Editor’s note: How and when should social media be incorporated into today’s higher education? Carolyn Mae Kim, a hands-on professor teaching in the Journalism & Integrated Media department at Biola University, has some great tips and strategies to help today’s educators answer this important question.
As a PR practitioner turned professor, it just makes sense to me to use social media in the classroom. We’re preparing students to enter an industry that is fast paced, highly connected and always on. Over the last four years as I’ve taught in higher education, I’ve realized the value of using social media in a class extends beyond just preparation for the PR industry. It’s a tool to help students of all disciplines become self-directed learners.
Faculty should be concerned with not only a single course’s learning outcomes, but the overall education of a student. Using social media to create Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) can be a powerful step towards empowering students to actively facilitated their education. Nada Dabbagh and Anastasia Kitsantas suggest that there are three stages which faculty can guide students through using social media:
- Create Personal Learning Environments
- Interact and Collaborate with Others Through These Environments
- Aggregated and Develop Content To Give others
Practical social media application in the classroom is vital
While theory is good, practical application is vital. Here is how I’ve integrated these stages into courses.
Creating personal learning environments
The first stage is creating personal learning environments. As an instructor, the goal with this stage is to create a space for students to participate in learning. Faculty might have students create blogs, use a course learning software’s discussions, or even create a Facebook Group. My personal preference is to create a hashtag for classes. While this isn’t a set physical presence, it is a space in the digital world that students know they can interact with and go to for information. Plus, it can span a couple platforms.
Creating a hashtag for your class
I create a hashtag that is short enough to not interfere with content, but unique from other class hashtags. For example, my Intro to Public Relations class at Biola University in 2011 was #BUPR11. I place this on my syllabus so students all have it handy. Then, I model what I expect. I’ll share articles, videos from class lectures, or other resources that would be helpful. Our students don’t face an issue of not having the right information at their fingertips. They face having too much information. Using PLEs to illustrate ways to find and identify information is extremely important. Thus, modeling how to share the right kind of resources is very important.
Interacting and collaborating with others through these environments
Second, faculty should encourage interaction and collaboration. This is one of my favorite parts. The beauty of social media is that it is dynamic. Students respond to their peers with answers, resources or questions. This is an important key to developing students’ learning. They begin to realize they don’t have to rely on you, as the professor, to answer everything. As an added bonus, this has the potential to cut down the amount of repetition faculty face in answering the same questions for multiple individuals. Instead, just send out the answer into the digital world. Students are able to access it and share it with others as needed.
In addition, I’ve found I always learn something new in this stage. When I require students to “sign in” for attendance by tweeting a resource related to the class topic, I immediately see new articles or videos that I hadn’t yet discovered. It’s always a bonus to highlight some of these in class, as it helps students feel recognized and valued. To me, that is extremely important when using social media as a way to develop PLEs. There’s a long history that shows connection to faculty help students learn and perform better. Social media is just one more way we can build that connection.
Aggregating and developing content to give others
Finally, you want to help students develop their own content. This requires a higher level of active learning. One way I do this is by having students create infographics around a given topic. For example, in one class I had them create an infographic about the four-step PR campaign process. I loved seeing students tweet and share their infographics after class, just in case “new PR students” needed any help. This was the perfect illustration of one student’s PLE informing the early stages of younger students’ learning.
There are any number of ways students can create their own content. You might encourage them to make a video, develop an infographic, write a blog post, or create some other form of media. Every class, no matter what the topic (not just PR and communication courses), can integrate this final stage. Faculty can encourage the use of these newly develop resources to study for tests, to share with lower division students or to include within a final project. Rather than relying on someone else’s resource, they’re now able to use their own.
Social media provides a dynamic landscape where students can create, share and develop their individual learning environments. But there are some key considerations faculty should have in mind:
1) Be purposeful and strategic
Rather than incorporating social media into a class as a last-minute add on, consider purposefully using social media for key assignments that help students go from content users to content creators.
2) Be active with your students on social media.
In a study I conducted with students’ perceptions of faculty using social media in class, students expressed how easy it is to feel overlooked by faculty. Be sure you’re replying, liking, following, or whatever the appropriate action is on a given platform. Your students want to be seen by you and validated. Consider highlighting the top tweets or 5 instagrams or best articles each week at the beginning of class. Students love lists like this and it’s a great opportunity to help students shine. Just be sure you don’t always highlight the same ones.
3) Exploring and learning is a natural part of using social media
Be open with your students when you’re testing something new out in a class. They’ll be willing to give you feedback and let you know if it worked well. Plus, their suggestions can be invaluable in refining the assignment for future semesters.
Carolyn Mae Kim teaches at Biola University in the Journalism & Integrated Media department, where she launched and leads the public relations major. She earned her PhD in Communication from Regent University and focused on credibility in social media for organizations. Her research specialties include social media, digital communication and credibility in public relations. She is an accredited public relations professional (APR), who also serves on the board of the Orange County chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. Connect with her on Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+. Also, check out her blog here.