The use of social media in online education is booming with so many options you could get stuck just trying to keep up. While we may want to try out every new tool, and feel pressure to be on the cutting edge, that endeavor could be a full-time job in and of itself, leaving us with little energy left over for teaching. A new post at Hybrid Pedagogy addresses the overwhelming nature of the availability of new digital tools and ways they could be conceivably used in education. My quick response to those in the social media storm is to "find the functionality you need – the tools and platforms will come and go."
Social media options not only allow for presentation of information, but also support connections among participants who access the information. Researchers Andreas M. Kaplan and Michael Haenlein published a definition of social media that includes "applications that … allow creation and exchange of user generated content." From wiki contributions and blog comments to tweets and live chats there are many ways you can incorporate social media in your online course to improve communication, build a learning community, and supplement course materials and activities, all of which are important aspects of student engagement when they, like you, are working at a distance.
Don't add social media, or any new tool, just for the sake of adding it. Explore the ways in which these applications can help you and your students reach course goals and objectives, encouraging collaboration and engagement along the way. Here’s a quick list of ideas from other educators around the web:
- Create a class hashtag. These keywords used with the "#" symbol allow you and your students to filter the Twitter stream for information related to the course. Anna Smith uses #teachread with her students and works with them to identify other relevant social media links associated with course reading.
- Develop a dynamic presentation. While the debate about online lectures continues, there are social options available to enhance your presentations and those of your students. Professor Russ Meade's VoiceThread assignments are featured on the application's website. This tool allows for asynchronous viewing as well as commenting via text, audio, and video. Meade suggests a variety of possibilities such as creating a new approach to course introductions.
- Create a movie trailer. How do you welcome students and introduce them to your course? Take a look at this "Grad Course Movie Trailer" created by Alec Couros for EC&I 831 at the University of Regina and posted on YouTube. Andew Marcinek suggests movie trailer options for student assignments using Animoto as a new way to approach student demonstration of learning and provide an opportunity to experiment with technology.
- Stock a course library. Social bookmarking sites, such as Diigo, can be used to not only tag and groups articles and other web-based resources for your students to access, but also allows you and them to leave notes and highlight selected passages. Group forums are also an option.
- Encourage online study groups. The collaborative nature of most social media applications makes them a great fit for bringing students together online for conversations, group projects, writing assignments, and more. Ellen Bremen recently outlined the study support possibilities of social media tools. When students are connected on a platform, such as Facebook, they can exchange questions, ask for help, and generally encourage each other's academic efforts through wall posts and status updates.
- Develop your digital identity. Last on my list, but certainly not least, how are you presenting yourself online? What will students in your next term find when they Google your name? Think about how your thoughtful use of social media could help students get to know you and connect with you online. Consider social networking options like LinkedIn and activities such as blogging. Duke University's Center for Instructional Technology presents two faculty blogs, from Mark Anthony Neal and Misha Angrist, as examples.
All of these activities are designed to encourage student engagement – with you as the instructor, with each other as classmates and co-learners, and with relevant materials. And they could be adapted to a wide range of topics, regardless of discipline. There are free account options for all of the tools listed above. When you consider the possible uses for social media in your courses:
- find a tool with features that fit your needs,
- start slowly with just one new project or activity,
- evaluate your experience and your students' experiences, and
- continue to revise your approach.
I've presented just a short list, but you can check out The Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies' 100+ Examples of Use of Social Media for Learning for more ideas. Share your favorite social media learning activity with us here.