Friday, March 22, 2013

Social media in classroom

"twitterclassroom," an image remix by brunsell on Flickr.

A recent article posted on the UW News highlights the increasing use of social media tools in classrooms around campus. As one of the most popular social networking tool, Twitter has been added to the syllabus of ten courses this semester. Twitter makes the interaction between students and instructors more direct and flexible. Instructors can expand the classroom teaching to online space and organize meaningful discussions using hash tags. Twitter also presents an effective platform for students to actively engage in discussing class materials, sharing opinions, and even collaborating on class notes.

Fortunately, I used to work as a teaching assistant for LSC 440: Contemporary communicationtechnologies and their social effects for two semesters. Don Stanley, a recent award-winning instructor in LSC is one of the pioneer teachers on campus who incorporate Twitter and other social media tools into teaching and learning activities. He invited guest speakers who were on the front lines of using social media to class. Students heard how Carey Fuller from Seattle, Washington, as a homeless mother made invisible people visible through blogging. Students also learned how a Hollywood actress, Colleen Wainwright shaved herself bald and raised $50,000 in 50 days for nonprofits by spreading a self-made video via Twitter. Andy Smith, co-author of the class textbook The Dragonfly Effect, had a face-to-face conversation via Skype with students about how to develop a strategic plan for social marketing.

Most importantly, students did not only learn about others’ successful experiences in leveraging social media tools for gaining valuable resources, they also got hands-on experiences using these tools to build communities and to create meaningful change. Part of my task as a TA was to monitor and guide students’ efforts on developing strategic social marketing plans for campus organizations. I was also responsible to initiate and lead discussions on Twitter. Compared to traditional face-to-face discussions in small groups, Twitter discussions are vital because the tool enables both one-to-one and one-to-many communications. Students can even build direct contact with guest speakers and maintain long lasting interactions via Twitter.  

However, from a teaching perspective, I think adopting social media tools in classroom can be a double-edged sword. Despite the potential merits of using Twitter described above, students can be distracted and have difficulty in concentrating on the lecture content. Some students said they felt comfortable to use live tweets to enhance understanding of class material, while a few students expressed reluctance to tweet during class. Also, the 140 character limit constrains the accuracy and depth of the ideas that can be communicated via the platform. Twitter is good for spreading catchphrases that convey sparkle ideas. Yet instructors may still need to organize frequent group meetings in order to help students develop critical thinking and collaborative skills. As Twitter and other social networking tools have been increasingly used in classroom, it’s time for us as future educators to think about what would be the best way to use these tools to improve the quality of teaching and learning.

- Nan Li

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