Some faculty are way ahead of students in applying social media to learning.
“This lecture sucks”
“I’m helluh sleepy”
When Professor Kurt Lindeman saw the comments posted on Twitter by one of his COMM 103 students, he didn't take them personally. Instead, like many in higher education, he turned the experience into a teaching moment.
“After class I responded to her tweet with my own saying that the post probably wasn’t the best thing to post given that she signed up to follow COMM 103 on Twitter, and COMM 103, in turn, was following her,” Lindeman said. “Other students following the communications class on Twitter will read that and hopefully reflect on the post’s appropriateness and implications for communication concepts like competence, cultural standpoint, audience analysis and social roles.”
As social media has seeped into virtually every aspect of our lives, it was only a matter of time before academics began utilizing tools such as Twitter and Facebook in the classroom. All around the world, social media has become a tool to engage students and enhance course work.
A University of Texas history professor uses Twitter in her classes to encourage participation and organize and transmit topics, discussions and questions. A professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, encourages his students to use CoveritLive, a tool that can be embedded into a blog or website to comment on lectures, link to content and ask questions. And a Ph.D. student at Cardiff University in Wales initiated a project to put Twitter information about peer-reviewed scientific papers in one place.
Class updates via Twitter
Faculty members at San Diego State are also seeing the benefits, and in some instances, the challenges of using social media as a tool in the classroom.
Lindeman who plans to use the negative tweet anecdote in future lessons, employs both Twitter and Facebook in his COMM 103 course to send updates to students about lectures or news events that apply to the class.
On the class Facebook page, he posts updates, answers queries and allows students to share study guides and study tips. He also teaches about communication in social media, using his interaction with students as a teaching tool.
“I think students are initially pleased when they find out about my use of social media, then somewhat surprised that I actually read their comments, then perhaps dismayed that I may be ‘invading’ what was formerly their personal virtual space,” he said.
Jim Julius, associate director of SDSU’s Instructional Technology Services, supports the use of social media techonologies in the classroom, but encourages faculty to do so with a great deal of structure and purpose. If faculty think social media will make them more popular with students, or will suddenly open up communication in a new way, they are in for disappointment, he said.
“What we hear from SDSU students is that they would like to see faculty making more use of Blackboard,” Julius said. “At SDSU, Blackboard seems to be more desirable as the hub for online communication for courses. Tools like the Discussion Board and Wimba Direct are great places for faculty to start when they wish to increase the online activity of a class."
Julius said interactive tools are more likely to be viewed favorably and used well if they're placed within a context where students can understand the how and why of the tools and their value in accomplishing an assignment.
Online conversations emerge
Professor Bey-Ling Sha shares tips she finds on Twitter with students in her journalism and media studies writing class. She also uses “hashtags” to identify tweets relevant to her journalism and media studies courses.
Hashtags (aka #) are a common way to make a particular tweet or item searchable on Twitter, enabling online conversations to emerge.
Sha said that while some students find her tweets valuable, others simply are not following, and she’s considering making Twitter a course requirement in the future.
Communications and journalism are the areas one would expect social media teaching techniques to be used. But they have also emerged in Edith Frampton’s literature courses.
Queen Victoria on Facebook
In one class, Frampton's students created a new Wikipedia page on an obscure 18th century novel, and in another, they generated a Facebook page for Queen Victoria. She’s had other students create entire original wikis on Renaissance theatre, for which they were required to produce and then upload a scene from a play onto YouTube.
“Of course, incorporating this into the learning experience is teaching about how to use these tools at the same time,” Frampton said.
Next summer several departments on campus will be sponsoring an International Literary Conference with the Contemporary Women's Writing Network in the United Kingdom. Frampton, one of the organizers, said the conference is focused on technologies such as social media in relation to literature and teaching.
Many educators who incorporate these new tools into teaching believe faculty need to work collaboratively to better utilize social media.
“Frankly, one challenge that we have on this campus is the bifurcation of faculty with respect to technology issues,” said Sha. “Some people are teaching classes on Second Life, while others don’t even use email.”
For more examples of SDSU faculty using social media in the classroom, visit the SDSU blog.