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Effective Use of Social Media to Promote Learning


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[dropcap]M[/dropcap]ost faculty assume that students would welcome any use of social media in a course. After all, social media use is ubiquitous among students outside of class, and many students are already surreptitiously using it during class. But instructors often find that students are far less enthusiastic about social media in courses than they are about using it for their own purposes. Does this mean that there is no place for social media use in class? Not quite. It simply means that instructors need to understand student attitudes toward social media so they can incorporate it into their courses in constructive ways. Academic expectations Students come to college with the assumption that knowledge will transfer from the faculty member to them. This passive, one-way information flow is analogous to the traditional, web 1.0 webpage, such as a coffee shop’s website, which we use only to look up information, such as the shop’s hours. Web 2.0 technology, like social media, is used to gather contributions to the website from the users. Sites such as Facebook do not add the content themselves, they merely set up the structure in which the user will create and share content. Students who come to college expecting to passively absorb information from their instructors will not feel comfortable contributing information in class as they do with social media sites. Some even think that soliciting information from students undermines the educational process by turning students into teachers, whereas students have paid the experts to be teachers. (See “She Didn’t Teach Us, We Had to Learn it Ourselves”) This resistance can be addressed by being clear about the purpose of integrating social media into the learning experience. The purpose is not to simply use a new tool to teach the same old way. In other words, students must become involved in applying, analyzing, and creating information, not simply receiving it. Nor is it about generating interest in the course topic. The mere use of texting does not itself create interest in a course topic. The purpose is to improve learning by making it an active experience. The instructor needs to explain that the traditional view of learning under which many students come into the college classroom is faulty. Information is not transferred from the head of the instructor to the head of the student like moving data between databases. It is built in each student’s mind. Social media provides engagement with ideas needed for learning. When students answer a question via Twitter, they must first think about the content and develop a concise written response, which hardens it in their memory. When they text examples of a concept, they are connecting it with something they already know, which is a key to retention.  When they post photos they took to illustrate concepts covered in class, they are recalling course concepts outside of the lecture and deepening their understanding of those concepts through application to real-life situations. These types of activities can improve learning without “sucking all the fun” out of social media. Lack of authenticity When students are being assessed, they tend to give the instructor what they think he or she wants, not what they really think, feel, or believe. They figure the instructor has one correct answer in mind when giving an assessment, so it’s a matter of figuring out what that is and regurgitating it back. This is the opposite mindset to what they are used to in social media. Whether it is a YouTube video comment, Tweet, Instagram post, or text message, student always make authenticity their first priority.  Social media posts are fundamentally intended to express what the person posting genuinely believes, not what the person thinks will match what others believe. That makes social media, by nature, not ideal for assessment purposes. This presents the instructor with a conundrum. The instructor wants to grade the activity to ensure that students take it seriously, but assigning a grade can undermine the authenticity of the activity. One solution is to provide only a relatively small participation grade for those who meet a minimum posting requirement. It’s also good to craft the activity so that it is not simply a request for the correct information. Many instructors make this mistake when they create discussion questions that require students to cite resources.  This turns them into mini-essay questions, not discussion questions.  We don’t expect people to cite resources when we chat with them over coffee. By the same token, discussion within an LMS or on social media should not be just the students taking turns posting mini-essays on a topic. It should be a more free-flowing expression of individual student’s own beliefs. Separating the grade from the content of the postings can also improve the quality of student thinking. As Daniel Pink points out, external rewards like grades diminish performance in complex tasks, such as engaging academic concepts. Thus, if a faculty member can foster an internal motivation for participation, the performance should improve (Pink, 2009).  A faculty member who demonstrates genuine interest in a student’s thoughts by replying to postings will likely motivate the student more than a grade would. Privacy concerns Faculty who have tried using Facebook in their courses often find that students tend to think of social media as “their private thing” that should be separate from the classroom. Students personalize their accounts with funny profile pictures or memes to express who they are. They also have numerous postings meant only for friends. To open up these accounts to their instructor or classmates feels like an invasion of privacy. This is a legitimate concern. In response, students should be allowed and encouraged to create separate social media accounts for class-specific use. Social media allows students to learn in ways that traditional teaching methods cannot. In particular, it lets students to connect their education with experiences outside of the classroom. It also injects some authenticity into how they engage with course concepts. Understanding the advantages of using social media in education, as well as its particular nature as a form of communication, will allow the instructor to incorporate it into their teaching in ways that motivate and engage students. Reference Pink, D. (2009). The Puzzle of Motivation. TEDTalk. Found at: https://www.ted.com/talks/dan_pink_on_motivation.