The need to foster deeper learning and engagement of students continues to be discussed by organizations, institutions, policy makers and parents. EDUCAUSE, a nonprofit association that provides support for members who lead, manage and use information technology in higher education held its 2011 Midwest Regional Conference in Chicago from March 14 – 16. The theme was “Empowering Today’s Students for Tomorrow’s World.

A round table discussion that I participated in focused on harnessing the power of social media. The discussion centered on the implications of the integration of social media throughout higher education for various purposes such as teaching, recruiting, advising, and more. In this context, social media implied any media that is used to build social networks and connection for sharing information through a mediated channel. Examples of social media include Twitter, Facebook, Second Life, LinkedIn, YouTube, Flickr, and more.

Participants were reminded of the fact that the communication strategies of the current generation of students have changed. These students, often referred to as “digital natives,” consider email to be for the older generation. They prefer to use text messaging, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook etc. for communication. These trends challenge educators to re-think of better ways to communicate with students as well as ways to engage students in reflection. 

Learning should start with the “Big Questions” and then proceed to provide opportunities for finding, sorting, analyzing, synthesizing and evaluating information as well as creating meaning. Now educators need to consider how to use social media to support such learning and for the creation of a meaning learning environment. Students look forward to creating knowledge through the use of such collaborative and communication tools.

Social media can be used to enhance learning in many ways. For instance, Facebook and twitter are good tools for engagement and collaboration. Facebook is also great for inviting guest speakers into the classroom. Another social media tool, Youtube, can be used for exploration of the course content. In the same vien, Second Life with its 3D environment promotes richer interactions among students and between students and the instructor. It is also very popular with students and ideal for group work. In short, instructors can take advantage of the possibilities offered by social media to connect, engage and communicate more with students.

It is important to note that learning does not automatically occur with the use of social media. The instructor’s practices needs to be very mindful of how exactly the use of the social media will be beneficial to students and can be used to promote student connection, collaboration and contribute to their learning. Also, instructors must consider incorporating real life  problems with the use of the social media tool. For example a reading assignment can start with the “big problem.” Students then proceed to search for information, summarize and then post to a blog. This strategy gives the class many articles to read as they address the big problem. It also affords students the opportunities to take control of their own learning. Students’ blogs opens up connections with other professional beyond their institutions. Students must also see value in what they do. Students can also create video projects that could be combined into a documentary to share their knowledge with the world.

Educators also need to be aware that all these activities help prepare students for the real world. Hence, exposing students to these tools is vital. Presently, many companies are using Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter instead of email and voicemail and exposing students to the use of these tools therefore helps “socialize” them into what they will be expected to do in the workplace in the future. Currently, some companies expect job seekers to be able to  post their resumes, etc. using social media tools. Students will learn how to create the necessary links to showcase their skills and academic achievements.

To explore how others are integrating social media in education visit the website of EDUCAUSE Social Media Constituent Group at . You can also learn how institutions are using Social Media on YouTube. Search for #edusocmedia or click on the link below

I hope you will find some time to try some of these social media tools and please share your experiences. Also if you have used any technology that would be useful to other faculty members we would be glad to learn from you.

Join the conversation.