Got An Example of That? Teaching & Learning with Social Media

I’ve been spending some significant time this week searching out examples of use of social media and networking tools in higher education. My curated content is available here on!

I have to say that it is harder than it should be to find detailed examples of how a professor designed assignments or whole courses around use of a social media tool. I’ve attended many conferences where I’ve seen presentations of use of social media, but to sit in my office and try to find good examples presented on the web is a bit harder to do. Some of my frustration is that I see vague descriptions of use of social media in an online course for example, but don’t have access to the course itself. Many of the courses described exist in a proprietary learning management system (LMS) owned and controlled by the university or college. It’s the same for my online courses at Pierce – the content exists behind that login wall and if I want to share the course with other practitioners, I would have to recreate it as an open website or some other sharable format.

I did find some nice examples of instructors blogging about their work and providing sites where I could actually see how the course was designed and how they integrated social networking or media into the course itself. Many also shared detailed assignments and research done around use of social media in their classes and it’s great to see this kind of information starting to get out “into the wild” where anyone can find it and benefit from lessons learned.

I was a little jealous of the fact that K-12  teachers seem so much more willing to experiment with some of these tools and also shared much more of their experiences on the web. We higher ed folks are a bit behind in the sharing of content department.

Takeaways for this investigation into teaching with social media and networking in higher education:

1. Twitter seems to be one of the most written about and implemented tools in higher education courses . I think it may have to do with the ease of use of the tool, the fact that students can set it up quickly and use it for many types of assignments and they can control use of the tool after the class is over (like deactivate and delete their accounts if they so choose).  I also picked up on the idea (through reading student responses to use of the tool)  that there was less of a “creepy-ness factor” with use of Twitter when students were asked about how comfortable they were when tweeting to the instructor or in a course.

2. While Facebook is a popular platform for personal use, professional or teaching use of this tool looks to be more geared toward use of groups or specific pages set up for a course.

3. There are examples of use of video tools like Skype, Youtube and Voicethread, but my sense is that these tools take more preparation and design in terms of how they will be used. And instructors need to be prepared to help students with tech issues a bit more with the use of these tools. Personally, I’m fine with helping students work through minor tech issues – I think these are digital skills that are part of my course outcomes – but some faculty may feel they don’t have the time or ability to provide tech support in addition to teaching their content.

4. The word “engagement” came up a lot in the blogs, articles and sites that I reviewed. There is still a huge debate about the appropriate role digital tools and social media should have in the world of higher learning and we are just now beginning to see actual data about how effective or how distracting these tools and teaching strategies can be. Are students really engaged in learning or is it mostly entertainment? I think there is still much to learn about how best to use social networking and media for teaching and learning, but the more we can share openly (“show your work” as Jane Bozarth would say) about what does and does not work for us as instructors, the more we can learn together.