7 ways social media can improve learning

Daily Briefing

7 ways social media can improve learning

Higher ed leaders often think about social media in the context of enrollment, from connecting with prospective, underrepresented students to engaging admitted students to reduce summer melt.

But social media has also opened the door to new forms of engagement both inside and out of the classroom—especially during COVID-19. For instance, several instructors have discussed how they’re not only using tried-and-true social media platforms in new ways, but also experimenting with emerging platforms to improve student outcomes.

Here’s how you can use various social media platforms to improve learning:

Streamline communication

Though younger generations are often criticized for being tethered to their devices, they don’t always open emails. Instead, many students say they regularly check social media—namely Twitter and Facebook—for campus updates, news, and events, according to an EAB student success blog post.

Instructors can build on students’ existing use of these platforms to deliver quick updates related to due dates or assignment parameters, or post information students might need throughout the term, like the contact information for the library help desk. For instance, Nicole Kraft, a professor at Ohio State University, says she takes attendance via Twitter, posts assignments on Slack, and even before the pandemic, held virtual office hours at night through Zoom. 

Post and share insights

Several instructors have begun experimenting with blogging platforms like EduBlogs and WordPress to create a space for students to post content. Information can be shared just with the class or the entire institution. 

Instructors are also experimenting with assigning students social media projects, to both allow students to explore their creativity and drive student engagement. For example, Meghan Sullivan, a professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, asked students to try out new activities with a philosophical dimension, then post their experiences on an Instagram account created specifically for the course.

The content students produce can even be repurposed for peer-advising and student teaching, suggests Vickie Cook, an associate professor and executive director of the Center for Online Learning, Research, and Service at the University of Illinois at Springfield. “Explain learning goals and let students determine how to meet them using technology,” recommends Cook. “Use the resources students produce—for example, a video on how to solve a math problem or conduct a biology experiment—for peer advising. This ‘near-peer’ model can be effective because students identify with the advisers.”

Facilitate discussion

To help students debate sensitive issues productively, some instructors have turned to Slack, an online messaging app.

“During [lectures], students are using Slack to post clarifying questions, challenging the reasoning of others, linking relevant multimedia sources to promote a deeper conversation or pushing the conversation in a different direction,” according to teachers Zach Seagle and Justin Taylor.

The messaging app teaches students how to be “reflective participants in a reactive digital world,” say Seagle and Taylor. Slack’s features make it easy for students to pay attention to their discussion techniques, reply to specific posts, and incorporate sources into their comments.

Lisa Collins, a visiting professor at Loyola University New Orleans, says she’s used Slack to bring students from a TV news production class and a capstone journalism class together to produce a newscast. “What I really appreciated about it was I could see discussion happening or not happening,” she says. “I could go in and… see who was contributing and who was not participating in the conversation, and that was really helpful as an educational tool where I could track student involvement.”

Connect students and faculty

In an interview with the Tea for Teaching podcast, Allegra Davis Hanna, a professor and department chair of English and Humanities at Tarrant County College (TCC), says that creating social connections with students is an often overlooked element of student success.

“So all the research shows that if you create community, students will stay in your course and will stay in college,” explains Misty Wilson-Merhtens, a professor and social sciences chair at TCC.

That’s why Hanna tells students that they can find her on Twitter, where she posts about “podcasts or articles about education, or about cool books or things just having to do with authors.”

Organize course materials

With digital curating tools, educators can keep class materials and resources organized in one location. Information can be collected with commercial tools such as Pinterest, as well as those specifically designed for educational purposes, such as Learnist. Instructors can even create course-relevant playlists on YouTube for students, notes Terry Anderson, a research associate at Contact North | Contact Nord, an organization that connects rural Ontarians with education and job training.

Foster collaboration

Networking tools that connect students and help them share documents facilitate collaboration. With tools such Google Docs, students always have access to the same versions of documents that their classmates are simultaneously using.

And ready-made social studying platforms like Piazza offer a space for students and faculty to collaborate on course material, notes Anderson. Faculty can address students’ questions and concerns and keep tabs on their progress. And advanced features such as email or text updates keep students informed about course developments.

Similarly, student-led Facebook study groups can be useful for sharing insights, questions, and tips. Groups can easily be expanded to include both current and former students in a class, allowing students to collect a trove of resources that can be constantly expanded.

“Finding ways to meet [students] halfway, using what feels normal for them and feels exciting can make your teaching that much more effective, rather than sticking your head in the sand.”

-Meghan Sullivan, professor of philosophy at University of Notre Dame

Elevate course materials

Nearly half of all Gen Zers (47%) spend at least three hours every day on Youtube, according to a survey by Pearson and The Harris Poll. The joint survey also reveals that Gen Zers prefer the platform over textbooks for learning.

Students say videos not only break down complex topics into digestible information, they’re also easy to follow, engaging, and relatable.

Therefore, instructors can create more engaging course content by incorporating audio and video with text and still images, writes Anderson. Social networking tools like VoiceThread make it possible to share video, audio, and text with students during live interactions.

Hanna and Wilson-Merhtens say that they also use several apps and platforms—like Screencast-O-Matic, Camtasia, iMovie, and Apple Clips—to create and edit instructional videos for in-person and online classes. They add that they often upload the videos to YouTube, which automatically adds captions to videos—making the content even more accessible to students.

 “Finding ways to meet [students] halfway, using what feels normal for them and feels exciting can make your teaching that much more effective, rather than sticking your head in the sand,” says Sullivan.

Sources: Anderson, ContactNorth/Contact Nord, 10/24/16; Lieberman, Inside Higher Ed, 2/27/19; Pappano, New York Times, 8/2/18; Seagle/Taylor, EdSurge, 5/21/18; Selingo, Chronicle of Higher Education, 10/31/18; Tea for Teaching podcast, 6/26/19; Yi, EAB, 8/12/16

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