Social Media in the Classroom

By Katie Stansberry, University of Oregon

Because I primarily teach in the public relations sequence, most of my students are preparing for a career in professional persuasive communications. When they enter the workforce, senior employees will look to these fresh-faced young scholars to help lead this industry into a work world increasingly dominated by online communication practices. My students are comfortable, although by no means experts at, using social media tools. There is no need to spend class time walking them through the process of setting up a personal profile or creating a blog. However, they are woefully unaware of the power of social media tools and the potential of these tools to improve the field of professional strategic communication.

When planning each class period, I examine the material and determine how to design a lesson so that students can learn by doing rather than hoping they absorb information as I lecture. For example, because we make full use of online communication channels during the course of our classes, it is imperative that students understand the importance of managing their personal brand on the Web. On the first day of class we do a get to know you activity called “Introduction to your Cyber-self.” Using the class list, I spend about five minutes Google-ing each of my students. I then create a Powerpoint that uses images, videos and bits of information to introduce the students to each other based only on the information they have made available online. While I purposely avoid including anything obviously embarrassing or offensive, the look of pure terror on my students’ faces when I announce our opening activity shows that my point has hit home. The final 15 minutes of class time are set aside for students to surf the Web looking for information using only my name and position at the University of Oregon. Far beyond lecturing students on the importance of managing online identity, by facing the open unveiling of their cyberselves students clearly understand the public nature of the Web.

I do not teach social media, rather social media is a part of the learning process in my classroom. We host guest lecturers who beam in to the classroom using Skype and provide real-time feedback to young adults eager to hear expert opinions on the topics at hand. For projects that require peer assessment we use the online survey program Survey Monkey to provide semi-anonymous, real-time feedback that can be quickly vetted and easily distributed. When I do address social media tools, the focus is still on the strategic application of online skills rather than how to use the particular program. For example, instead of walking my students through the basics of microblogging, I created Twepardy, a Jeopardy-style activity, using a PowerPoint template. I had my students open Twitter accounts as homework, then at the start of class they signed in to a private chat group I created on TweetWorks. The students could then Tweet the answers to Twepardy questions without spamming their followers. Not only did they learn some more advanced ways to use Twitter, they also improved their Web research skills by competing with one another by sorting through the reams of data populating the Web.

I lean on a vast network of educators to keep on top of the latest social media tools and find creative ways to incorporate them in my teaching. In addition to my graduate studies and teaching duties, I manage an online community for the International Society of Technology in Education (ISTE). Although ISTE members are primarily involved in K-12 programs, the ideas, tips and tools discussed among these dedicated educators have provided rich fodder for teaching ideas. I participate in weekly Twitter-based #edchats, which bring together hundreds of teachers, administrators and technology specialists to discuss current issues related to education technology.

The students we teach are by and large comfortable with social media technologies, but they often have little understanding of how these tools can be used for activities beyond socializing and inane updates on personal experiences. Rather than teach about social media, I use social media to teach. By modeling the use of social media in lessons and as a personal and professional development tool, I hope my students understand that strategic use of social media is neither intimidating nor the purview of tech-savvy experts.

Instead of walking students step-by-step through the process of using a new social media tool, I model the use of the tool as part of a lesson. Incorporating social media in the classroom is not a choice for educators preparing students for the professional world. We owe our students a 21st century education that will expose them to the skills they will need to excel in a work environment that is increasingly dominated by online communications.


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