Social media in higher education

Last night I went to the holiday party for the Op-Ed Project and met two professors (CUNY and NYU) who are interested in making better use of social media in their higher education classrooms.  I spend a lot of my day helping IBMers using social media for business reasons so it was fun to take a moment to think about how Facebook, Twitter, et al are changing the face of the classroom.

At first glance making use of blogs and networking sites makes complete sense for education and it made me a little sad that my college courses (way back in the early 2000s) didn’t make substantial use of these tools.  One major goal of education is to help the teacher connect with her students so that ideas and questions can flow back and forth unimpeded.  Social media not only opens up that flow of knowledge but also can make it more personal and relevant on one hand, but also more accessible and opens source on the other.

Twitter in the classroom

We took it for granted that students are going to be on their phones and on their computers in class.  Instead of fighting that trend, we wanted to focus on the creative energy that could be unleashed by having all of the students connected to each other and to vast repositories of information.  One teacher used Twitter as a polling mechanism (for example, using http://polls.tw/ or http://mysurveysaid.com/) to ask the class questions and get feedback in real time.

This is helpful in the moment because the teacher can ratchet up student involvement and check to see what students have actually learned.  This information lets the teacher make adjustments (pivot) while in class.  The students can also learn about how the other students in the class feel on a given topic and perhaps test assumptions and ideas.  After class the teacher can blog about the twitter polls, and use data gleaned from the poll to craft lesson plans for future classes and perhaps modify plans for teaching the same class in the future.

A classroom hashtag can also be used with TweetChat to create a custom chatroom for the class with no additional overhead or logins.  For example, see http://tweetchat.com/room/soccer.  Replace “soccer” with your custom hashtag and you’re ready to go!  Students can participate in class, ask questions, and share links, all live and as part of the flow of class.  Polls and results can be shared easily in this manner.  Getting students thinking and interacting with the material sure beats a 50 minute lecture!

Other resources

We also brainstormed what other social media tools teachers can use to better engage with their students and assist in their development and learning.  For example, information doesn’t live in isolation anymore.  Anything a teacher brings up in class that interests a student can be looked into further, on public databases like wikipedia, public forums like blogs, and private ecosystems like LexisNexis or scholarly article repositories.  Like all websites, those sites (and URLs) that students find helpful can be shared, aggregated, and even voted on, just like news sites such as Digg.  That allows useful extensions of information to rise to the top and provide further details to what the students are learning.

I’m sure these two areas only scratch the surface of what social media can bring to the classroom.  Have you used anything that you found valuable?

Posted in Education, Social Media

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