Social Media Has Its Academic Uses, Too

I was going to start this post with the declaration that “our students seem to always be on social media,” but then I realized that it’s not just our students. Social media-Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, the whole lot-is a ubiquitous feature of our interconnected daily routines. All too often, though, it seems as if social media is a distraction from more important matters at hand; any of us who have noted students updating Facebook or scrolling their Twitter feeds during class certainly realize this more often than we’d like.

But what if we could harness the attraction and familiarity that social media has for our students in the service of learning? There are ways to do this, and they don’t involve us and our students having to “friend” or “follow” each other, either. At their best, social media tools allow us to interact and collaborate in ways where we can select when and with whom we’re engaging. We can use social media for class activities and still maintain these desired traits; like any other thing we do in our courses, well-considered and well-designed activities using social media can pay significant dividends for student learning.

One of the things that social media does quite well is allow for easy collaboration and communication. We can leverage this, for example, in group assignments, where we require student groups to create a Facebook page, or use Google Hangouts or Google Drive to create collaborative documents or presentations (Google Docs are very useful in this regard). Even if you’re not using group assignments for your course, you can also use these tools to create a collaborative space for your entire class. It just takes a few minutes to set up a Facebook page, for example, and students can “like” and “follow” the page without you all having to exchange friend requests (this is nice, because lots of us like to keep clear boundaries around our “work” activities on social media). Moreover, using an application like Facebook means that your space will be easily accessible on mobile devices, and can even push notifications or messages as well. If you think having an online class space (beyond Blackboard) would be helpful for you and your students, this may be the route to take.

Social media can also help us communicate more effectively with students, and maybe even enhance or complement our standard on-campus office hours. If we’re teaching a blended or fully online course, this is a crucial part of maintaining a strong instructional presence with our class. But even for face-to-face classes, it could be an interesting and useful change of pace to hold “virtual office hours” for students. A lot of us at Grand View use the videoconferencing app Zoom, but Skype is also a good tool-both of these have the advantage of having easy-to-use mobile apps as well. Another possibility is Facebook Live, a live-streaming feature that Facebook introduced about a year ago, to “broadcast” via your Facebook account. You can also record with this tool, which could serve as an easy, convenient way to have students record presentations and share with one another and the course. In other words, Facebook Live doesn’t have to necessarily be “live.” If you use Twitter, Periscope is an equivalent live-streaming service that runs through Twitter’s platform, with essentially the same capabilities.

You can also use social media to foster student conversations outside of class. If you’re tired of the same old threaded discussions on Blackboard, maybe using a particular social media tool as a conversation space could be a nice change of pace. If you and your students are on Twitter, for example, a class hashtag (something like #HIST104) is an excellent way to keep a conversation going online. Hashtags allow you to search for individual tweets without needing to “follow” their author. So members of the class could share content or media they find online with the rest of the class using a specific hashtag, or you could have a Twitter-chat where a moderator tweets out a question and other class members tweet responses, all using the hashtag. (For our own professional development, it’s worth noting there is a very active community of educators on Twitter, and several education-related chats that are quite helpful!)

Another interesting platform is Slack, which allows you to create various “channels” and “teams,” each with their own feed; posts to a feed in Slack can include multimedia and document attachments, making Slack a pretty versatile tool for higher education. Numerous faculty have adopted Slack for course purposes, which means there are some great resources and perspectives out there for those of us thinking about adopting this new tool. There are some who even argue that Slack can essentially function as its own LMS (don’t tell Blackboard!).

With the number of social media tools that are out there, chances are one of them might offer a way to introduce a new activity, or revitalize an old one, for our courses. As with any tool that we use, though, it’s important to think about not only what we’re using, but why we’re using it. Then, we need to make sure we’re proficient and comfortable enough with it to utilize it as we wish in our courses (as well as be prepared to troubleshoot problems for our students). But once we cover these bases, we might find that we’ve found the perfect digital tool to complement our teaching and enhance student learning in our courses.

Interested? Intrigued? Wondering about how a social media tool (or tools) could work for a particular purpose in your classes? Make an appointment with CETL to explore your options and try out some tools! Use the contact form on this site, come by Rasmussen 208, call 263-6102, or email Kevin to set up a consultation.

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