Twenty years ago, the best way to contact professors was to go to their office. Now, students only need to fire up their computers.
Traditionally, social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Skype have been used for entertainment purposes, but recently, their integration into the classroom has changed the landscape of post-secondary education. Educators are slowly realizing that these tools can be used to bridge the generational gap between themselves and their students.
Heidi Everett, an English professor at SCSU, said that implementing social media into the classroom is the future.
“We need to step up,” Everett said. “More importantly we need to teach appropriate navigation among the vehicles. For example, it is not acceptable to include ‘OMG’ and ‘WTF’ in a professional post, unless you have a very specific niche audience.”
Realizing that social media is the future of the classroom, Everett herself has stepped up and incorporated Twitter, Facebook, and WordPress blogs into her business writing and advanced civic writing classes. In her business writing class, she has students maintain a communications blog and use Twitter to drive traffic into those blogs.
“Their final project is a strategic initiative that they need to generate interest in, as well as keep key constituents informed through a variety of communication sources,” Everett said.
Everett sees multiple benefits with using social media in the classroom. She said that social media platforms help to teach integration and “allow for discussions about appropriate content in an environment that students are accustomed to, but don’t usually think about.”
Additionally, the use of social media in the classroom teaches students the importance of stepping back to actually edit and proof their works instead of falling prey to the fluid, instantaneous environment of the Internet, Everett said.
Plamen Miltenoff, Rich Josephson, and Karen Thoms, all members of the Information Media community, also see the benefits of using social media within the classroom.
Miltenoff is specifically interested in the usefulness of Skype. Originally, he only used the program to keep in touch with family members, but he has since realized that Skype can be used to extend his office hours. He is currently experimenting with the capabilities of the program.
“I’m testing to see if there is merit,” Miltenoff said.
Miltenoff seems concerned that American schools are not experimenting with the use of social media as much as other countries, a problem which he says may cause us to lose the technology race.
Other countries are using Facebook and Skype and making great progress with it, but since they do not speak English, we don’t pay attention to them, Miltenoff said.
Josephson seems to agree with Miltenoff that certain components of social media need to be explored.
“Cost effectiveness is a major component,” Josephson said.
Josephson pointed out that social media tools, such as Skype, are free; therefore, these applications are natural choices for educators.
Thoms agreed with Josephson, saying that Skype would work well for bringing in guest speakers who would not have been able to speak otherwise.
“The budget is not there to have speakers and such come in, so Skype is essential,” Thoms said.
These professors are not the only educators who are trying to incorporate some form of social media their lesson plans. Kimberly Biddick, a first year student at SCSU, says that her philosophy professor has adapted the use of Facebook into her Philosophy 194 classroom.
“Philosophy is a hard subject, so it is nice to find helpful links and examples on (my professor’s) Facebook page,” Biddick said. “Most students are on Facebook already so it’s simple to check his page for new information.”
Biddick says that her professor has the class syllabus, helpful links pertaining to the class, and sample problems to aid in homework on each of his Facebook pages.
“I feel a lot more comfortable contacting him through Facebook because it is something I am already so familiar with, and it is a comfortable medium for me to use,” Biddick said.
However, educators and students alike do not discount that there are also problems with using social media in the classroom.
Everett said that when trying to access content from Twitter, she is sometimes unable to view older tweets. For this reason and many more, Twitter or Facebook accounts used solely for the purpose of a class may cause problems later.
In order to avoid these issues, Everett asks all of her students to put disclaimers onto their pages so that viewers realize the accounts are only being used to fulfill the requirements of a class assignment. She then gives specific class time at the end of each semester for students to delete these accounts; however, sometimes students do not delete them, and they later suffer the consequences.
“Younger generations seem to be pretty open with information, good and bad,” Everett said. “Learning to discern appropriate and inappropriate content is essential.
“Once something is on the Internet, it is there for life,” Josephson said, “so if I have to make a student do a controversial paper about race, abortion, or some other touchy subject, it could impact their career, or worse, their life.”
Josephson is concerned that the use of so much technology within the classroom may cause a student’s personal life to leak into their school life; however, he believes this issue can be abated if professors have the proper mindset when dealing with social media. He said that professors need to realize that social media should be used as a tool for education, not as a tool to get to know their students better.
Though there are both negative and positive aspects of using social media in various environments, technology is slowly becoming more and more integrated into society’s norms. Facebook, Skype, and other social media platforms are rapidly expanding from solely entertainment purposes to educational environments. Whether students are willing to embrace the change or not, they will eventually play a huge role in determining exactly where this new direction leads.
“As scholars, we need to understand how our once rigid communications landscape is changing,” Everett said.
For more information about social media at SCSU, you can visit the social media directory at http://www.stcloudstate.edu/news/socialmedia.asp.
Additional Authors: Rachel Thielman, Lindsey Rogers, and Ryan Stein