Using Social Media to Answer Teaching Challenges

By Jody Strauch, Northwest Missouri State University

"GMOOT" is a popular acronym in social media circles. It stands for 'Get Me One of Those" and is the cry of business clients who ask their PR or marketing agency to get them into social media only because everyone else is in social media. They don't know why they need it or what they will do with it, but they want 'one of those.'

University faculty should be cautious as well of approaching social media in the same way. It is seductive to use a sphere that our students spend so much time in as a way to reach them with our educational message. Yet faculty should pause and ask the same questions marketers do: why do I need social media and what will I do with it.

This has been my approach in introducing social media elements into a variety of my courses. What type of lesson plan challenges do I currently have and what social media element might be the best way to solve that challenge? I will approach this article in the same fashion by first focusing on those curricular areas where I have found social media beneficial and then looking at the tools I used. It was not always a success except that a lesson learned is, indeed, a lesson learned.


One of the biggest challenges for university faculty is the teamwork assignment. Industry professionals demand that mass communication faculty include as many teamwork opportunities as possible, to best prepare future employees. However, the demands of students' other classes as well as employment (full time, for some) make teamwork outside of class especially difficult. This is one area where I have found social media to be extremely useful.

A first attempt at using a social media tool for teamwork was in a professional development seminar within our department, Interactive Digital Media Seminar. This is a senior seminar course for an interdisciplinary major shared by the departments of Mass Communication, Computer Science and Art. A continuing goal of the course has been a current issues assignment asking the students to read and research new topics in the field. After a few failed attempts at a research paper and a class presentation, the seminar instructors thought perhaps a collaborative effort on a research topic might be useful. To accomplish the collaboration, we created five wikis for the class (which was divided into five interdisciplinary groups). The groups would use this wiki space to share news stories and other research about their topic and participate in group-led discussions. The research wiki was not a success for a number of reasons. One perhaps was the newness of the program for students and faculty (this was a few years ago); another was the failure by we the faculty to adequately assess progress on the projects.

A second attempt at using social media for collaboration was much more successful. In this case, it was for groups in a special offering course in the Department of Mass Communication called "Social Media Strategies." It seems obvious to use social media as a learning tool for a social media class, and I will explore this further later in this article. For this collaboration effort, the students were allowed to choose their own social media tool, and this time it was a great success. Student groups chose a variety of methods including Google groups and nings. In a small (non-scientific) survey of my students, I found they feel this is one of the most beneficial uses of social media. "Working in groups can be extremely stressful because it's hard for a large number of students to arrange a meeting time; however social media is a usefool tool to collaborate on ideas and delegate group tasks without having to meet at a specific time," one student wrote.

Perhaps the lesson learned here is to allow the students to choose the social media tool they feel most comfortable with and most useful to them when it comes to their teamwork assignment.


A second area where social media can be extremely useful for the faculty members is in classroom discussions, especially for an online course. I developed an online copy editing course last summer, my first online course, and knew that discussions on management, ethics and leadership would be an important element that would be missing from taking the course from the classroom to the online environment.

The classroom management program used at our university (eCompanion) has a discussion area inside the platform but it seems cold and sterile. I felt an atmosphere similar to Facebook, where students could 'see' each other and interact in a somewhat similar manner, would be more useful. I created a ning for the course that allowed students to create profiles, including profile photos. I created a variety of discussion forums, and students were required to post at least one comment and comment on at least two other posts. Student feedback from the course indicates that the students did enjoy this type of discussion, where they could 'see' their classmates, much more than ones they had had previously in the eCompanion environment.

Although not limited to social media learning, I did find researching some discussion rubrics for online discussions especially helpful as well in assessing these discussions (here are two good examples:;

One student surveyed noted the value of social media to discussions: "The forum/comment section capabilities of many blogs and Facebook could be useful in discussion pertaining to course material, especially in classes such as philosophy or courses pertaining to current events. It would provide a medium for everyone to share their opinions in a format in which many people feel more comfortable to voice them.

Using Social Media to Teach Social Media

As mentioned earlier, I taught a special offering course this past spring titled "Social Media Strategies." The course matched student teams with three actual clients to develop a social media plan for each. The clients were the Arthritis Foundation of Kansas City, the American Angus Association and TeamOffice (a B2B office supply company). It was my goal in developing the curriculum for this course to use as much social media as possible. There were no texts and course readings were links in the eCompanion site to various online blogs and social media websites as well as actual social media white papers from industry professionals. Students were required to be on Facebook and Twitter and had to create a blog on the topic of their choice. In addition, they were required to use some type of social media tool as a collaborative space for their projects, as mentioned earlier.

In addition, I created a private Facebook page for the class, and invited two or three professionals from the field to join. The goal was to have students post interesting articles on social media to share with the class.

The blogs were not as successful as I had hoped, but again the problem may lie with more aggressive assessment of progress. Yet the students did learn a lesson: writing a weekly blog is not an easy task. I also found their use of Twitter was fairly limited, except for those students who were already fairly active on it. The Facebook page did seem popular though and a number of students shared interesting social media articles on the page throughout the trimester.

What Students' Think of Social Media in Education

Most faculty feel that they need to move to incorporating social media into the classroom because that is where their students are and that is the best way to reach them. However, in the small survey I took of some of my students, I found a number of students who did not feel social media were appropriate in the learning environment. These students said that social media were not professional enough for use in a university setting and that the sites would be too distracting in which to do actual class work.


I am of the opinion of a number of my other students who noted that, if used in the right context, social media can be an excellent supplement to course discussion and exercises, and, as one student noted, for mass communication students it is important to have some exposure to prepare them for work in businesses where social media are a major component. Again, I think the key is to identify your challenge and then simply research what social media tool would best address that challenge.

Useful Resources

I have found a number of social sites extremely useful for using social media in my class. A few are listed here.

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