Saturday, November 21, 2009

Why professors should be engaged in social media

If you landed here, you probably don't need a primer on what social media is.  But you might want to learn why it's important for professors to be fully engaged in social media.

I often have my students do a preview lecture on their own before they hear what I have to say.  So let's try that now.  First, check out this slide show called What the F**K is Social Media: One Year Later (pardon my French, but it IS the title of this presentation).

So OK, now we see that this is the way that most people are now communicating . . . yikes, even more than email! And more importantly, this is the way people are networking and forming communities.

As educators, I think we must be fully engaged if we are to be effective in facilitating teaching and learning . . . if we are to be effective agents of growth and change in our culture. And if that means being part of the "social network" of Facebook and the blogosphere, then maybe we should seriously consider that . . . lest we fall into the age-old trap for academics: shutting ourselves up in an ivory tower.

I recently had a colleague of mine tell me that she would never have a Facebook account because she was told that students would access it  . . . and that is bad.  I'm not exactly clear on why this would be bad.  I suspect the issue was that private matters (such as political or religious views. . . or that photo with a lampshade on your head that "friend" tagged you on their Facebook page) could be detrimental to the faculty-student relationship.   Or that the familiarity often bred on such sites could "cross the line" of effective faculty-student relationships.  Both of which are valid concerns.

However, although such concerns should be seriously considered and such risks managed, one can still safely and effectively use social media to further one's educational outreach and strengthen existing teaching-learning relationships.  For example:

  1. Keep your personal Facebook (or Twitter, or . . . ) page private.  Set your privacy settings so that only your friends have access to your information and posts.  Then set up a separate page for your "professor persona."  My Facebook page for The Electronic Professor persona is managed through my personal Facebook account, but public access to it is complete separate from my private Facebook identity.  Likewise, The Electronic Professor Twitter identity is separate from my personal Twitter identity. 

  2. Write a blog.  I'll be addressing the "how to" part of this in a later post.  But by publishing a blog, you don't have to link to any private accounts or private information.

  3. Establish a wiki.  As with blogging, this is completely separate from your personal social networking identities.
So the next question is what do I do when using social networking tools? Of course, the list is endless . . . limited only by your imagination.  Or the imagination of others with brilliant ideas that you can rip off, er, borrow from.  Here are some ideas to get the juices flowing . . .
  1. Create a wiki for a course you teach.  This allows your students (perhaps from different course sections) to network with each other by sharing tips, resources, class projects (term papers, essays, lab  reports, videos) and even assignments with the wiki community.  Students can then learn from each other and perhaps even offer constructive suggestions to each other to improve their work.  And possibly see that others (besides the professor) find certain elements of their work to be less than satisfactory.  By doing this on a wiki rather than within a classroom management system (CMS; such as Blackboard, Angel, etc) students from past courses can remain in the community of they choose and continue to contribute and learn. (FYI, wikis can be "private" and allow only those you permit to access them.)

  2. Create a blog for a courseThe Social Media Bible: Tactics, Tools, and Strategies for Business Success
    you teach.
    Chris Sullivan has a great blog that he uses to keep his human anatomy & physiology students engaged in the course by updated them on current news items that relate to what they are studying. My blog The A&P Student includes study tips for a rather intense subject.  One could have a blog that simply contains course news and updates, including assignments. Because blogs are easier to navigate than your CMS, it's a good option.  Besides, your students can then easily receive updates via Facebook, Twitter, SMS messages on their phones, etc., which are not likely in your CMS.  Imagine being able to get a reminder to students an hour before a class starts!

  3. Create a Facebook page for your "professor" persona.  Tell students about why you are passionate about your subject.  Why you've chosen the instructional methods you use in your courses. Keep them updated on class events and assignments.  Give them tips for succeeding in your course.  This may keep them engaged in ways you never thought possible.
These are just a few ideas that may get you thinking about expanding your educational presence out of the classroom and out of your office and into the wide world of social networking.

You may want to revisit my previous articles on social networking.

If you want to know more about the world of social networking, even if you know nothing about it now, I highly recommend The Social Media Bible: Tactics, Tools, and Strategies for Business Success.  OK, I know the title is about "business" but it's a great resource for educators, too!

What social networking have YOU used in your role as a teacher?  What worked well for you?  What problems did you encounter?  (Hit the comment link to respond)