To tweet, or not to tweet

by Samantha Stark

The first day of class this semester, MSUM professor Whitney Nelson told her social media campaigns course students to join Twitter.

The assignment: To get comfortable with social media.

As more professors incorporate social media in the classroom, they have to seek out new teaching and learning theories for incorporating the technology in academically meaningful ways.

At the beginning of each class period, Nelson has students check-in by answering a daily question on Twitter and/or giving feedback to their peers by connecting to the course hashtag — #COMM352. In addition to Twitter, Nelson pushes her students to learn the basics of other social media channels including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube and Pinterest.

“I think it teaches students how to use social media channels appropriately,” said Nelson, who also works as a digital marketing strategist at Onsharp.  “Students need to remember that their digital footprint isn’t going to disappear; what is on the Internet stays on the Internet.”

According to Nelson, it’s important for students to start building professional social media profiles due to employers increased interest in researching potential employees through social media channels.

“The earlier students can understand that and start building a positive first impression, the better they will look to future employers,” she said.

Recent studies on social media use in and out of the classroom

According to a report by the Babson Survey Research Group and Pearson Learning Solutions, about 40 percent of faculty members used social media as a teaching tool in 2013, an increase from 33.8 percent in 2012.

“I think it can be a really useful tool to get students connecting and talking about what they’re learning,” Nelson said. “By using Twitter in the classroom, students can collaborate and provide value to one another without having to disrupt the class discussion or speak up directly if they aren’t comfortable speaking in class.”

Faculty members’ use of social media has been steadily increasing since the survey was first conducted in 2010, said Jeff Seaman, co-director of the Babson Survey Research Group, in a recent statement with Inside Higher Ed.

“Faculty are not only expanding their use of social media, but also becoming more sophisticated in their use,” he said in the statement.

Nelson said it’s important that students and professors understand how to use social media appropriately so they don’t find themselves in an awkward or detrimental situation later due to unprofessional or indecorous posts they created in their past.

Perks of professors using social media 

Nelson doesn’t just use social media for attendance, but she encourages her students to reach out to her after office hours when they have questions regarding assignments.

“This semester, I sent a link of an Instagram account to a student who was looking for inspiration for their project via Twitter,”  she said, after being tagged in a tweet from the student asking for homework help.

In addition, Nelson gets instant cell phone notifications from Twitter send to her phone, allowing her to provide answers almost immediately.

Being the fastest form of communication available for student-professor contact, social media has increased Nelson’s ability to converse with students in and out of the classroom faster then emailing.

“Personally, I check my Twitter account much more frequently than I check my email, so I am able to provide nearly real-time communication to students,” she said, admitting that these types of questions through Twitter have been fun to answer in 140 characters or less. “(Twitter) also helps when students are working on a project and just need brief feedback so they can continue with their project.”

In addition to making her more accessible, Nelson believes that this form of teaching has given students an inside look into her personality and helped her build trusting relationships with her students.

“By sharing a little bit of yourself through social media, it makes professors more relatable which, in my experience, has made students more open to asking questions and participating in class,” she said.

Adjusting to modern forms of communication

When incorporating any kind of media, educators must consider the mission of the course, the technologies used and the pedagogical approach to designing and delivering learning activities. With the multitude of tools and approaches available, the challenge is finding an approach that has the most meaningful learning outcome.

Though integrating social media uses into the classroom isn’t the right fit for every course or profession, social media isn’t going away anytime soon, so professors should at least consider knowing the basics of social media channels, Nelson added.

“In my classroom, we do a lot of collaborating together,” Nelson said. “The Twitter usage is typically a daily check-in question or providing ideas to groups that are presenting or sharing their projects to provide additional ideas and support.  It doesn’t dilute the quality of face-to-face interaction. If anything, it just adds another layer of communication.”

Some professor’s fear that using social media in and out of their classroom dilutes face-to-face interaction, although Nelson believes it has increased student participation in class and bettered her professor-to-student relationships.

“I still tweet back and forth with students from last semester and last fall,” she said.

Nelson has helped students with updates to their LinkedIn Profiles, sent students leads for jobs and internships, and even answered social media related questions while they were in internship positions and post-college careers.

“It is fun to see them succeed and apply the things they learn in class,” she said. “I love that I can continue to be an accessible resource to students after they leave the classroom.”

Due to students’ lack of social media training in college, Nelson has helped companies and other individuals learn how to use Twitter for driving sales, recruiting, creating customer loyalty and other applications beyond the everyday, personal use.

“When used strategically, Twitter can also help students build their professional network and reputation online,” she added. “It is important to learn these things before graduation so that you can have a reputable presence online while you’re searching for your first post-grad job.”

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