Teaching with Social Media

At our latest UWSocial meeting, we heard from two UW-Madison professors who use social tools within and outside of the classroom experience. Because they teach in journalism and life sciences communications, it would be easy to write them off as exceptions to the rule when it comes to creative learning approaches. However, some of the ideas and challenges they shared would benefit any professor or teacher who’s looking to innovate.

Highlights

  • Explore social tools beyond just Facebook and Twitter.
    What works for one learning environment might not work well for another group. Rather than banking on one specific social platform, it’s appropriate to keep an eye out for the best new social tool for your class context. If Twitter isn’t cutting it for your group, maybe Ning or Tumblr will fit your specs.
  • Bringing social tools into the classroom can also look like using social tools outside the classroom.
    One of the professors heavily pioneered social media in the classroom — a Twitter backchannel, fake live tweeting assignments in which she talks to her class via Skype, polls that gauge comprehension during class, etc. The other deploys social tools outside of the classroom context — Google docs for team project collaboration, Twitter engagement for students who are quiet in class, Skype for virtual office hours, and Tumblr for sharing an up-to-date syllabus.
  • Bringing social media into the classroom can benefit students.
    It teaches them to communicate professionally across different platforms. It allows them to use the tools for good, rather than for evil (evil being random Facebook surfing during class).

Challenges

  • Both professors acknowledged that they have personal “rules” for how they engage with students in the social realm.
    One doesn’t accept Facebook friend requests from current students. The other is a bit more flexible, but admits that she has this flexibility because all of her social accounts are intended for professional use rather than personal use.
  • How do you grade a successful tweet?
    Is participation enough, or should teachers grade qualitatively as well? If there’s any best practices for teaching with social media, I sure haven’t heard about them yet.

I’m sure I’m forgetting many of the interesting points from this conversation, but I was glad to hear actual professors engage in a discussion on this topic. I just wish more teachers were ready to eagerly dive into this conversation.