Making Social Media Work: Tips and Tricks for Bringing Social Media into your Course
Kirsty Gaither A.T. Still University Many instructors are understandably wary of bringing social media into the classroom. Not only can social media distract students from the task at hand, but when working in a public, often anonymized forum, there is no way to control all interactions. Yet with the right approach, social media can offer a structured and engaging way for students to interact with course content. It provides the potential to teach students essential skills, including how to distribute information for different audiences. Using social media, students also learn how to engage with academic material outside of the classroom, thereby promoting lifelong learning. Here is my list of tips and tricks for bringing social media into your course: ● Go with what you know ● Apply the literature across platforms ● Explain the benefits ● Provide structured social time Go with what you know It is easier to regulate and troubleshoot social media that you are already familiar with, especially since there are so many social apps out there. Trying to keep up with the latest social media phase is exhausting and, frankly, unrealistic. While social media is prevalent in today's world, that doesn't mean that your students will understand how to use social media in the way you intend effectively. Take, for example, a faculty member I work with who has assigned Blogs as a critical component of her class for the last decade. In recent years she has had to teach students how to write a blog, for even though they are familiar with the online format, they have never formally written anything like it. Teaching students how to effectively use social media, however, has far-reaching implications. Working with them to apply critical thinking to capture the perfect tweet to sum up an issue has the potential to impact the way they use Twitter in the future for personal or professional activities. Apply the literature across platforms Although each platform is unique, social media, on the whole, share more commonalities than differences. While you can group social media into different categories (networking, media sharing, shopping, etc…), their social nature standardizes certain elements. Many offer some version of commenting, which can facilitate student discussions or content creation. All offer public interaction, by which students have the opportunity to interact with a broader audience. And most support a range of mixed media, which opens instructional possibilities to sharing images, video recaps, or linked resources. You can take an article like "A study of the use of Twitter by students for lecture engagement and discussion" and apply the methodologies to any platform that offers threaded public commenting (Tiernan 2014). Admittedly some methodologies may need to be adjusted. When implementing discussions, Twitter displays comments in real-time, whereas interactive commenting on Pinterest boards may be better suited for asynchronous discussions. Explain the benefits Ensuring students understand that their social media assignments teach them skills that extend beyond the classroom is a great way to promote lifelong learning. Using social media offers an additional opportunity to instruct students on the difference between public and private, information security, and internet best practices, as well as to introduce them to scholarly communities of practice. By participating in public discussions or forums, students have the opportunity to interact with colleagues and potential employers. On a less lofty note, the skills students acquire can serve them more immediately in their continued use of the platform and reinforce the value of their assignment. For example, Pinterest is an excellent tool for creating group or individual sets of flashcards. Since the captions and notes are not displayed on the board-view, students can quiz themselves and check their answers by clicking on the pinned image in question. These self or group created flashcards not only make for a useful class assignment, but students can continue to use this study tool in your course, or apply it to their other classes. Provide structured social time Setting your students up for success is an integral part of bringing social media into the classroom. Thankfully, regardless of whether you believe strongly on the topic of phones' place in the classroom, social media can be adjusted to either be a synchronous in-class activity or an asynchronous homework assignment. Regardless, making sure your students have clear instructions and demonstrating how to engage with an online audience and platform effectively helps to make this activity less distracting and less daunting. In lieu of overly-vague generalities, let me share two of my favorite examples of structured uses of social media that come from Twitter. @MedEdChat is a Twitter account that runs themed discussions every Thursday at 9 pm EST. They introduce the theme of the week ahead of time, and ensure that a moderator is available during the time of the live "chat." This structured format also allows MedEd Chat to create a formal transcript which they save and distribute. Having students enter into this kind of externally-moderated chat not only provides structure but impresses upon them the significance of acting professionally in a recorded and public forum. Another favorite of mine is the tweet version of a "one-minute paper. "In the traditional model, students are given approximately a minute to answer a question that emphasizes self-assessment, recall, and succinct self-expression on a half sheet of paper (Angelo and Cross 1993). Given the short character limit on Twitter, it lends itself perfectly to this technique. I recommend that students take about five minutes to develop the perfect tweet, however, due to the higher-stakes of posting their response on a publically accessible and non-anonymous forum. Rather than having their phones out during the entire process, students are kept on track by having a clearly defined brainstorming time, and then one minute with their phone to post their response. Final Considerations There are, of course, other considerations that go into choosing which platform is right for you. It is important to consider what your goals and objectives are for the planned activity. If participation is required, you may want to look into how difficult it will be to obtain a copy of the learning record, or any learning analytics you may need. Some apps like SnapChat do not archive or keep a record of posts, which makes it difficult to assess student learning or engagement. It is also essential to think about student access to technology. If your students are not required to have a tablet, and there is no iPad initiative, asking them to use their personal phones can result in embarrassment or inequity. I have heard students complain about having to download an app for class or remember yet another username and password. I have also seen students attempt to use phones with cracked or inoperable screens, struggling to complete even a basic web search. Ultimately the successful implementation of social media into your class will be influenced by your content, goals, personal experience, and broader objectives. Discussion Which social media options are you most comfortable using? How might that social media help to address one challenge in your course? Describe a twitter version of the "one-minute paper" that might be assigned in one of your courses. What advantages would this format have for you as compared to a paper and pencil one-minute paper? How might you explain the benefits to your students? References Angelo, Thomas and K. Patricia Cross. 1993 "Minute Paper" Classroom Assessment Techniques: a Handbook for College Teachers,2nd edition p.148-153 Delello Julie and Rochell McWhorter. 2014. "Creating virtual communities of practice with the visual social media platform Pinterest." International Journal of Social Media and Interactive Learning Environments. Kassens-Noor, Eva. 2012. "Twitter as a teaching practice to enhance active and informal learning in higher education: The case of sustainable tweets." Active Learning in Higher Education. Tiernan, Peter. 2014. "A study of the use of Twitter by students for lecture engagement and discussion." Education and Information Technologies. Veletsianos, G. 2011. "Higher education scholars' participation and practices on Twitter." Journal of Computer Assisted Learning.