Although there are already a number of instructors across disciplines and institutions using social media in their classrooms, there are also a number who shy away from these technologies. Some instructors are hesitant because they do not have social media accounts and do not feel that they have the time to commit to it now. Others are wary of student interest and engagement and worry that if students are permitted to use social media accounts, they will lose focus on their coursework.
Generally, the term social media is linked to individual use of certain websites such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or Pinterest. Social media actually refers to any type of writing that has large social engagement, and this includes blogs and wikis. Along with targeted use of Facebook etc., blogs and wikis afford the opportunity for many people to engage, interact and respond.
While Twitter is my favorite social media tool to use in my classrooms, Twitter is a big step for a hesitant instructor. My suggestion is to take small steps with a blog:
- Start by investigating the social tools that your LMS (learning management system) offers. In Oxford, that means WebLearn, but for other universities that could be Blackboard or a variety of other tools. Many of these tools have blog, forum and wiki capabilities.
- Investigate any WebLearn training (or training for your LMS if you’re outside Oxford) and ask for help (virtual or face-to-face).
- Begin with one blog assignment such as an introductory forum. Have students introduce themselves at the beginning of the semester and share some information about their lives or interest in the course. Require that the students respond to one another.
- Try to engage as well. Comment on a few students’ posts to see if they respond or how they react.
- Evaluate the workflow and outcomes of this small implementation. Did it go well? Did you feel unprepared? Did you (dis)like the concept of blogs or wikis, but (dis)like the setup of this particular one?
Once you make a small step, you will feel more comfortable taking additional steps. If this initial blog is successful, then you could require blog posts as a weekly assignment. Or you could move outside WebLearn or your LMS to a blog website like Blogger or WordPress (see Thing 2: Setting up a blog, for help).
Eventually, you could venture into more experimental social media websites such as Twitter. Always take time to familiarise yourself with a new technology before implementing it in the classroom. Allow yourself a time to learn the etiquette and capabilities of a social media website in case your students have questions. You will find a tool that works for you, the students, and your specific discipline. Before you know it, you’ll will be a social media expert!
Dr Abigail G Scheg is an Assistant Professor of English at Elizabeth City State University in the department of Language, Literature, and Communication (LLC). She researches and publishes in the areas of online pedagogy, social media, first-year composition, and popular culture. On the off chance she is not working, Dr. Scheg can be found enjoying time with her husband, family, friends, or traveling.