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What Is Student-Generated Content? Four Examples To Unlock The Content Experts On Your Campus

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There is a philosophical debate among educators that has played out again and again for at least the last 30 years–what role should college professors play for optimal outcomes? Is their knowledge best presented from a position of authority in a more traditional format, or should they serve as liaisons, helping students absorb the material through group projects, experiential learning and other activities? In short, should college professors be a “sage on the stage” or a “guide on the side”? 

And while there is enough evidence now for most universities to commit themselves to some combination of traditional classroom instruction and more active experiential learning, some educators believe the old “sage vs guide” dichotomy may soon become obsolete, centering the student in the creation of course materials and having them play a larger role in the trajectory of their education.

For example, University of Technology Sydney’s Dr. Laurel Dyson has been exploring the changing role of the university in committing to the technologies of the future for over 10 years now. Check out this excerpt from her 2012 journal article entitled “Student-Generated Mobile Learning: A Shift in the Educational Paradigm for the 21st Century”:

User-generated content represents a major shift in the way that people are engaging with technology in the twenty-first century and this change has its educational parallel in student -generated content. Though student-generated content can be produced on a desktop computer, there are a number of characteristics of mobile devices, in particular, that lend themselves to this approach, namely convergence, portability, the digital and networked nature of devices, and their affordability. By exploiting these characteristics mobile learning can support a paradigm shift in learning to suit the needs of our students, moving away from more passive learning approaches, as exemplified by the traditional lecture, to active, learner-centred modes in which students produce their own knowledge.  

Dr. Dyson posits that, as mobile technologies expand, so too must the infrastructure of the modern university to support ever-increasing bandwidth. And while they are at it, they should explore–in her opinion, aggressively–the potential for mobile technologies to accelerate student outcomes. This doesn’t just mean making lecture notes available on your iPhone. Instead, she began exploring alternative teaching modalities that centered mobile technology. 

Remember, this journal article was published in 2012. 

In the decade since, the topics she raises around the need to center mobile technology on the modern campus have only accelerated. Which got us wondering: what would a campus focused around learner-centered, mobile-enabled content look like? And why is now the moment to make the shift?  

What Is Student-Generated Content?

If you’ve spent any part of the last 20+ years on the internet, chances are you’ve spent at least part of that time creating content. User-generated content can be anything from tweets and Linkedin posts to Tik-Tok dances and YouTube videos to Podcasts and even movies. The platforms that host this user-generated content have become our new TV stations and media companies, with some Tik Tok and Instagram influencers generating a higher share of voice than any TV show in recorded history.

The entire content model for entertainment has shifted, separating content creators from the platforms that deliver the content to us and empowering anyone with a phone to become the next big thing.

And this paradigm shift has happened entirely within the lifetimes of your students; each of them contributing to it with every post.

A freshman entering your campus this fall will have been born in 2004. They may not remember a world, for example, where Netflix wasn’t 100% streaming (2007), there wasn’t a TV in every pocket (2007) and podcast feeds weren’t on every iPhone (2012). Two years ago, YouTube surpassed cable TV in ad revenue, and that was before the Pandemic forced billions around the globe into undetermined lockdown. 

It is clear your students are intimately familiar with what makes great user-generated content–their clicks, likes and undivided attention changed the trajectory of the entire entertainment industry. So the question is how can your school harness this expertise into learning? 

Enter student generated content: a concept where students not only attend class and participate in group activities as a way of demonstrating their own learning, but actively create content of their own. Content–whether in the form of videos, memes, podcasts or a host of other options–not only becomes a lesson in its creation, but serves as additional course materials for the rest of the class to benefit from. 

Sounds great, right? But how does one put a solution like this into practice? Can student-generated content really produce successful results? And could a similar paradigm shift to what has taken place in entertainment be on the horizon for higher education? 

Benefits of Student Generated Content

Ok, so we’ve established that your students are probably experts at content creation at this point. But is it really worth shifting around your entire classroom paradigm for? I mean, what are the benefits of Student Generated Content activities anyway? 

Creating Ownership

We all know that class participation and engagement with classroom and campus culture are critical to creating positive student outcomes. But class participation narrowly defined as proactively participating in classroom discussion may exclude students who don’t excel at verbal expression. Offering students other opportunities to contribute to the learning of their fellow students while also showcasing their own knowledge can be a far more impactful form of participation, and fosters the ownership of classroom culture that helps students thrive. 

Creating Products of Lasting Value

Unlike traditional homework, which is simply graded and thrown out, student-generated content can be used to inform future lessons after students leave the classroom. As an act of courtesy–and perhaps as a teachable moment about the value of content–you should get students’ permission to keep and disseminate their creations. 

ePortfolio & Co-Curricular Transcript

When students graduate, they leave school with more than just a degree. They leave with experiences that inform the career-ready professionals they will become and artifacts of that learning to share with potential employers. With ePortfolio and Co-Curricular Transcript tools from Suitable, students create portfolios of experiences, achievements and tangible work products that build as they make their way through college. Student-generated content fills the ePortfolio with actual work products, giving potential employers a chance to see the student’s content creation skills in action, get a window into their creative and analytical thinking, examine their executive functioning and more. 

Additional data sources on student learning

Universities love collecting data on their students. Large, multi-faceted data sets allow schools to examine trends and create better curricular and co-curricular experiences. With student-generated content, schools can not only observe academic performance but different learning styles, mediums and ways of translating knowledge. Getting a sense for how each student approaches these assignments gives schools another way to know the whole student. And examining trends in how students choose to create content allows schools to offer newer, more cutting-edge learning materials that students may respond to more favorably than traditional textbooks, journal articles and Power Point slides. 

Reducing Bias

“Support for ‘non-traditional’ students has often taken the form of additional remedial classes offered outside the main curriculum, which has met with limited success. Sociocultural theories of learning argue that the potential clash between the sociocultural context of disciplinary knowledge and the very different home contexts of many non-traditional students needs to be acknowledged. One way to achieve this is to use student-generated content, which allows teachers to bring student experiences and voices into the community of practice and acknowledges the importance of their prior experiences in knowledge production.”

  1. D. Snowball & S. McKenna (2017) Student-generated content: an approach to harnessing the power of diversity in higher education, Teaching in Higher Education, 22:5, 604-618, DOI: 10.1080/13562517.2016.1273205

When students feel underrepresented on a college campus or in a classroom, it can be more difficult to encourage engagement. Even worse, as your college or university prepares students for life in the working world, presenting learning scenarios that don’t represent all student experiences could provide inequities in the educational experience. However, by turning each student’s prior experiences into content by which their fellow students can learn, you have the potential to not only help these students access the material more successfully, but expand the educational horizons for students and faculty members as well. 

How To Implement A Student-Generated Content Practice Into Your Classroom & Beyond

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There are many ways to bring student-generated content into your lesson plans. Here are just a few examples of universities implementing SGC strategies around the world.

University of Kassel Student-Generated Study Questions

School: University of Kassel

Description: In a recent study, Ebersbach and her research team randomly assigned 82 university students to one of three groups. In the restudy group, students simply revisited and restudied the material from a lesson in their psychology course. In the testing group, students studied the material and then took a short 10-question quiz. In the last group, students studied the same material and then created their own probing questions.

Results: One week later, all of the students took a test on the material. Students in the restudy group scored an average of 42 percent on the test, while students in the testing and generating questions groups both scored 56 percent—an improvement of 14 percentage points, or the equivalent of a full letter grade.

UCONN Student-Generated Discussion Podcasts

School: University of Connecticut

Description: University of Connecticut psychology professor David Miller engages his students by podcasting a series of weekly recorded discussion meetings in which students help create the content by supplying the topical questions, participating in the discussions, and helping to produce the podcast. 

Results: Survey and anecdotal data indicate that both the process and the product increase student engagement in the course

Minneapolis College of Art and Design’s Online Gallery

School: Minneapolis College of Art and Design

Description: Minneapolis College of Art and Design created a fully digital online gallery that enables students to display work for prospective clients and employers. 

Results: While digital renditions of student work are not always ideal, the process of presenting ones work in a digital environment in order to promote an in-person showing is a learning experience for any artist, helps drive class discussions and gives other students a centralized place to view the work of their peers. 

University of Technology Sydney’s Screencasts for Accountants

School: University of Technology Sydney

Description: Many students, even accounting major and international students, exhibit low motivation in their accounting studies. These students may view accounting as boring, technically difficult, and rule-based. The accounting profession is calling for new teaching approaches to improve persistence and raise low test scores. Researchers chose to test screencasts–live recordings of accounting students performing their duties, with the recordings capturing everything that appears on their screens. 

Results: The screencast assignment had a significant impact in student confidence. According to surveys, they believed themselves more able to explain accounting questions in a statistically significant way. When actual results were examined in the form of an exam question that the student had previously screencast vs the control group, impacts were significant in the lower-performing student groups. The results show that screencasting is much more effective in improving scores for students who may crave a more active form of learning and for whom accounting may be a bit boring.  

Student-Generated Content & Suitable

At Suitable, we help schools combine curricular and co-curricular pathways to create customized, dynamic roadmaps to help students reach their goals. With tools like gamification, reflection, co-curricular transcripts and ePortfolios, professors and administrators can introduce cutting-edge concepts like student-generated content inside and outside the classroom, keeping everything tracked with a single system with seamless LTI integrations with LMS platforms like Blackboard. Want to find out how its done? Schedule a demo today! 

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John Steele

John Steele