Social Media in the Classroom

by Cindy Royal, Texas State University

I have been teaching online and social media for the past eleven years, since I was a Ph.D. student at The University of Texas and now as an assistant professor at Texas State University in San Marcos. This year, I was named by the Austin American-Statesman as a Texas Social Media Award winner. My personal social media activities include my music review and interview show and tech blog I have also been the editor of the online newsletter for Texas Music Magazine for the past two years. You can learn more about me at I am happy to share some of the ways I have incorporated social media in the classroom and curriculum.

Social Media at Work course
This year, I developed a course called Social Media at Work ( In this course, students learn to use the social media tools they use personally in a professional manner. They are asked to consider their “personal brand” and develop a blog around a hobby or interest. Throughout the semester, they read about conceptual issues regarding online business models and the future of social media, while also working with the tools. They all create a Wordpress blog, learn how to embed a photo slideshow from Flickr and video from YouTube. They learn some basic html to assist them in understanding the source of the blogs and they design an iPhone application (screenshots, not functionality).

I show a number of videos in that class that will engage the students with key players and concepts:
  • The Internet: Behind the Web - a bit dated, but still the best at covering the history of the Internet and Web.
  • Download: The True Story of the Internet – this does a great job of bringing students up-to-date with Web 2.0 concepts that were not covered in the first video. There are four parts that we watch at different points in the semester.
  • Welcome to Macintosh – on the history of Apple
  • RIP: Remix Manifesto – this film uses the example of Girltalk, aka Greg Gillis, who uses samples to make new musical creations. The video discusses the legal and social implications.
Throughout the semester, I also use various YouTube and other online videos. The Daily Show has some good ones (albeit racy):
Additionally, we read excerpts from The Long Tail and Free: The Future of a Radical Price by Chris Anderson, What Would Google Do? by Jeff Jarvis and Crush It! by Gary Vaynerchuk. I use a lot of Wired articles, as well. All the details with links can be found at The final project in this class is a social media strategy paper. The students can choose to either develop a personal brand strategy for themselves or to create a strategy for a company or organization. Throughout the semester, the students are given assignments to post on their blogs. They also open Twitter accounts and use the hashtag #smwork whenever they post an article to their blogs or have other Twitter assignments (i.e. Follow Friday).

Outside projects
Any time we have an event or outside project in our program, we try to engage appropriate social media. There are two projects that use social media techniques extensively:
  • This is a project in my graduate class Advanced Online Media. For the past three years, we have attended the South By Southwest Interactive Festival, covering it on a blog as journalists. We spend months before the event doing previews and interviewing panelists. During the event, we cover it as it happens, with blog posts, live video streams, photos, Twitter (@sxtxstate and hashtag #sxtxstate). The emphasis is on panel coverage as well as original reporting, interviewing attendees and providing a unique take on the event. This project won 2nd place in 2009 in the AEJMC Best of the Web Journalism category. The students handle all aspects of the site, including promotion via Twitter and Facebook. Visit coverage at
  • The School of Journalism and Mass Communication has hosted Mass Communication Week since before I started teaching in the program. In 2007, we started blogging the event, and each year have increased and improved the coverage, which now includes multiple live streams of panels. This has taken our event from a very local focus to providing national and international exposure to our activities. Google Analytics on the site show that we have had hits from around the globe. In addition, students use Twitter (@txstatemcweek and hashtag #mcweek) to communicate about the event and host promotions. Visit coverage at

WebPubNet and Facebook group
Several years ago, while attending South By Southwest, I listened to a presentation by a representative from Ning, a company that allows you to host your own social network. I developed a Ning site for my former Web design students so that I can keep in touch and help engage current students with former students for career networking. I have a listing of students working in multimedia, a blog in which all can participate and links to important resources. I can easily broadcast a message to the group, and I have hosted a few regular, in-person meetups, to engage students in real life. In 2009, I added a Facebook group to complement the WebPubNet Ning site. Visit

Twitter in the classroom
In my Web Design and Advanced Media classes, I have had a news assignment for several years. Each class period, it is someone's responsibility to start the class with a news item about technology or the Internet. Over the past year, I have incorporated the requirement that students join Twitter and when they do a news presentation, they are to make a tweet with a link to the item, using the hashtag #webpub. We share this assignment with another instructor who also teaches Web Design sections, therefore we can all share the news items by searching the hashtag. It has been a great way to stay abreast of current events.

Skyping with Guest Speakers
Skype is a great way to engage guest speakers who are not in your local proximity. Over the past year, I have invited “virtual” speakers from the Wilmington Star-News (Shannan Bowen, Jim Ware and Judy Royal), The New York Times (Aron Pilhofer of the Interactive News Technology Department) and CNN (Amy Zerba, Web producer). Students have been able to listen and interact with these professionals in a personal manner. This helps them understand their careers and makes them aware of the importance of networking.

Discussion of topics and issues
Finally, in all my courses, no matter how technical or skills-oriented, I make it a point to discuss important concepts and issues regarding social media throughout the semester. Topics include net neutrality, iPhone (smart phone) and iPad implications, developing a personal brand, effective and professional usage of social networking and key players in the tech industry (we talk a lot about Apple, Google, Facebook and Twitter). I often use Wired and New York Times articles to supplement this discussion. I feel it is as important for students to understand the lexicon of the online media environment and be very comfortable talking about these topics in interviews. This is as important, if not more so, than having skills to add to their resume.

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