5 Ways to Make the Most of Social Media in the Classroom

Feb 13, 2015

You know students are already doing it. I can’t begin to count the number of times I see classmates vigorously searching for a distraction from class on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr—the list goes on.

There is a way for professors in higher ed to use these powerful networks not only to enhance the classroom experience, but also to engage students in a way that appeals to both their interests and preferred learning style.

1. Write in Student Blog

In the class Social Media: Connectivity, Interactivity, Buzz, taught at Emerson College as a part of the Marketing Communication major, founding instructor David Gerzof Richard encouraged students to participate in a class blog (among many other social media strategies). In class, we were asked to participate in a class blog where we had to create content focused on one industry or interest and to discuss the influence of social media in that area of interest.

These weekly blog assignments pushed us to stay up to date in the industries we hoped to work in, critically analyze current trends in social media, and reflect on how these trends will impact us when we finally enter the field. Not only did they keep our research chops sharp, but they also laid the foundation for establishing ourselves as social media thought leaders.

2. Use One Hashtag with Guest Speakers

We all quickly got into the habit of collaborating to create one Twitter hashtag to stick to as soon as a guest speaker would walk in the room. At first, I never understood the importance of sticking to one hashtag.

Now I realize that with this hashtag, we took all of our guest speakers to another level. Together we created a unique lecturing experience, which included live-tweeting quotes, feedback, and questions. All of the content linked to the single hashtag created a conversation that expanded far beyond our classroom. It’s always entertaining to see what your classmates pick up on during the presentation.

3. Reach Out to the Experts

There is always talk about how social media gives us the ability to extend our networks and connect with people across the world. Yet how many times are students encouraged to make the most of this possibility?

The final project in Social Media: Connectivity, Interactivity, Buzz encouraged students to attempt just that. Gerzof Richard asked students to connect with a local celebrity—using only social media—with the end goal of having the celebrity teach one class on social media strategies. In the fall of 2013, our class created a strategy to reach out to Julian Edelman via Twitter using the customized hashtag #Edelman2Emerson.

It is safe to say that I had never had an assignment like this before in my entire student career. Looking back on every step of the process, from testing out hashtags to drafting tweets to the New England Patriots’ player, I learned an immense amount about the power of social media. With the right amount of research, a well-thought-out strategy, and a dependable team, our class was able to bring in a true example of a social media expert making it work in the field.

4. Encourage Students to Use Personal Accounts

Many students resort to creating a dummy social media account, whose sole reason for existing is for class assignments. Yet when students create these additional accounts, it causes more harm than help. Not only does it create an online split personality between personal and class accounts, but it can also hinder students from learning the importance of digital citizenship.

When students are asked to use their personal accounts, they are challenged to tailor assignments to their interests, and in turn, they gain a self-awareness of their current online presence. In addition, the student then has a personal account that they are proud to show future employers.

5. Go Beyond Aggregating

This has to be the number-one mistake that most teachers make when bringing social media into assignments. Although assigning students to tweet relevant and current articles to the class hashtag is a valid integration of social media, teachers should never limit themselves to this method. Edutopia has gathered a refreshing list of ways to integrate social media.

Whether it’s live tweeting your response to an article, performing qualitative research through conversation monitoring, or tweeting questions to a guest speaker, instructors should find relevant ways to engage students in a new level of learning on social media.

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