Communicate, Research and Collaborate: Social Media in the Classroom

By Adam Wagler, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

New Media Design and Advanced New Media Design are courses that study current communication techniques used in interactive media. Discussion revolves around multimedia's role in Integrated Marketing Communications and analysis of successful applications in new media. The primary focus of the course is hands-on experiences and the creation of effective digital communications using current Web technologies. Generally, the classes are made up of undergraduate juniors and seniors, but are also offered as a graduate course resulting in a small population of graduate students. The course focuses on the design and production of Web sites with related topics including social media, mobile and search engine optimization. Three tools are used in class to develop skills using social media to communicate, research and collaborate.

The first activity to begin working with social media and extending the discussion beyond the class room is a class blog. The class primarily focuses on the Web design, but I wanted to develop a way to include additional aspects of interactive media without taking up precious class time. Areas such as search engine optimization (SEO), social media, mobile and the development of new devices such as the iPad all could be separate classes, but must be addressed in a Web design course. The blog is made using Wordpress and the students pick a topic related to class that they are interested in investigating further. They also must develop discussion questions which the rest of the class responds to by commenting on the video. This activity is used in two courses. The beginning New Media Design class works in groups of four, with the members all contributing to the research and production of the video. The advanced class develops their own video and content. Once the video is posted everyone in the class must respond with their take on the discussion questions included in the post. The group that posts the video is tasked with facilitating an online conversation about their particular topic. The entire activity is produced outside of class to encourage students to develop their own thoughts and informally learn about additional topics related to the course. The blog is meant to extend the classroom beyond the once-a-week meeting time and at the beginning of each class we have a short discussion about that week's video blog entry to make a stronger connection between what they produced and how it applies to the course.

The second, is the social bookmarking tool, Delicious, that creates a space online for students to have access and to contribute to the class resources. It gives them access to references, links, articles, and tutorials outside of class to research topics and tackle technical issues. One of the goals of the class is to instill a curiosity in students to approach issues in web design and digital communication channels. Through tagging and sharing resources between students the opportunity is provided for further support during and after class.

The successes of these activities have led to the last application that not only encourages learning about the topic, but simultaneously giving students a chance to try a new technology. The Advanced New Media Design students are developing an online tour of the college. The project is straight forward in developing an engaging piece for prospective students to experience the college even if they are not in town. To manage the project and to promote collaboration we are using a new tool from Google called Wave. "Google Wave is an online tool for real-time communication and collaboration. A wave can be both a conversation and a document where people can discuss and work together using richly formatted text, photos, videos, maps, and more." ( Wave is still in a beta form, but has been open up to the public for testing by invite only. Using new technologies not only for the final product, but how groups collaborate promotes trying new things and seeing how we can benefit from their use. This implicit method of learning is a great way to incorporate new technologies into the classroom without relying on them for the final product.

One text I have found useful is by Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah called, Inbound Marketing: Get Found Using Google, Social Media, and Blogs. This book gives a great introduction to engaging audiences in an easy to understand way. However, additional resources for incorporating social media into the classroom go far beyond books. A digital marketing agency, 360i, created the Social Marketing Playbook which offers excellent strategies for organizing and incorporating social media into a concentrated effort. Lastly, for the latest in the area of Social Media the website Mashable is a must for all students to read regularly to stay up-to-date on the consistently changing online environment.

The impacts of informal learning are based on basic terms such as "objectives, content means and processes of acquisition, duration, evaluation of outcomes and applications determined by the individuals and groups that choose to engage in it." (Livingstone, 2001) Livingstone's basic terms show a variety of aspects that need to be in place for successful applications of informal learning to emerge. Interactive media includes many new technologies that are impossible to cover all in one class. Many of the students have a good background in using these tools, but generally do not think of them in a professional manner. However, these activities give the students an opportunity to think how the new media tools they may already be familiar with are used in the field. This exploration encourages them to take concepts from class and apply them to the topics they are researching. The results have seen students becoming more engaged and excited about the subject when their classmates introduce new topics, share great articles and try new tools. That enthusiasm and energy spills over into the classroom environment making the class more enjoyable for everyone.


360i. (2009, June 9). Social Marketing Playbook. Retrieved May 5, 2010, from 360i Digital Connections: (n.d.). About Google Wave. Retrieved March 1, 2010, from

Halligan, B., & Dharmesh, S. (2010). Inbound Marketing: Get Found Using Google, Social Media, and Blogs. Hoboken, NJ, USA: Wiley.

Livingstone, D. (2001). Adults' Informal Learning: Definitions, Findings, Gaps, and Future Research. Retrieved March 2, 2010, from University of Toronto Reseach Repository:

Mashable. (n.d.). Social Media News and Web Tips – Mashable – The Social Media Guide. Retrieved May 1, 2010, from Mashable: The Social Media Guide:

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