I am a relative newbie to the academic world, having taught only a handful of distance education subjects. However, within those subjects as well as my previous experiences at CSU as both an Honors and Masters student (also by distance), I’ve been exposed to some fairly underwhelming platforms for peer interactions. I have recently had the opportunity to trial the use of Campuswire whilst teaching the 2 pt microsubject PSY549 – Building Personal Resilience. This subject is part of the new Graduate Certificate in Community Leadership & Resilience, and has a strong professional development focus targeted at individuals already working in community-focused roles. In this context especially, a user- friendly platform for communication and peer connection was essential – and I’ve got to say, I was impressed by Campuswire and am excited to share my thoughts.
What’s important about this learning and teaching story?
A sense of social connection has never been more relevant than now. Individuals are now globally unified through our struggles with the impact of social isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic. The full impact of this recent isolation on learning and teaching outcomes is yet to be quantified. But intuitively we are aware that students who have restricted access to teaching staff and their peers, are likely to have less opportunity to consolidate their learning or address gaps in their understanding, and are therefore less able to reach their full learning potential. Improved access to learning networks will not only maximise their learning experience, but will create opportunities for social connections that will ultimately enhance their mental wellbeing. Not only is this relevant for the current climate – but also as we return to our usual roles where our opportunities for meaningful interactions outside the classroom may have been limited.
What is Campuswire trying to achieve?
Campuswire is a user-friendly platform which integrates most forms of communication between students and teaching staff.
This is intended as an alternative to other separate modes of communication including:
- Discussion forums on Interact2
Campuswire is not intended to replace “real-time” interaction offered face to face in the classroom or via videoconferencing (Zoom) for distance students. These modalities are also an essential component for peer networking and communication, but outside the scope of this post.
What does Campuswire look like?
Campuswire is an integrated platform that can be accessed either on your desktop/laptop or via an App on your smartphone. The site has the appearance of other social networking sites such as Facebook which makes it user-friendly and attractive to our students. Even if you aren’t familiar with social networking sites, the platform is easy to navigate with clear headings and a simple design. Students are invited to join the “class” which is created for each separate subject. You can have access to multiple “classes” at any one time, and toggle between them. For each class, you can access a number of useful facilities including:
- Direct messaging
- Either between student and teaching staff or between the students themselves. This is a private message that can only be seen by the intended individuals. Each message shows up with the date and time that it was sent, and a read notification is noted once the message has been viewed by the other user. If you download the App on your phone you can choose to have notifications turned on so that you are alerted when a direct message has been sent (like receiving a text message). This replaces the need for emails, allowing for communications with students to be easy to find, and hard to miss.
- Chat rooms
- Can be used for informal conversations. These are likely to be most useful for larger groups of students. Chat rooms can be started either by staff or students.
- Notes, questions or polls
- These posts can be organised by categories, set up by you before session starts. For example, within PSY549 I used 6 categories. General; Announcements; Module 1; Module 2; Module 3; Module 4. Students can then use filters to easily locate and organise posts.
- Announcements can be sent as a “note” to the group. You can opt for this to be emailed to all users if it is an important announcement that you don’t want to be missed. You can then see how many times the announcement has been viewed, and by whom. This allows you to follow up with specific students who have not viewed particularly important announcements. Students can also respond to the announcement with comments or questions, which will show up within the same thread.
- “Questions” can be used by the subject coordinator to facilitate peer discussions. In PSY549 I facilitated this by posing peer discussion / reflective questions in the Interact2 subject content and encouraging them to respond on Campuswire. At the beginning of each module I would upload the peer discussion questions and as they moved through the content they would respond accordingly. This was an avenue for consolidating learning around aspects of the content that I wanted to emphasize, or predicted to be more challenging or thought provoking. Students can also use this feature to start informal discussions with their peers, or to ask a question of the lecturer/subject coordinator that they feel will be relevant to the whole group (as opposed to questions via direct messaging). Number of views and who has viewed the posts can be monitored to see who is keeping up with the content and allows an avenue to reach out to support students who may be falling behind.
- “Polls”, as the name suggests, is just that. A question can be posed with X number of possible responses and the students provide their preference. I found this particularly useful for organising dates and times for online meetings and workshops. However it can also be used as a conversation starter.
- Other features for staff
- Pinned posts: posts that are particularly important or that you want to be seen easily can be “pinned” so that they stay at the top of the feed regardless of the date it was posted.
- Notifications: preferences can be set to suit your needs, ie. you can select the frequency and content of email notifications depending on how often you want to check the app or the web browser.
Reflections & testimonials…
In case you haven’t picked up on my vibe… I really loved using Campuswire for PSY549. I felt it overcame many shortfalls of its alternatives that I had used previously.
The integration of communication avenues meant that my capacity to respond to students needs in a timely fashion was significantly enhanced. Campuswire’s features allowed me to personalise my settings so they were meaningful to me. Ie, having notifications turned on meant that I was alerted immediately when a student had contacted me – but I did not have to open it straight away if I wasn’t in a position to respond. However, the way the App provides notifications of items that have been unopened meant that I never forgot to go back and respond later – something that I will admit I was not always good at when using emails. Furthermore, the direct messaging felt like a gentler, less formal way to communicate with students, which I believe, made me more approachable.
I found the peer interactions flowed much more smoothly using this platform compared with the alternative discussion forums via Interact 2. The discussions were easy to organise and respond to. Students commented on each others posts which provided a warm and supportive vibe among the cohort. I will admit I was blessed with a vibrant and passionate group of students which helped immensely, but I honestly believe that the platform played a large role.
Even more powerful than my personal reflections is a direct student testimonial:
“I found Campuswire to be a really useful platform for engaging in conversation and getting to know the perspectives of my peers through facilitated conversation and thought starters. In addition, it provided a single go-to source for both ‘broadcast’ course updates and arrangements, as well as private conversation with peers and the course leader. Its intuitive structure is much like other messaging platforms such as Facebook Messenger or Slack, so it was easy to find my way around, and it offered a level of informality that email and Interact2 don’t. I especially appreciated the mobile app – it meant I could be notified of important posts as they happened without needing to log in and ‘check’ the discussion boards daily.” – PSY549 student 6/7/2020