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Connecting with Your Online Students via Social Media


online students social mediaIf you engage in social media and networking sites with your students, you are not alone. A study of faculty use of social media in higher education, published in 2011 by Pearson Learning Solutions and the Babson Survey Research Group found that “nearly two-thirds of all faculty have used social media during a class session” including course assignments. Faculty members participating in this survey, including online and on-campus instructors, also reported using “social media in their professional lives” described as “on the job, but not while teaching.”

For online instructors, social media platforms can provide additional and alternative avenues for communicating and building relationships with their students. Most systems are free to access and many are already used by a wide range of learners, but this form of networking is not without its challenges. The Pearson and Babson study also identified faculty concerns related to privacy, as well as integrity of student work.

Academic Impressions reminds us, however, that “social media technologies aren’t silver bullets,” but they can support teaching and learning when selected and implemented with specific goals in mind. As you explore the possibilities for you and your students, take a look at some of the practical approaches both in and out of class.

Social Media in Your Course

Social media can help you bridge the distance that exists in online learning, not only in terms of community and relationship-building, but also in expanding the technology options available within a course site. Consider trying some of the following techniques:

  • Introductory activities: Get to know your students through their social profiles and they get to know you, too. Ask learners to post links to their favorite, professional sites as part of the course introductions. The information they provide may also help in making assignments for group or team projects later on in the term.
  • Practice exercises: A case study presented by Academic Impressions explains the benefits of Twitter specifically as a tool for language practice in an Italian course at Montclair State University. Students held conversations in Italian through their 140 character tweets resulting in increased confidence and motivation.
  • Resource collections: An Edutopia editor recommends social bookmarking accounts, such as Diigo and Delicious, as tools for individual learners to build their own collections of articles and websites, which they can then also share with classmates. You could create an account for your course as well, or ask students to tag their entries with a class hashtag or predetermined keyword.
  • Announcements: Use social media as an alternate, virtual meeting place for course updates and notification. This can also be helpful to facilitate the quick relay of information should the course site encounter technical difficulty and not allow access for extended period of time. Include instructions for your social media “emergency channel” on your syllabus.

Social Media Use Outside of Class

Providing access to profiles and updates on sites like LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, and Facebook can extend your online presence well beyond the brief bio you post in your course. In my first week of the current semester, several students reached out via Facebook and LinkedIn, and I was happy to connect, having suggested these two sites during an online synchronous session. It’s not something all students will be interested in, but these networks will continue to exist after the term ends.

Here are a few ideas to guide these professional “on the job, but not while teaching” connections:

  • Establish some ground rules. You can decide how and when you’ll connect with current and past students, as well as colleagues and peers. You may prefer to keep some accounts private or personal in focus, while others can be designated for academic use. You may prefer to connect with students while they are still in your courses or wait until after they graduate.
  • Model professional behavior. Social media and networking sites provide an additional opportunity to demonstrate positive online interaction for your students. How do you want to be perceived? How would you expect them to conduct themselves online? Your behavior, language, etc. can set the tone.
  • Create an extended learning community. Facebook and LinkedIn both offer group functions with privacy features, allowing the creation of invitation-only areas. Would there be a benefit to communicating with past and current students in your courses, or with those who you advise, to share and network? This may be particularly relevant at the graduate level as students collaborate with each other and faculty members on projects both in and out of class.
  • Expand their (and your) professional networks. Today’s students may be tomorrow’s co-workers and colleagues. Social media can help you add students to your current circles and allow you to easily introduce them to other recommended resources such as professional associations.

Before moving forward with a new initiative in your course or with your students, check with your institution and program. There may be existing policies in place to guide how and when you contact your online students, as well as expectations for students using social media. For examples of these kinds of policies, search for colleges and universities from the more than 200 policies listed in the SocialMediaGovernance.com database.

What are your favorite ways to connect with students using social media? Share your ideas and recommendations with other readers here through the comments area.

Image credit: SalFalko, Flickr, CC:BY-NC

April 15th, 2013 written by Staff Writers

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