Although the theory behind using social media sites in the classroom is at times lacking, accounts of actual practices abound.
Among professors who use Twitter, many incorporate it as a way to improve class participation and communication. Barb Dybwad reports on Mashable.com that Purdue University tested Hotseat, an integration of Twitter, Facebook, and text messaging. It was optional for students as a way to foster communication and discussion during class, yet 73% of the students tried it. Sugato Chakravarty, a professor whose class used Hotseat, does warn that instructors must be ready for unpleasant remarks that are delivered this way—criticism or corrections—but claims this kind of interaction allows students to engage in an entirely new way. Likewise, Greg Ferenstein writes that Twitter can be used in large lecture classes to increase participation and create a community via students’ conversations. Students can reply to each other and discuss class lectures during class, but Ferenstein also acknowledges the asynchronous aspect of communicating on Twitter that allows conversations to continue even after class ends. Jeff Young reports in The Chronicle of Higher Education that Cole W. Camplese teaches with two screens up in his classroom at Pennsylvania State University. One screen contains his slides for lecture and the other is a Twitter stream of his students’ observations or questions. The goal of this, Camplese says, is to “allow new kinds of teaching in which students play a greater role and information is pulled in from outside the classroom walls.”
This sense of community is found with other social media sites as well. Jacob Schroeder and Thomas J. Greenbowe report that almost half of the students in an organic chemistry class voluntarily joined a Facebook group to communicate with other students in the class. Because many students already have Facebook, the authors conclude it could be the result of convenience that students used the site rather than WebCT, a function of Blackboard.
Communication by the use of social media is not just during classes, however. Elaine Young uses Twitter as a networking tool for business students, Howard Rheingold uses it as an extension of office hours, and William Kist finds it a good way to network with colleagues (Miners). Steven Engler, a religion professor, tested students on links and stories he shared on Twitter (@rels1101).
But educators know the uses of Twitter extend far beyond the classroom. Mia Moody, who implements Twitter as a way to communicate without email and allow students to analyze media news outlets, suggests asking students for their ideas on the topic, claiming, “Students often know more about social media than faculty” (8).
Whether an urge to reach out to students or a desire to teach with the latest technology, some departments have created entire courses focused on Twitter. These courses, however, have experienced a variety of reactions.
Australia’s Griffith University made Twitter education mandatory for those studying journalism. The university created this course in response to pressure from employers who want new hires that are knowledgeable about social media. Students’ reactions, however, were mixed. DePaul University’s Craig Kanalley created “Digital Editing: From Breaking News to Tweets,” a class that deciphers and evaluates the journalistic information found on the Internet. The class, hailed the only known course centered on Twitter, received attention from Ryan Tate, an editor at Gawker.com. While Gawker is a news and gossip website and blog, Tate’s write-up includes curiosity at the evolutionary course (albeit meshed with snarky comments regarding what he views as an underwhelming syllabus.)
While some articles suggest advice and practices for using Twitter in the classroom, none are more innovative than EDUCAUSE’s scenario found in “7 things you should know about…Microblogging.” The example given discusses Dr. LeClerc, who chaperones a class that goes to Paris to study French cinema. He creates a specific hashtag (a word or phrase after the # symbol that allows for easy searching) and tells the students to tweet as they venture around the city—incorporating text, videos, audio, and pictures. The students are then informed of what their classmates are doing to create a collective representation of the trip. To even further this scenario, the article claims this collective experience is monitored by a graduate course called “Documentary and New Media.” The grad students communicate with the undergrads to create a documentary using and remixing the video clips, posts, etc.
There are drawbacks and anxieties that come with this integration of social media, however. Michael J. Bugeja wrote an article for The Chronicle of Higher Education in 2006 that discusses the ethical implications of Facebook, especially regarding how students present themselves in the online world. Bugeja mentions measures professors can take to keep students off of the Internet and from using other technology during class.
Now fast-forward to five years later when implementing sites like Facebook in the classroom is a common practice. Michael R. Neal references the habit of educators to integrate new technology in schools but claims they are outdated by the time they are adapted for classroom use. Not only that, but the attraction is lost on students who might feel they are, as Neal phrases it, being “co-opted by authorities” (107).