Social Media in the Classroom

By Sheree Martin, Samford University

I introduced social media into two courses I taught this semester at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama—Principles of Public Relation (PR) and a special topics course, Media of Religion (MOR). The approaches were similar so I will discuss my techniques collectively.

A survey taken at the beginning of the first class meeting (before a syllabus was distributed) showed that fewer than 10-15% of students in either class were using Twitter or reading blogs. None were blogging outside of Facebook status updates. None used social bookmarking tools.

My goal was to immerse students in a variety of social media, with an emphasis on blogging, Twitter and Delicious. The MOR course also used a private Facebook group. We also used YouTube extensively in MOR but did not post content to YouTube.


I established a blog for each course using WordPress. I chose to set up a course blog rather than have each student create his/her own blog for the course. I had several reasons for using a centralized course blog: (1) to minimize the need to spend class time teaching students how to set up a blog; (2) to facilitate student exposure to the ideas and writings of classmates and encourage commenting; and (3) to simply the evaluation and grading process. Each student was authorized as a “writer” so he/she could post without the need for my review.

PR students were required to select from a list of prominent PR/IMC blogs at least one blog to monitor and read for the entire semester. Students were required to write and post to the course blog each week approximately 150 words describing something he/she learned from the chosen blog. An excellent student blog post would “connect the dots” between what we were covering in class and what the student learned from the PR pro’s blog.

MOR students were given topics to blog about each week. The topics related to assigned readings, web pages bookmarked using Delicious, guest speakers and class discussions.


Students in both classes were required to set up Twitter accounts prior to the second class meeting and notify me of their Twitter user names. I created a class Twitter account to serve as a centralized point for class tweeting. As the students notified me of their Twitter names I began following them. At the second session, I demonstrated how to find and follow classmates using the class Twitter account as an index. All students were required to follow the class account, fellow students and the instructor.

PR students were also required to select and follow a minimum of three businesses and two nonprofits for the duration of the semester. I presented the students with a variety of PR organizations and professionals to choose from and asked that they also follow several of those. Midway through the semester, students were required to choose five of the Top 100 PR tweeters to follow for the remainder of the semester. Periodically throughout the semester, we had class discussions about how these businesses, nonprofits and PR pros were using Twitter. I included demonstrations of Twitter resources and lecture commentary about Twitter in each week’s class meeting.

MOR students were required to select three religious leaders (pastors, priests, prominent theologians, religious personalities, writers, etc.), two or three religious organizations, and two or three religious entertainers to follow for the semester. Periodically throughout the semester, the students reported on how these individuals were using Twitter. The idea was to determine whether the use was for education, inspiration, proselytizing, sharing personal messages, marketing or some combination thereof. MOR students were also given blogging assignments that required discussion of Twitter activity. We used TweetChat in MOR for an online chat with a marketing professional in the religious publishing industry.


I created a private Facebook group to use with the MOR class. My intent was to use this resource as a place for more “critical” commentary that students might not feel comfortable posting in a public forum (like a blog). In practice, it became the place where students posted links to websites of bands, artists, and churches. We discussed these web sites in class, rather than using Facebook.


I had also intended to make extensive use of Delicious, the social bookmarking tool. In practice, Delicious proved to be problematic. I found that my students could not readily comprehend how to use it to locate and share web-based resources. Lab computers did not allow brower add-ons to facilitate ease of bookmarking sites. Part of the problem was that several students could never remember their login information. And perhaps I tried to do too much the first two weeks of class. Had I waited until later in the semester to add Delicious to the mix it might have worked better. I gave up on using Delicious with the PR students, beyond talking about it and occasionally demonstrating how it could be used for environmental monitoring and other PR-related research. For the MOR class, the students had to locate assigned readings that I had bookmarked using Delicious but I did not have the students bookmark online resources to share with the class.

Shortcomings and Lessons Learned

I was quite surprised at the limited web tech abilities of most of the students (outside of using Facebook). The PR class meet once per week for two hours. It took longer than anticipated for several students to “get the hang of” Twitter and how to post to the class blog using WordPress. We did not meet in a lab but I finally moved one class session to a lab to have students practice inserting photos, video clips and links into their blog posts.

By the end of the semester, most students in both classes had developed solid blogging skills and could create an aesthetically-pleasing and reader-friendly blog post. The students appeared to be willing to seek out additional content to include with their post, such as YouTube clips, charts and graphs, etc.

Each student was graded on his/her blogging as a single unit for the semester. A few weeks into the semester I gave detailed feedback ranging from content, organization to grammar and typos. Students were encouraged to correct their blog posts at any time during the semester. The cutoff for grading was Monday morning, the last week of classes. The idea was to make blogging part of the learning process, rather than have students “give up” if they had not caught on early in the semester. This approach seems to have worked well, as all students made significant improvements in blogging skills when measured across the semester.

As indicated by comments to the class blog, at the end of the semester most of the PR students either disliked Twitter or felt overwhelmed by it. The MOR students were only nominally more enthusiastic. The students appear to recognize the utility of knowing how to use Twitter but they do not yet feel comfortable using Twitter for networking and business development.

Sample PR Blog Assignments

Example re: Blogging About Twitter: Review your Twitter account to see how many tweets you’ve sent this semester (start counting as of Jan. 25). This can include retweets or original tweets. Of the total number of tweets you’ve sent, how many of these relate to PR, advertising, marketing, business or career topics.

Post 50 words on the class blog about why you are, or are not, sending tweets. If you don’t like to tweet, explain why you don’t like to tweet.

Example re: PR & Social Media. Describe and explain how PR professionals are using social media to conduct research on behalf of a client.
  • Consider using one of the businesses you follow on Twitter as the basis for your discussion.
  • Be sure to explain why research is important and how information collected during research is used in public relations.
  • Use the research terminology found in Chapter 5 in your discussions.
This blog entry should be at least 150 words, but may be more. Don’t feel constrained by the word count. Minimums are not maximums.

An assignment posted to the class via the blog:
  • Please read this “Open Letter to Millennials (PR Industry Edition”) posted to the PRSquared blog.
  • Please pay particular attention to the fourth paragraph of the letter (5th paragraph overall), which explains why you need to be using Twitter and blogging in a meaningful way.
  • Your comments are invited to let me know you’ve read the letter.
Sample MOR Blog Assignments

Blogging Entry #6: Approximately 250 words

In a discussion about the proliferation of use of modern films in church services Robert K. Johntson, in Reel Spirituality argues that, while churches need to use films to communicate with members the use tends to be ineffective. Johnston says: “Congregants are seeking the Light but are instead being treated to worship lite.”

If you attend a religious service where films are used to communicate with the congregation, how are they used? Effective? Ineffective? Why? Have you personally experienced the ineffective use of films in a religious context? Use specific examples to explain and support your position.

Consider adding a YouTube clip of a film that is relevant to your discussion to illustrate your point.


Principles of PR Class Blog: Twitter: @JMC492_PR
Media of Religion Class Blog: Twitter: @JMC492_Media
I also used my personal Twitter account to communicate with students: @ree_tweets

Valeria Maltoni’s 100 PR People Worth Following on Twitter:

Blogging Basics 101: Blog to help students understanding blogging
Top PR Blogs from Blog Rank:
Top PR Blogs according to Mickie Kennedy

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