Seminar or class teaching affords teachers and students an excellent opportunity to engage more deeply with lecture materials and to start to grapple with the discipline’s theories and their applications. There are many ways this can be approached. Monday’s Resource of the week looked at the role of case studies in teaching. Another approach is to extend student engagement beyond the classroom and lecture theatre, something for which social media provides a perfect platform.

Like many teachers at LSE, Dr Hyun Shin (Department of Geography and Environment) enjoys working with a very diverse group of students. The MSc students who enrol on his half-unit, inter-disciplinary course GY438 Cities and Social Change in East Asia come from many different countries and several different programmes at LSE. Some have direct experience of living in the rapidly developing cities which are studied on the course, while others have never been to Asia. However, many of them hope to secure jobs in East Asia once they complete their studies.

This presented a challenge when Shin launched the course in 2009. How could he familiarise his students with the social landscapes of cities many of them had never seen? And how could they hear the voices of ordinary residents of those cities, as a contrast to the theoretical approach to cities taken by (mainly Western) academics? Shin, using funding from the LSE Teaching and Learning Development Fund, developed a set of documentary films to be screened in seminars, and used Picasa and YouTube to create an online resource of audio-visual materials.

Students responded very positively to the use of documentary films in class, with one describing them as ‘a good supplement to teaching, very challenging’. However, the timetabling of film screening has been difficult, says Shin. Showing the documentaries in class left little time for discussion, so he has experimented with various ways overcoming these constraints: one of these was a separate, evening screening which was not compulsory, but attracted some 40% of the class.

Shin decided to develop this information sharing with his students beyond the classroom, and established a Facebook presence for the course which he updates regularly with links to online resources that he comes across through his own research activity. He has also started to experiment with Pinterest, where he has created a dedicated Cities and Social Change board, to aid both his teaching and research. As an added benefit, he sees these as useful promotional tools for the course, reaching interested people in LSE and beyond.

When each cohort graduates, Shin invites them to join an alumni Google Group. (Because of Facebook being blocked in China, Google Groups was chosen as a more accessible platform.) The group is still quite young, but he hopes that over the coming years it will be a space where former students can keep in touch, share news about job openings and developments in their region. Growing a community like this, he says, will benefit the students long after they leave LSE, but is also enriching to him as a teacher and researcher in the field.

Guidance on using audio-visual and social media in teaching is available from LSE’s Centre for Learning Technology: see, for instance, Using audio, images and video and Social web tools (‘Web 2.0’).

With thanks to Eona Bell, on whose original text this post is based.

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