How To Integrate Social Networks And Blogs Into Traditional Curriculums

By Keith Quesenberry, Temple University


Social Media is growing and changing the way we live, the way we do business and the way we connect. The latest numbers indicate that in December 2009 the social network Facebook surpassed 100 million active users in the U.S. and over 350 million worldwide (Smith, 2010). Blogs are, well, everywhere. The latest number I could find was in 2008 when the Blog Herald reported that there were roughly 200 million blogs (Helmond, 2008). Since then it seems people have given up counting. Even CEOs are blogging. Sun Microsystems CEO Blog gets 400,000 hits a month (Balwani, 2009). Bloggers are now legitimate media gaining access to and asking questions of the President at Whitehouse press conferences (Baker, 2009). And Facebook has become large enough and influential enough to draw fire from U.S Senators over its privacy settings (Patel, 2010).

Social media is here to stay and will only further infiltrate how we socialize, conduct business and learn. But how do we integrate emerging Web 2.0 technologies into an established, traditional university curriculum?


I have learned from personal experience and countless examples of my peers that the saying, “If you build it, they will come” does not apply to Web 2.0 technology in the classroom. Many a professor or department has started a blog or a Facebook page with high hopes only to have disappointingly low participation. Starting is important, but there is nothing social about a class blog without comments or class Facebook page with no fans or friends. Simply encouraging students to use digital media is not enough. A social network needs interaction and in teaching it needs a purpose.

How do you give it a purpose? You either make social media yet another tool for disseminating information (lecturers and links) or you turn it into a collaborative learning environment. Something business and education institutions ahead of the curve are already doing. To be really effective a class blog or social network must go a step further by making it an integral part of the class curriculum, which students hear as “this counts towards my final grade.” When it becomes part of their grade students pay attention.


In my online law and ethics course a class blog and social network replaces their traditional discussion and participation (30% of their final grade). I had been using Blackboard exclusively for online classes. Though Blackboard is good for pushing lessons, receiving assignments, and grade reporting, group discussions lacked true interactivity and content creation lacked the rich multimedia capabilities of blogs. But blogs on their own have limited community features found in social networks such as Facebook. Then I discovered BuddyPress. Released last year, this new technology is a plugin for WordPress that turns your blog into a social network. The free BuddyPress plugin is a timely option as other social networking services like Ning are starting to charge.

Now my lessons, papers and exams are completed in the closed Blackboard environment, but class participation and group discussion happen in a class blog/social network built on the WordPress/BuddyPress platform. I have added the class blog/network as an external link in Blackboard and set it to be the entry point for the course. So instead of announcements the student comes into the course seeing the fully functional class blog and network as their main visual inside of Blackboard. This links up to the outside world where their blog posts become real and have multimedia functionality and social networking can occur. At the same time the closed Blackboard information such as syllabus, lectures, lessons, exams and grades are conveniently available on the side menu. The experience becomes fairly seamless for the student who does not have to run all over the Internet from Blackboard to blog to social network. Of course you don’t need Blackboard to implement a WordPress/BuddyPress social network. It can work with other systems or as a stand alone environment for a course.

Class Structure

In my class I pose weekly discussion questions based on the lesson topics from that week. If we are studying Copyright I ask each student to go out and find relevant examples of infringement cases. They are required to make an original blog post by midweek explaining how their infringement example meets all the requirements of the applicable law. They must use all the standard practices of bloggers including pictures, video and links. By the end of the week students then have to respond with meaningful comments on at least two of their classmates’ posts. I also participate by commenting on every student’s submission. Other weeks I ask the students to each take on a different stakeholder’s view on an issue, like paid blogger reviews. This usually creats a heated online debate.

The online environment is intuitive, easy to use and excellent for discussions, peer feedback,etc. In the social network some discussions are strictly social, others center on questions about the material, course and technology. Students help each other learn. Classmate’s ideas spark their own. I start specific Q&A and Social Groups to organize forums. I also participate in the community, helping to eliminate the problem of answering the same question multiple times. Students get as creative and social as they want by sharing photos, video or Friday night plans. This virtual community comes to life with user profiles, avatar uploads, group work discussions and instant messaging.

Impact On Learning

Utilizing a blog/social network platform for teaching enables collaborative learning in a real world environment while improving student’s writing and communication skills. They are learning Web 2.0 tools and resources that they will need beyond the classroom.

No matter how hard we try to moderate in-class discussion, some students ultimately end up participating more than others. But a blog format with required postings and comments levels the participation playing field. Equal participation increases collaboration and diversity of ideas while building student confidence. Blogging also increases the quality of discussion. A public blog brings “realness” to assignments as students “publish” them for peer and public review. Off the cuff in person answers serve one purpose, but written and supported blog postings bring discussion to a whole new level, teaching skills necessary for learning and communicating with peers in any professional field. Student blogging builds a set of skills outside of course material that ensures graduates leave social media literate, able to apply emerging lessons to organizations of today and tomorrow.

A class social network creates a virtual community centered on the class in a format students are accustomed to communicating in. Adding a story about a recent development becomes quick and easy. Classes become more current, convenient and challenging. Professors and students share the responsibility of providing relevant examples. The level of openness is up to the individual professors. Some may go as far as posting lectures and all course material. Others may prefer to keep some material in closed networks. The blog environment is open but can be monitored by limiting certain functions to students in the class and by monitoring comments before they are published.

In a classroom based course I would also incorporate a required class blog network component to improve social media skills, equal out course discussion and facilitate peer learning. Students are used to integrating their real and virtual worlds. Why should the classroom be any different?

Additional Suggestions

Other uses for a class social network include posting creative writing assignments, art and design projects. An article in McGraw Hill’s Teaching Today offers these additional suggestions:

Classroom Management. Class blogs/networks can serve as a portal for a community of learners. They can easily inform students of requirements, readings, notices, assignments and act as a question and answer board.

Collaboration. Class blogs/networks create a place where instructors and students develop writing and communications skills with an instant audience. Students benefit from peer review and online mentoring. Group projects happen more easily in a social network.

Discussions. Class blogs/networks open the discussion to topics outside of the classroom where every person has an equal opportunity to share their thoughts and opinions. Comments can be reactive, reflective and outside resources can easily integrate into the discussion.

Student Portfolios. Class blogs/networks present, organize, and protect student work as digital portfolios. As older entries are archived, analyzing progress is convenient. Students are more motivated to produce better writing and/or projects knowing it will be published (Crie, 2006).


Kansas State University Cultural Anthropologist Michael Wesch has said that as we move toward an environment of instant and infinite information, it becomes more important for students to be able to find, sort, analyze, share, discuss, critique, and create information. They need to move from being knowledgeable to being knowledge-able (Wesch, 2009). In a Web 2.0 world teaching course material alone is not enough. Today students and professors need to be able to navigate and populate the new digital landscape. The information age is behind us. We live in a knowledge-based economy built on collaborative learning. Integrate required social networks into your curriculum, then students will come and learn skills for success.


Baker, Peter (2009). On The White House; How a Blogger's News Conference Query Came About. The New York Times. Retrieved April 29, 2010, from

Balwani, Samir (2009). Presenting: 10 of the Smartest Big Brands in Social Media. Mashable,com. Retrieved March 16, 2010, from

Collins, Allan & Richard Halverson (2009). Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology: The Digital Revolution and Schooling in America. New York, NY: Teachers College Press

Crie, Mollie (2006, October). Using Blogs to Integrate Technology in the Classroom. Teaching Today. Retrieved April 30, 2010, from

Curtis J. Bonk (2009). The World Is Open: How Web Technology Is Revolutionizing Education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Helmond, Anne (2008, February 11). How Many Blogs Are There? Is Someone Still Counting? The Blog Herald. Retrieved March 19, 2009 from

Kamenetz, Anya (2010) DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing.

Patel, Kunur (2010, April 26). Sen. Schumer Questions Facebook on Privacy. Retrieved April 27, 2010, from

Smith, Justin (2010, January 4). December Data on Facebook’s U.S. Growth by Age and Gender: Beyond 100 Million. Retrieved April 28, 2010, from

Wesch, Michael (2009, January 7). From Knowledgeable to Knowledge-able: Learning in New Media Environments. Academic Commons. Retrieved April 30, 2010, from

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