Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Something to tweet about

At the most recent meeting of the Graduate Teaching Community we discussed the role of social media in the classroom. We used three published articles to inspire the discussion (the citations are at the end of this post). We addressed three separate questions:

1. What is social media?

Social media is primarily an internet based way for people to share information about themselves. It is a way to establish relationships and create and maintain conversations. Some popular social media sites today include Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, blogs, topic specific public forums, and many, many more! The literature refers to these spaces and the conversations that ensue as “computer mediated communication.” The articles that we discussed focused on the use of Facebook in the classroom, specifically, as a way to improve classroom community and make professors “feel” more accessible to students. While we did not restrict our conversation to Facebook, it was the platform that we spent the most time discussing (perhaps because every single person in the room had their own Facebook profile).

2. How can social media serve as a teaching tool?

We began by discussing the purpose of social media in the classroom. Social media may serve to improve communication between an instructor and the students. If students are not actively checking their email they may miss out on announcements from the instructor. However, by using alternative forms of communication this may improve. Communication may also increase between students if social media, such as a chat room, is used as a forum for studying and answering questions. Finally, depending on how much personal information an instructor chooses to divulge, social media may make the instructor more personally and emotionally accessible to the students. It may make the instructor appear more “human.”

Concern was expressed for how social media may only be accessible to those who have the means to use it (personal computers and time). Does social media actually impede live communication with peers? Does it promote isolation behind computers rather than foster the living, breathing community of the classroom? Also, at what point does “communication” just become spam and therefore white noise? These were questions we discussed, but were unable to settle on any one conclusion.

It was suggested that social media can foster classroom community. By sharing personal details an instructor is no longer seen as a cold authority figure, but rather someone who shares certain interests with their students. Similarly, instructors may gain additional insight into who their students are. For example, in a live-body office hours an instructor may only interact with students who are vocal and/or have the physical capabilities (i.e. time) to attend office hours. A virtual office hours via Twitter, Facebook or a chat room would allow more students to access a tutorial session and allow them all to have an equal voice.

Concerns about privacy were raised. There was general agreed reluctance to share personal profile information with students. However, creating academic profiles appeared to be a satisfactory option. There was also concern, however, about the legality of sharing private information from within a University setting. Instructors should be well aware of their legal and ethical rights and the legal requirements of their institution. The need to protect both the instructor and the student is paramount. We were challenged in our discussion to assess if the use of privately owned (for profit) media platforms are really appropriate for a classroom. We briefly debated the benefits of using open source media platforms or creating our own versus using available sources. Ultimately, it may depend on the individual and their own objectives for using social media in the classroom.

Finally, social media may serve to increase student and instructor motivation and connect classrooms. There was concern that instructors would spend too much time “tweeting” and not enough time preparing for lecture! We discussed, however, that instructors who are consciously posting interesting articles relevant to topics they research, or teach about, to their Facebook page should strive to connect these posts to lecture topics and make references to them in the classroom. This could add a new, stimulating side to teaching and help instructors keep their material relevant.

How does social media help students become life-long learners? At what point do the tweets and news feeds stop being about giving information to students and instead encourage them to analyze the gaps in their knowledge and fill those gaps critically and responsibly? Having a safe space to discuss new ideas is a crucial part of learning, and social media may provide a new venue.

3. How and why might you use social media in your classroom?

A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education (July 22) highlighted a conference in which a social media workshop was packed. Social media has the potential to change how we teach, learn and interact with each other. So how do you, or would you, implement social media in your classroom?

Several of us are considering starting a teaching-only Facebook profile for ourselves and inviting students to “friend” us. We were excited about the possibility of having our own discipline and teaching interests appear in our students’ news feeds. Would they read them? Would they spark additional classroom discussion? Would it stimulate “wall” discussions? These are some of the questions we hope to address.

The use of blogs as pedagogical tools was not fully explored at our meeting, but many of us might consider using them in the future. If nothing else, blogs may serve as a public record of our styles and teaching philosophies. This may be a useful and interactive teaching portfolio.

Hopefully, at a future GTC meeting, we can revisit this topic and learn more about open source social media. Those who proposed trying social media, or want to become more adept at using campus media services should share their outcomes. Feel to leave a comment, too, telling us how social media has (or hasn't) worked for you. If you say it on Twitter in 140 characters you should also come tell us at GTC!!


Cloete, Sonja et al. 2009. "Facebook as an academic tool for ICT lecturers".

Hewitt, A and A. Forte. 2006. "Crossing boundaries: identity management and student/faculty relationships on the Facebook".

Mazer, J.P. et al. 2007. "I'll see you on Facebook: the effects of computer-mediated teacher self-disclosure on student motivation, affective learning and classroom climate."


  1. Sounds like a great discussion! I've heard some teachers claim that holding discussions over social media has helped their students participate who typically hold back in the classroom, or even engage students more during lectures. Perhaps we can try some of these ideas out more first-hand in a future GTC!

  2. Mona asked me to post this for her:

    Mona's comment on social media discussion:
    - Facebook has meant to be for social networking.
    - Facebook is not accessible from every library or work location. For
    example, my off campus work location prohibits entering this site and
    other sites like youtube. Until we can change this perspective, students
    and teachers both may struggle.
    - Invade all privacy. It allows “coworkers and colleagues” , who are in
    some cases should only stay in the work or class setting to enter my
    personal life and see my friends and what I did the other day outside work.
    - Abuse could happen.
    - There are copyright issues and terms of use and conditions. When using
    face book for a university class, which policy and rules you will be
    applying and how can the two policies not having a conflict of interest.
    - For our emotional development and recreation, entering face book should
    be only for social reasons not for study. Besides, from human being
    perspective, you many not resist looking at a note from your friend while
    you are involved in class discussion or so.
    - Using face book would simply stick us to the screen longer than we
    already are stick to it. Hence, it reduces the human-to-human
    - I believe keeping social life separated from work and study life is a
    better idea, otherwise, the mix invalidate all what we preached for in
    regards to this point for years.
    - I am not in favor of inviting “facebook” culture to the classroom.

  3. I think Mona raises some good points. But I also think that the reason facebook has such a bad rap is because we (as a society) haven't yet used it for things other than social networking. It's associated with a young crowd and a lot of people put things up there they don't want their classmates, professors, and/or students to see.

    However, facebook's privacy options allow all to create 'limited profiles' where students, TAs and profs can all share somethings with their friends on one list, and not with friends on another list. Additionally, nothing is stopping anyone from creating an additional 'academic profile' similar to a faculty web page perhaps.

    I'm not saying it's for everyone, and I'm not even necessarily saying that it is a good thing to add as a part of a curriculum, but I think as a supplement to the class, it's a great opportunity to use an avenue of communication students are already using to share academic material. I think it really goes hand in hand about what Mara said about encouraging our students to be life long learners.

    Think about all the interesting articles some of your friends post on facebook. You read a few right? And you learn something, right? Imagine being able to post articles relevant to your classroom in a place your students are already checking. I know personally I am more likely to click a link in my news feed than follow one sent in a mass email for academic purposes. Are you? Are your students?

  4. More examples of facebook and education: