutoring as a time sink. Some have blatantly said that they couldn’t imagine spending the time online at home, nights or weekends. But I guess I have learnt to integrate a minute of engagement here and there easily. It simply makes my time in the classroom far more effective and its extremely useful when managing student absences and even mine!

What are the features beyond social?

Much of the activity centres around content such as file sharing, for example, I have an industrial design honours group comprising seven students. These students come together with me once a week for three hours. In honours they are all pursuing their own design journeys and they express enormous anxiety and stress. Because Corus is a peer to peer environment they don’t feel so alone. We can all see, engage, share and support each other. Nothing makes me feel more rewarded when I see one student provide feedback or guidance to another at 2am on a Sunday morning.

Importantly, Corus is unlike Dropbox or any other file sharing program because its not simply about delivering, filing or storing content. When students upload files all students and members of the topic can be alerted with an email or if simply posted unread or attended content will be highlighted. I find my students checking into Corus everyday and those now using the new Corus iPhone app are able to read, respond and reply to posts on the go.

I learn’t pretty quickly why my students took to using Corus. I realised that the environment allowed us to do things that we wouldn’t or couldn’t otherwise do in class. Also, you don’t always get the best out of students at 9am on a Thursday, they’re inclined to listen but they’re not always very animated. Corus allows each of my students to participate in class discussion or assessment of a reading in their own time and because they are writing and posting their ideas, remarks and thoughts online, everybody can read the feed anytime and respond. I know this sound fairly simple but I simply haven’t experienced this student activity using a wiki, blog or facebook. I think this is largely because Corus is a private space and students understand that whatever goes up or appears in our environment is secure. While the majority of my students are digital natives I happen to believe that trust is a big thing for them. Specially when they are learning and offering ideas and work for feedback and critique.

You also use Corus for project management

Yes I was in charge of delivering a large component of the Melbourne Now exhibition at the National Gallery Victoria in 2013/14 within an extremely short lead time, it was an enormous workload. I was also lecturing and running my own studio practice at the time.

The Melbourne Now project involved considerable research, gathering of information and image files, endless administration, paperwork, and correspondence with more than 90 designers. I turned to Corus because short of a personal assistant I needed a lot of help. But I also needed a very effective one-stop shop system to log and record everything – from information to correspondence. So, I negotiated the functionality of the platform  in a different way. I literally took myself off email and only used Corus with my colleagues and contractors. Every conversation, file, document and image was all managed and chronologically logged. It was on this project that I learned how to use, integrate and embed Corus with Google Docs and spreadsheets with Corus. I used no MS word docs. I tried to eliminate all that ugly mess you encounter with email and word docs. I maintained my sanity and accountability. The result was a great deal of peace of mind. As a secondary gain the numbers of folders and files on my hard drive diminished. I have moved so much on to Corus.

Overall the colleagues that I have introduce Corus to say that it has been a life saver for them – we’re all time poor and looking for more effective ways to manage our loads. That said, I don’t understand why there isn’t greater adoption of platforms such as this. I know I speak with evangelical zeal – but it really does make my work-life so much easier. I don’t understand why people show resistance to new online tools and platforms when there is so much to gain.

Vietnam + Blackboard = Plan A + B


Wayne Marriage is a Lecturer in the Accounting Department at the Saigon South Campus for RMIT Vietnam.

Thank you for taking the time to chat, Wayne.

Do you use Blackboard?

Yes I do. I use it because it’s the chosen learning management system. We use it for a number of different tasks, including Gradecentre, Blackboard Collaborate, multi choice quizzes, we use it to put up notices, and also for posting links to various government websites that are useful for students.

Do you use alternative learning technologies?

Sure! For example we use:

  • Skype (; Many of the student in Vietnam live quite far from the campus, and they can’t come and see me so we meet online.
  • Anymeeting (; Doing a webinar, so to speak, with 60 -70 students at a time the system need to be robust, more so than Collaborate, so at times we use this as an alternative.
  • Google; We use all the Google tools including; forms, calendar, email, and docs.
  • Youtube (; We use Youtube however we post videos to the Google drive and share it that way too.

Why are you using those alternative online tools?

It depends on the situation, in Vietnam the broadband isn’t that stable and can fall over, so contingency plans are needed.  Google docs is the most stable of all of them, even if the bandwidth is bad, Google docs hangs in there.

What have you found to be the enablers and obstacles of using other technologies?

It’s all about stability here. Teaching between the Saigan and Hanoi campuses, we have an expert and a TA on campus to manage any technical issues. It’s all about contingency and backup plans.  Using Blackboard is our number one tool, but we need to use different technologies as a backup. We try different forums with students to learn about the other technologies.

Do the other technologies better support students?

I like Google, we use Google a lot, it just works, and its fairly stable. I do find Blackboard Collaborate has some issues, but Gradecentre works great, and Google just keeps on hanging in there.

Do you think that your students believe that the other tools work better than Blackboard?

The thing that our students like the most is the choice. If one tool doesn’t work, then they can use another tool. It’s not always the case that you can use Blackboard. My first choice is to start with Blackboard Collaborate, we start with it every time, then if it fails we move to Skype, or an alternative. Skype is the first backup plan for when Collaborate doesn’t work. It’s a combination of tools really. If Collaborate falls, we can still use the chat function. Google docs has managed to keep going when we’ve even had massive bandwidth fails. Bandwidth issues are completely out of our control here in Vietnam, at the end of the day, bandwidth issues are unscheduled and we don’t have control over the bandwidth, hence having plan B. Even in Australia I would have a plan B if the bandwidth failed.

How do you use the alternative tools?

The tools we use are free, we try and use things that are of low-cost, preferably free.

Working in Vietnam I don’t believe we have restrictions in the tools we use. There can be some restrictions from time to time on Facebook, I don’t think I can get Twitter where I live.  Some lecturers here do use Facebook and Twitter. I tend to stick with the tried and tested. The student feedback has always been good about the technology I use in the course.

I do feel sorry for learning and teaching as there are many educational technologies that people like to experiment with, and you can’t support everything so that’s an interesting conundrum.

Interviewed by Erika Beljaars-Harris

Going Beyond: Celebrating the Possibilities

The “Beyond Blackboard Course Shells” project hosted a panel session celebrating digital learning at RMIT on 1 December, 2014. We were especially delighted that Melbourne writer and comedian, RMIT’s very own Tania Lacy, was our MC extraordinaire.

Photo of Tania Lacy - MC extraordinaire for panel session

Tania Lacy — MC extraordinaire

Featuring academic staff from RMIT, the panel will took a light-hearted look into their journeys in digital learning and teaching; and explored the rich possibilities.

Audience members joined in the action, too. In the spirit of interactivity, we ran a Twitter wall — funny and serious. Tania Lacy also fostered great discussion from the floor.


Tania Lacy – Master of Ceremonies

Photo of Howard Errey standing

Howard Errey — presenting a project report

Photo of panelists standing in a row: Jason Downs, Zosh Pawlaczek, Claire Beale and Tania Lacy

Dr Jason Downs, Ass. Prof. Zosh Pawlaczek, Ms Claire Beale & Ms Tania Lacy –




Gregor Kennedy on Blackboard: The Basics and Beyond


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Head shot of Professor Gregor Kennedy smiling

Professor Gregor Kennedy

On 19 November, 2014, we were especially delighted to host Prof. Gregor Kennedy and Mr Travis Cox (both from The University of Melbourne) at RMIT University in Melbourne.

In this presentation Gregor and Travis will explored some of the strategic thinking behind, and practical uses of the Blackboard learning management system at the University of Melbourne.

Gregor introduced us to the basics. He provided a simple overview of how an articulation of different meanings of “use of learning technology” has been important in informing academics’ use of the learning management system at the University of Melbourne.

Travis looked beyond. He  provided practical and concrete examples of how staff have used the learning management system beyond templated subject sites. There was plenty of time for discussion and questions.

The workshop was hosted by the LTIF project, Beyond Blackboard Course Shells: “What on earth are they using?”


Professor Gregor Kennedy is the Pro Vice-Chancellor (Educational Innovation) at the University of Melbourne and is responsible for leading the University’s strategy in the area of technology enhanced teaching, learning and assessment.

Mr Travis Cox provides strategic and operational leadership for expansion of eLearning and online learning, and integrated service and support frameworks for users of the LMS, Lecture Capture and associated learning technologies.

Photography on Facebook: Immediate, Social, Global


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Fine art photo of lillies evoking the spirit of Monet, by Alex Syndikas

Monet’s Lilypond. Photo by Alex Syndikas

Alex Syndikas lectures in photography at RMIT University. He is a former Co-Director of the BA Photography Program, and Co-ordinator of photography electives. In addition, he has a deep background in online learning with Open University Australia (OUA) through the partnership with RMIT University.

Alex shared his journey from teaching in distance mode using print-based materials to online environments and then into Facebook.

Alex started teaching in the Photography Department at RMIT in 1984 and began offering a photography unit to OUA in 1994 when RMIT University became a provider university partner with Open University Australia (OUA). His extensive engagement with online learning began in 1999 when he enrolled in an online graduate diploma offered by the University of Sheffield, which was about “teaching online, online”. He reflects that being an international student in a diverse, global cohort during this time was an instructive experience. It helped him to reflect on the value of making content accessible to all students, regardless of their background. This has fed his philosophy for designing online learning: “One of the things I picked up was that you can’t just talk about what’s going to be happening round the corner. You’ve really got to think that it’s got to be global,” he says.

In 2000, the OUA photography course went online. “What I loved about being online was that we could be with participants in very, very remote areas,” Alex says. Online teaching freed students from the laborious processes of shooting an assignment, having images commercially processed, editing the prints and mailing them to the university. By contrast in online environments, students were able to share images almost immediately.

In terms of online learning, Alex uses Blackboard, but finds aspects of it restrictive. For large files, he prefers tools like DropBox, which is better at handling large files.

Fine art photo of sunflowers in the spirit of Vincent Van Goh, photo by Alex Syndiaks

Vincent’s Sunflowers. Photo by Alex Syndikas

Facebook: Immediate and Social 

The online tool that has had the greatest impact on Alex’s teaching is the closed-group feature in Facebook. “I also use closed groups on Facebook… You’ve got that immediacy and I think that’s the advantage… I use Facebook all the time in my teaching now for posting, uploading, critiquing.”

Alex reflects that the immediacy, social interaction and easy access to Facebook combine to support an organic student engagement. Part of this is due to the notification system that alerts users to new messages via the Facebook icon.

Alex describes sharing a photography activity through Facebook: “Everybody has it on their phones. I send something out, they can immediately shoot it; post it on the group; and say, ‘Well, this is what I’ve taken. What do you think?’ And the whole group can see this… And I find that students tend to speak more freely on Facebook than maybe Blackboard. Blackboard is very territorial; it has a fence around it. Whereas students are using Facebook a lot more, I tend to jump on with it and the class continues like in a classroom situation.”

Alex’s extensive experience allows him to contrast previous learning and teaching approaches with online learning, especially for OUA students. One of the rich affordances of tools such as Facebook is the ability to share images and feedback with the whole student group. Alex explains, “When it was face to face, or by print material, a person could have been in very, very remote conditions. And it would have been just a tunnel vision between that person and myself. And the dialogue of very mono.” Alex feels a stark contrast with his current approach to digital learning, which enables all students to view each other’s images and critique.

“It’s all about the immediate image and the discussion of the image online, rather than sending an image that has to be printed. The printing days are gone… One of my courses that I teach is off campus. It’s overseas in Paris. So to try and use Blackboard over there is really hard. But using closed Facebook (it’s not like it’s a big, open thing!)… We’re walking around Paris and we’re taking images. People are immediately – Boom! – just sending it on to the main page. So they can see everything that’s happening. So it seems to be a lot more transparent, a lot more fluid than Blackboard, I think.”

Digital Folios

Alex reflects on how much easier folios have become now that images are stored online. He remembers that in the past, third year students shared cumbersome folios of large, hardcopy photos. Now students bring their folios in on an iPad.

“Now they bring in iPads and we just flick through their images that way. Presentations are all done by data projectors… As long as we have good quality data projectors and all that, then it makes everything so good.”

Facilitating Digital Learning 

Alex shared the expertise and strategies he’s developed to facilitate online learning for his photography students. Firstly, he models for students the value of  sharing only photography content: “I don’t post other things on Facebook. I don’t really want to know what students had for breakfast.”

Alex is also able to contrast the affordances and facilitation skills required by Blackboard and Facebook. While Blackboard is useful for official records, Facebook supports immediate communication and engagement: “Blackboard is good because you’ve got records, you can do all sorts of wonderful things. And you’ve got good evidence: Have they done this? Have they done that?… With Facebook, even though it’s a closed group, you have to scroll until you can put all these things together. Because it’s immediate. It’s happening now; it’ll happen within the next five seconds; and within another five minutes it’s gone.”

However, Facebook requires the facilitator to display certain skills, similar to an orchestral conductor. “It’s the thing about keeping everyone in tune at that particular time and moving on, rather than putting something on a silver platter…  It’s a moving thing and I think that’s what online’s about.”


Facebook has also assisted photography students to build relationships with professional photographers as mentors from around the world. This has not only enabled students to gain valuable professional feedback, but has also created possibilities for international experiences when their program of study finishes.

Alex explains: “One of the very important things that we’re doing in the third year of the program is that we not only have critiques between the student colleagues on campus, but we ask for mentors. Before, the mentors were (fairly local) in South Yarra, or maybe in Sydney and students could get feedback that way. Nowadays, when I ask the students to try and find a mentor who you can show your work to we’re talking about Barcelona, we’re talking about France, we’re talking about the States. Their mentors are someone that’s thousands of miles away, but because the internet system and social networking is so immediate, they can get feedback within seconds. It’s very exciting. And not only that, it has opened the possibility of global connections, because they become so close to those mentors… And they finish the program and the mentor says, ‘Well, come and spend six months with me in London or other places around the world.’ So it’s really made this a global program.”

By using closed groups in Facebook, Alex is supporting his photography students to learn in immediate, social and global ways.

Do you teach in higher education or vocational education? Leave us a comment about how Alex’s story has got you thinking about your own online teaching and learning.

Google Sites and Modelling Good Practice


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Jennifer Woods teachers a number of subjects for the Interior Decoration and Design program in Architecture and Design. A large part of her work is the use of Google Sites for both content delivery and  as a place for students to show their design work and ideas.  Her subjects include the History of Interior Design, several studio based projects, soft furnishings.

Do you use Blackboard?
I use a program level shell for Interior Design and look after the particular courses in there I teach. I use it for course guides, schedules and briefs. I also use it for submissions and use gradebook extensively for final assessment. I started using the Blackboard blogs but didn’t find them satisfactory.  The problems were mainly with the interface. It is hard to make them aesthetically appealing which is important for a design course. It is also challenging to manipulate images or change the look. And I need to be modelling good practice.

So what alternatives do you use?
I mainly use Google Sites and Pinterest. With the Google Sites the students can learn how to design basic mini websites. I also use Sites as a portal for sharing content, either as a blog or just making content available such as a video. Sites are a little bit clunky but they help achieve my purpose. And it takes less time even ‘tho I have to load in 80 students into the sharing permissions each time I start a course. For students they are learning a basic digital literacy in setting up a Site. It becomes easy for me to jump in and give feedback or formative assessment. They can create the Site in their own style.

With Pinterest we use a lot of mood boards anyway. I have created a staff account for all our staff to use. Student can create boards as a working tool. A lot of students are using Pinterest anyway so it is a natural choice. It is easier to track what students have been doing in Pinterest too.

What are some of the limitations with using Google Sites?
Sometimes it can be tricky with working out how to do things and it is not as clear as other website building tools. There have been some issues at times with different browsers. The biggest issue is with the permissions and not being able to easily share content with people outside of the RMIT system without copying the site to an external gmail account.

What are your future plans with Google Sites?
The Sites also become eportfolios which in future I will be making sure they take with them before they leave. I might also start looking at alternate tools such as Blogger or WordPress as it is easier to share the content outside of the institution if needed. And the students will have to be comfortable with the tool they are using. Some are not so happy that Sites is not very intuitive and has limited visual appeal.

I have a Virtual WIL (work integrated learning) project where I have 4 sets of industry mentors that I have to line up with 4 teaching programs simultaneously. There will be 3 physical meetings, one for creating a brief and 2 for concept critiquing. As well there needs to be ongoing contributions to a virtual WIL site to which both the students and the mentor can contribute. Google Sites may have some limitations here and I will be looking at other tools for this as well.


Twitter for Strategic Management


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Jason Downs teaches Strategic Management in the RMIT College of Business. Jason himself is an excellent strategist. For example he arranged with a campus coffee shop near to class, to provide 10% discount to students prior to attending a late afternoon workshop. Not only did attendance increase but it became another example of business strategy for the class. Jason kindly made himself available for the following interview.

Do you use Blackboard?
I use it for the intention for which it was probably designed. Everything is centralised around that one particular place so students have one place to get the info they need. But it’s not the only space. I have figured out ways to use all the other tools and bring them all back to Blackboard. There are lots of course announcements, email, learning materials and embedded videos which they probably use.

So you use it as a learning management system rather than as a learning delivery system?
Nearly all the learning happens in face-to-face workshops. Lecture slides are put up in advance as support materials. In the workshops is where we do all the work. We don’t use some of the features like discussion boards or blogging because from our point of view, there are about 300 students, and each workshop is unique. The learning is problem based and depending on how the students are going in the workshop shapes the what and how of teaching. The first class could be at an advanced level and then later another class needs more support. That is where Blackboard falls down as a mechanism to communicate on that personal basis, especially for the type of work we do industry and for real world problems. Running workshops is messy, intensive work and Blackboard doesn’t facilitate this type of learning all that well.

What other tools do you use?
Twitter predominantly. We also have a Facebook page. Students weren’t engaging on Blackboard. Facebook is more immediate in that the students may have notifications set up on their phones etc. Blackboard has too many steps to get to anything useful. Due to the nature of the real-world/real-time issues that we deal with, at any time the problems we are working on can change. I need to share/highlight changes as they arise and I can share quickly on to Facebook, Twitter etc. I also use as an aggregating tool RebelMouse. It can collate hashtags from any of my accounts, whether it’s Twitter and Facebook or Instagram and it sucks it all back to the RebelMouse site. And you can embed that back into Blackboard! Every time I send a tweet with the #stratman hashtag IfThisThenThat (IFTTT) pushes it to my RebelMouse page. As soon as it hits RebelMouse that gets mirrored back to a page I have built in Blackboard.

The beauty of RebelMouse is the metrics. It counts click-throughs so I can measure engagement. The Facebook page does the same sort of thing at a much more aggregated level. There are Twitter analytics as well.

This gets mirrored back into the Blackboard environment. All of the links are clickable allowing the students to go straight to the article.

What do you like about Twitter?
What I like about Twitter is that it is short, sharp and focused. Because of the class hashtag (#stratman) and because I know it eventually ends up in Blackboard, it is a focussed conversation. As well, I can do a search for my strategic management hashtag and pull up all of my tweets over time. With Twitter search students don’t have to suffer me posting ‘lolcat gifs’. The aim is to make it friction free for students. They still have to click and look and think about it but they don’t have to go searching for the material. In terms of engagement back from students in Twitter there are only low numbers. I let students know about it on slides and announcements, but it seems they are reluctant to enter a conversation even though I would love them to do that.

Why do you think the Twitter engagement is low?
I don’t know. There are high levels of uncertainty – it’s in the nature of the strategy discipline. I think it’s about students having to have an uncertain conversation where they are not sure, and are looking for clarification. There is a social risk that they might appear “dumb” in public, even though not all answers are known and to be a good strategist means asking lots of questions for which you don’t know the answers. Partly that’s why I use the RebelMouse site to bring it all back into Blackboard. It’s a bit safer.

There are about 300 in my class. Twitter is used by between 10 and 15 percent of people in Australia. If I get 30 students on Twitter that’s good. Are they brave enough to tweet me something on a given night? The ‘rules of engagement’ needs to be negotiated constantly and that is done through social interaction. Sometimes students take it on and sometimes they don’t.

I promote a connectivist pedagogy in my teaching. By the time students get into third year, they may not have had experience of what this style of learning looks like. If they haven’t had exposure before they get to me its a big learning curve. It takes time to build a learning community. Often it takes time for me to contribute to my own Twitter learning communities (for example #phdchat when I was doing my PhD). All of it takes a while to negotiate what the ‘rules’ are. We don’t have the lead in time with semester timing and for students to learn to know how those relationships are appropriate.

The audience for the strategic management hashtag is the students. I also push posts to LinkedIn and a professional version of a Google Plus page, to show engagement with industry for future industry partners. For example this semester we are working with Red Cross Blood Service and it is important for them to know I have their interests at heart. A lot of good stuff goes out through my networks. I talk with Red Cross and they talk back on Twitter. Last weekend I did my first blood donation. I took a photo of me and my son going to give blood (to be clear, I was giving blood, not him). They wrote back and said thanks for helping save three lives. That engagement sits on my stream. On Monday I can bring up the stream in front of my students as an example of activity that can contribute to an organisation’s strategy. This will open up lots of conversation about what is occurring.


For example, in the context of our #stratman students coming up with a ‘new’ strategy for @redcrossbloodau, one of the very early solutions the strategy students come up with is “better social media”. It’s shiny and they can see big numbers. I can use the twitter conversation between me and @redcrossbloodau as a way of showing how that actually works within a strategy of an organisation. We can then have a critical discussion about how, say, social media might be part of an overall strategy and how a company might want to use it. We can also unpack how effective it really is and how that might be measured in a meaningful way, and whether or not this activity contributes to an overall strategy or sits apart from or alongside it.

Other barriers to engagement may include that we are constrained by how we deliver our courses as face-to-face lectures and workshops; and the fact students are not used to being able to engage in an ongoing engaged asynchronous process. I tried to solve that problem through the Rebelmouse initiative, but part of the problem of keeping activity in Blackboard might mean that they don’t jump out of Blackboard to reply. I thought I was doing a really good thing there by aggregating social media into Blackboard but thinking about it as I talk, maybe I’m not.

I also need to mitigate risk, as much as I can and the related issue is around identity. These students already have personal social media identities. They are comfy amongst peers. Less so with a teacher. I have multiple social media identities for various purposes. I am not sure they would do that in the same considered way (however they might!). Perhaps that is why I am not seeing a lot of engagement. Maybe they don’t want the creepy treehouse teacher out there on Facebook!

Do you use any of the data or analytics with these tools to feedback into your teaching?
Yes and no. I have tried lots of different formats, changes of tone both personal and instructional. Because the engagement level is so low it is hard to gauge. With Facebook you are always challenged by their algorithms. The best penetration on a dedicated Facebook Page you can hope for is 10%. You can know 50 have seen a post but get no other info about who they are or their behaviour. That is the frustrating part of it. Those figures are ultimately useful to figure out whether it is worth the effort. The great thing about the interaction between Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc., IFTTT and RebelMouse is that the system takes over and does it all for you. If I had to hand curate and deliver to the students, I don’t think I would get enough feedback/stats/insight to continue, but the Rebelmouse stats allows me to see which media is working and which isn’t.

The other thing I am very conscious of is the RMIT social media policy; and that the copyright of all my teaching materials belong to RMIT. All of my course materials sit inside Blackboard, but I suppose students could still post it to wherever they wanted to. I am conscious to be seen to protect our/RMIT’s intellectual property by not putting it freely on Facebook or Twitter. So there is a whole lot of rich sharing aspects about social media I am therefore not using. For example, I have an extensive workshop guide containing a set of icons that I use as a visual language. During the workshop I may put images up to represent certain concepts. What would be useful would be weekly delivery of the relevant bits of the workshop guide via social media so they could download it as they see it. However, that would then make it a public document and my teaching materials belong to RMIT – I can’t freely share them widely. All I can do is tell the students it is in Blackboard. That creates a lot of friction for students. It would make it so much easier for students to put it in social media but I am not allowed to.


(Thank you to @MeganJMcPherson for this idea of a ‘visual language’ – JD)

What other considerations do you have about using social media as part of your practice?

So I do use Blackboard as a management system. For learning, that design of the management system is less and less relevant in today’s environment. It is based on design decisions that were made “pre Twitter”. If we think about the workshop guide that I’ve built, why can’t I make it Creative Commons and put it up as, say, a Google Doc and invite students, and industry experts to contribute? It seems that the intersection of professional requirements around copyright attribution/intellectual property ownership and the rise of the social web is not a neat one. So from that perspective it could be seen that the organisational social media and intellectual property policies might retard the effectiveness of social media usage, and potentially the effectiveness of my version of a connectivist pedagogy. Bringing it all back into Blackboard solves that particular problem, but as I mentioned before, doing so introduces significant levels of friction for the students and anyone else who might be interested in what we are doing and who might want to contribute to the learning experience.

If we take a step up and look at my own pedagogy I identify very strongly with Stephen Downes and George Siemens’ theory of connectivism. Part of the theory is that students conduct their own personal learning network for learning. If you think of it as a metaphorical network, nodes within that network could consist of objects, knowledge (data points), people – whatever. Each learner’s network is uniquely constructed. A node could be as simple as a tweet or as complex as a lecture guide. The way students put nodes together informs their meaning of the work. For example, when I create data points and make them available as nodes in their network, students might realise if they check into Facebook or Twitter that they could use that data to build their network and therefore they my learn a whole lot more. This might lead to a realisation that learning doesn’t just happen in the classroom- it’s a lived experience. I can’t at the moment make those nodes more valuable by putting specific learning material that is copyrighted to RMIT into the public social sphere. I have to put stuff in Blackboard. Nor can I deep link into Blackboard and that is frustrating.

Since Joyce’s Workshop I have been working more on my own personal learning network. There are 3 of us at RMIT who went to hear Joyce independently, Megan McPherson, Terry Johal and myself. We already knew each other through Twitter. I know and follow Joyce on Twitter as well. Terry reached out to us all and said we could be a bit more smart about how we intersect with this stuff and think better about our practice. We’ve had one meeting so far. It’s an interesting way to think about what our identity looks like and how we are using some of these tools. We share backwards and forward and adapt feedback for our individual practice. We’ve even give each other homework! I have an audit to do about my social media usage in private and professional life and check if this is the best way to go about things. Rather than just letting it emerge I really need to think again about how I do it all. We each bring different competencies and skills. Terry teaches into small cohorts predominantly in first year subjects. I teach into massive cohorts of final year students. For example, there are approximately 900 strategy students in Singapore – each semester. We have different experiences that can be applied to each other’s practice. Often I find myself saying, “ah yeah, of course I should be doing that!” So I have started employing social media in a different context and a much larger scale. Having Megan there is also of great benefit – she has already experimented with this stuff extensively and she brings a “curatorial mind” to the process. I learn lots from both Terry and Megan – some of it face-to-face, some of it online via social media.


There are some practical problems with using Twitter in the classroom I would like to see addressed. Dr Sheree Gregory teaches into the strategy course as a guest lecturer. I live tweeted her lecture; but I can’t live tweet my own lecture.

I haven’t worked out a way of doing that to also enables me to interact with students. We just haven’t got to that stage yet. I would love to be able to provide backchannelers in the course staffing!

If anyone has some cool ideas about how I can improve the student learning experience with the use of Twitter (or other social media tools for that matter), I’d love to hear them. You can tweet me. Let’s have a conversation.
Jason is known as Dr JD on Twitter. To find out more about how social media is used at RMIT, see social media at RMIT University. You can also read RMIT University’ social media policy.

View from Vietnam


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We were very keen to include RMIT University Vietnam in our project. This is our first post, from Li Ping Thong who kindly agreed to be interviewed via email. Li Ping is a senior lecturer from RMIT Vietnam’s Design department and currently teaches a range of multimedia courses in the Digital Media programme.

  1. Will you please give some background to your course and what you teach?

The courses I teach are more towards the technical side. I have been teaching 2 courses in the Bachelor of Multimedia program – Advanced Electronic Imaging, and Imaging and Animation. I am currently developing lesson materials for a course (Content Design Project) in our new Digital Media program; hence I am looking forward to implementing some innovative uses of Blackboard, to achieve intended learning outcomes of this new course.

Advanced Electronic Imaging is essentially a digital illustration course. Most students who joined this course have completed 2D design (a traditional drawing course). Advanced Electronic Imaging takes drawing into the digital realm. Students transfer their foundational drawing skills by doing digital painting artworks using Photoshop and Wacom tablets. Most students in this course have no prior knowledge in digital painting or any experience in using a tablet, so there’s a lot to learn, both theoretical and technical knowledge, in one semester. Students in this course are mostly in Semester 3 and above. This is an elective course, so most students have a very keen interest in this course as it is mostly a new experience for them (painting with tablets). Towards the end of the semester, students are expected to be able to visually communicate creative concepts and express ideas through compelling digital illustrations, while also demonstrate high proficiency in technical execution of digital painting.

Imaging and Animation is a basic 3d animation course. All students attending this course have no prior knowledge and experience of working in 3d before, so there are a lot of new concepts, terminologies and principles (modelling, lighting, animation, etc) that students need to learn. In addition, students need to familiarise themselves with the complex interface of 3d Studio Max, which is a huge undertaking within a short span of a 12 weeks semester. Some students find this course (and the amount of workload) daunting, due to the overall complexity and  learning curve for a beginner in 3d animation. At the end of the course, students should have a deep understanding on the overall workflow of producing short animations and be very proficient in 3d modelling and animation. Students who wish to expand their 3d knowledge further will often opt for Advanced 3d Animation (an elective course) in later semesters.

  1. How do you use Blackboard?

One teaching challenge in Advanced Electronic Imaging, is that students need to be up to speed in building up their digital painting skills within a short amount of time. This can only be accomplished with hours of rigorous practice. We work on exercises in class, which often do not get completed at the end of each class. Each student in class is assigned an individual Blackboard blog. Every week in the semester, students would submit 1-2 blog entries of completed exercises and post it in Blackboard. As a teacher I find this to be very effective. First of all, it makes sure that students complete the exercises and spend extra hours at home refining their artworks. I can also give feedback outside of class hours by commenting on their entries. Students are able to see each other’s work and comment on each other’s works, which gets everyone motivated in completing exercises with their best effort. I have previously made a class blog through Google Sites – we were upgrading Blackboard and the blog function was disabled by the university that semester. But having used the blog feature in Blackboard again this semester, I think it’s more ideal. Everything is more integrated under one platform (a convenience, perhaps?) and students tend to comment on entries are higher if the blog is in Blackboard instead of an external site. For Imaging and Animation, I have an archive of video tutorials – which I have developed myself, to cover important lessons or extra topics which may not be addressed in class. The interface for 3d Studio Max tends to be rather complex, so students often mentioned that the tutorials were very useful.

Aside from grade entries on Blackboard, I also occasionally use Blackboard to give comments on assignments. For example, there were essay submissions, in which students were instructed to critique 3 artworks of a famous designer. Students submitted their works on Blackboard and it’s very easy to make direct comments on their documents using the embedded feedback tool in Blackboard, as well as pinpoint areas of interest (for instance, circling a specific area of interest in an image and making further comments on it). It’s a time-saver, especially within the field of design, when many of the discussions revolve around visual images. We often need to discuss these issues face-to-face in class, but with Blackboard some of this can be done online.

  1. Are there any online tools other than Blackboard that you use in your online teaching delivery?

Currently I am developing a new course (Content Design Project), which will be offered to Digital Media students for the first time next semester. This is a motion design course and I am currently developing part of the lesson content with Adobe Captivate. Some of the Captivate lessons are interactive and will consist of audio, text and video to illustrate different foundational theories of design (typography, colour, principles of design), which will subsequently feed into the practical end of developing motion design projects. This learning resource will complement lecture slides and reading materials. With the addition of interactive media materials on Blackboard, I am hopeful that it makes for an engaging learning resource for students, encouraging them to be self-sufficient learners and making sure that they have sound theoretical knowledge, before proceeding with the more technical side of things. This will be on trial next semester, I am looking forward to test it out and see student responses.


In parallel with this, I am also currently developing a digital role-playing game for digital media courses. This is part of my PhD study, in which I intend to investigate the effectiveness of using digital role playing games, to improve transfer of learning and accomplish desirable learning outcomes. The game will hopefully be completed on February 2015 and trialled next year.

4. Do you have a process to get information from the tool, or the students, that informs changes you make in your online practice?
I periodically run course reports to get a sense of overall summary of usage and frequency of student access in tools/course content on Blackboard. The feature gives a nice breakdown of all student activities in content areas of Blackboard and informs me about what course topics in particularly, are more frequented by students. The course experience survey is also a good source of getting feedback from students to determine whether existing course materials on Blackboard are adequate for their learning needs.


Capturing a Lecture in One Tweet


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ABC journalist Leigh Sales' first Tweet about New York Times columnist, Tom Friedman

ABC journalist, Leigh Sales’ first Tweet

Dr Antonio Castillo Rojas is a Senior Lecturer & Program Director in print journalism. The prevalence of social media within the field of journalism is huge. Students have picked up on this immediate form of news media. They use Twitter for research in their studies and also follow industry leaders.

Antonio uses both Blackboard and social media in his courses. We discussed how he and his students use the platforms, and the affordances and constraints of each.

In the course, Blackboard is used for the formal aspects of managing learning: discussion boards, blogs, and sharing readings and course resources. Social media is used more informally.  Students use it to conduct research and to understand how the industry is using the platform. Students tweet lectures and follow each other, thereby building a backchannel of information and resources for research in the course.

Affordances of using social media with students include:

  • Links with industry. Students follow journalists whom they admire, are interested in, and can use as a research resource.
  • Antonio supports students by curating who to follow on Twitter in his own feed and suggesting who students might follow.
  • Students are savvy. They choose their sources of information for research and are then required to think about the source and the information’s veracity.
  • Lecture feedback is gathered by Antonio via Twitter. He asks students to summarise his lectures within a tweet. The discipline of writing a sentence in 140 characters is very powerful. These tweets also give Antonio instant feedback. He retweets some of his students’ tweets as a way of giving formative feedback.

Antonio is aware of the university context and is mindful of his responsibilities in using social media in his teaching.

To find out more about how social media is used at RMIT, see social media at RMIT University. You can also read RMIT University’ social media policy.