Two years ago, my colleague, Maria Maldonado and I, were searching for a way to have our students share their learning in our Design Thinking in Healthcare course at the Keck Physician Assistant Program at the University of Southern California. It’s a 12-week course, that meets once a week that students take during their final semester.
The obvious choice for many would be to have students go to social media platforms or to have them create blogs. However, in higher education, especially at the graduate level, many of our students stand at a crossroads. They grew up in a very traditional world of learning, where social media, digital professionalism, creating and learning side by side with others was not the norm.
We knew if we asked them to create blogs or social media profiles, they would immediately panic, many losing sight of the learning objective and becoming overwhelmed with the technology expectations. While many use these platforms in personal settings, very few have experience using these tools in academic and professional settings. However, we valued the skills that students learn from sharing their work with an authentic audience, from having choice in how to share their learning and from making thinking visible.
We came across Seesaw, and while initially had reservations about how students would receive the tool, decided to take our chances and found that its simplistic nature was its greatest strength. Since using Seesaw over two years ago, it has since spread to other courses throughout our program. The platform and the “technology” requirement truly have became secondary to the skills we want our students to learn - digital professionalism, creating digital portfolios and the power of professional learning networks.
I often have technology integration coaches, administrators and others ask me for examples from my Seesaw class. I often hear how many upper grade teachers shy away from using the Seesaw platform because they think it is only for elementary students. My hope is that through this post, those who teach older students will come to see the value of how they can use Seesaw with their students to teach the following three areas of digital professionalism, digital portfolios and professional learning networks.
Using Seesaw to Amplify Student Voice and Choice
“We do not learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience.” - John Dewey
At its core, Seesaw is a learning journal that provides students with an opportunity to reflect on their learning. I have found it to be an excellent transitional tool in teaching the importance of digital portfolios, digital citizenship and professional learning networks. If you have never seen Seesaw before, imagine a platform where Facebook meets Instagram, yet you as a teacher control the privacy settings and moderate all posts, should you wish to do so.
Posts can be shared between the student and the teacher or between the student, teacher and peers. In each scenario, teachers also have the option to share student work with parents. Parents can only see the work of their child, and each time an item is uploaded they are notified.
Students and teachers can both upload items in six different ways.
This is significant, as it allows students choice in how to share their learning. Capturing and sharing photos, videos, articles and other artifacts, allows students to share and reflect on what they have learned in ways that are more meaningful to them. Once you upload a post, there is the option to “like” or “comment.” As with all other Seesaw features, the teacher can decide whether to turn these options on or off. This brings me to the first of the three areas we wanted to teach our students about - the power of learning through networks.
On every students mind in higher education is how will I secure a job after graduation. At USC I tell our students their mantra should be find and be found, and the key to being found is sharing your work. We use Seesaw as a learning journal and students then choose selected pieces of work to share in a public digital portfolio using LinkedIn. Through the opportunity to reflect on their work and practice, students can identify key pieces of work that they can share publicly alongside their journey. One of the greatest signs of a great app is that it provides you with real world skills. The skill students learn by using Seesaw as a learning journal translates into their ability to be reflective practitioners of their craft who understand and value sharing their work with a community of their peers.
In using Seesaw as a transitional tool to LinkedIn, where they create their digital portfolios, students are in a stronger position to present themselves to employers. As Simon Sinek reminds us, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe.” Digital portfolios are an excellent avenue for students to show what they do. Cheri Geist, PA-C a graduate of the class of 2015, sent this email shortly after graduation:
What stands out to me is that Cheri knew she had a safe place to ask a question, she was proud of the work she was sharing on social media, so much so that she’s showing her mom! When’s the last time your 27-year old did that? But above all Cheri was able to use the skill she had learned about digital portfolios to not just look for jobs, but to find one that was right for her.
Professional Learning Networks
Once students have a digital portfolio they are ready to share with a global audience, naturally the next question is how will I be found? The answer - build a professional learning network. However, for many students leading and learning online is new territory, one that again faculty need to scaffold, and teach best practices.
One of the driving questions as I work alongside faculty to reimagine learning in higher education is, “when and where do students learn?”
We know that today most of our students are consuming information online. However, we also know, that these young adults often lack the skills that they need to take advantage of the benefits of learning through networks. Many may be following blogs or individuals associated with their interests, however they may not be using them for learning. or expanding their network base. Allowing students a safe space, where they can learn through doing, facilitated by a teacher, allows them to experience first hand the benefits of a learning network.
While students rotate through their different clerkships, we use this opportunity to build community in the cloud. Each group has their own Seesaw class, where they share a story of the week.
We quickly found that students were supporting one another, sharing advice, strategies and tips and tricks, with the educator there to facilitate and guide each moment. This opportunity provides educators with an avenue to talk about the advantages of connected learning. In creating a learning network, students can search trusted sources for information and ask them questions. While their network is initially made up of their peers, there is an incredible teaching moment to share the importance of cultivating diverse and interdisciplinary networks. From here we transition our students to social media platforms such as Twitter and LinkedIn.
Through all the above experiences, educators and students have plenty of opportunities to talk about the challenges and opportunities of being a professional in today’s day and age. It is most certainly a disservice to students to graduate them without having discussions on digital professionalism. Dismissing students as digital natives who “already know” increases their chances of making a mistake where the consequences may be life-altering. Being able to practice sharing stories from the field, provides students with a safe space to learn and the skills they need to transition to real world platforms. Too often we spend most of our time telling students what they should not be doing, when we could be crafting opportunities for students to experience first hand the benefits and opportunities that are available to them today.
Seesaw has provided us with the space we need to teach our students the skills they need to be safe, respectful and responsible digital professionals.