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Abstract

Many instructors bemoan the lack of meaningful undergraduate student interaction during office hours (Rees, 2014), but little research has been done to determine the best means of fostering faculty/student interaction outside the classroom. Much of the pedagogical research has been dedicated to the promotion of mobile learning devices, including smartphones and tablets, for teaching and learning in the classroom environment (GIkas & Grant, 2013). However, far less scholarship has examined the potential to use apps and other mobile technologies to increase faculty/student interaction outside the formal learning spaces. As a part of a Digital Learning Fellowship grant funded by Northwestern University's Provost, we developed two blended-learning undergraduate-level courses in ethics and leadership for media students. The goal of these courses was to combine face-to-face instruction with asynchronous instruction while students were not in Qatar. To assist with this, we proposed the use of several educational technologies, including communication app Slack. Literature suggests successful use of Slack by instructors in other fields, including medicine (Perkel, 2016) and other graduate-level settings. Although Slack operates similarly to WhatsApp, it is more widely used in professional settings – including the very media organizations where many of our undergraduate students will go to work in a professional capacity. Prior to offering these blended-learning courses in Summer 2018, we undertook a pilot study of the use of Slack in a traditional undergraduate classroom setting. The goal of the pilot study was to understand student preferences for engagement with faculty and to evaluate the effectiveness of Slack a means of fostering communication between faculty and students. We hypothesized that our students, who are digital natives, would have a preference for the use of chat apps as a means of engaging with faculty. In part, our hypothesis was informed by survey data that shows 94% of those aged 18-24 in Qatar use WhatsApp to communicate directly with individuals or groups, which is in line with regional norms. In addition, we knew that informal WhatsApp groups had been created in previous sections of courses we had taught at Northwestern University in Qatar. Because of students' heavy reliance on mobile technologies and the ability of this technology to provide more timely responses than traditional office hours, we expected heavy use by the students. At the beginning of the fall semester, two courses of students (a large-enrollment, required course for first-year students and a small-enrollment elective course open to all students) were surveyed to evaluate their preferences for engagement with faculty as well as use of chat apps as part of their daily lives. Early in the semester, the students were introduced to Slack via an in-class instructional session, where they set up their accounts on the mobile phones and laptops. Students were encouraged to use Slack to get answers to quick questions from their peers and instructors. Multiple channels (such as deadlines, announcements, etc) were created to assist with categorizing the conversations. Data was collected and analyzed to evaluate undergraduate students' use of Slack for engagement with faculty in both courses. Our presentation at the Qatar Foundation Annual Research Conference presents an overview of our experiences piloting the use of Slack as tool for undergraduate student engagement with faculty outside the classroom. Additionally, it is informed by a survey of undergraduate students to assess their perceptions of engagement with faculty, with a specific focus on use of technology. Although we expected undergraduate students would use Slack heavily, their usage habits suggest the application is not as effective as other research has shown it to be at the graduate level (Talbot, 2015). Given their limited experience in a university setting, student may be more reluctant to use, and rely on, Slack as a crowd-sourcing tool to address the questions and queries. In addition, some students expressed a distinct preference for Slack's direct-messaging capabilities over the group forum, suggesting they may lack the confidence of graduate students in expressing their ideas and uncertainties. Relevant Pillar: Social Sciences, Arts & Humanities: Education, Labor & Migration Our pilot study is aimed at improving education here in Qatar by providing a better understanding of how students from a variety of secondary school backgrounds aim to engage with faculty members outside the formal classroom setting. Our study uses both quantitative and qualitative methods to address our research question and serves as a strong foundation for future pedagogy research in the realm of undergraduate education in Qatar. Ideally, this and subsequent research can help university professors better engage with their students, increasing student learning and encouraging discussion and dialogue beyond class hours. References Dennis, E. E., Martin, J. D., & Wood, R. (2017). Media use in the Middle East, 2017: A seven-nation survey. Northwestern University in Qatar. Retrieved from www.mideastmedia.org/survey/2017. Gikas, J., & Grant, M. M. (2013). Mobile computing devices in higher education: Student perspectives on learning with cellphones, smartphones & social media. The Internet and Higher Education, 19, 18-26. Perkel, Jeffrey M. (2016). “How Scientists Use Slack: Eight Ways Labs Benefit from the Popular Workplace Messaging Tool.” Nature. Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/news/how-scientists-use-slack-1.21228 Rees, J. (2014). “Office Hours Are Obsolete.” Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from https://chroniclevitae.com/news/534-office-hours-are-obsolete Talbot, B. (2015). “Slack: Solution to Persistent Issues in Online Teaching?”. Retrieved from https://medium.com/@Bud_T/slack-solution-to-persistent-issues-in-online-teaching-492b60d6ff0e

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/content/papers/10.5339/qfarc.2018.SSAHPP995
2018-03-15
2019-07-18
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