Are You Ready for the Social Classroom?

social classroomWhile it may have been optional to tweet a class discussion or join a Facebook study group in the past, online classes of the future could require this kind of participation of all students.

The “rise of the ‘social’ classroom” was identified this month as one of the top trends in higher education, in a list developed from Vital Source Technologies, Inc.’s annual survey of college students. The New Media Consortium’s Horizon Report for Higher Education 2014 [PDF] includes similar findings, and predicts the “growing ubiquity of social media” as one of the fastest accelerating trends in higher education technology adoption.

Educators in instructional technology and other tech-based topics have been using social media with their students for years, but the fact that this is now “trending” in some way is an exciting indicator that use is growing across types of courses (i.e., online, face to face, and blended), and academic subjects. Increased integration of social media has an impact on instructors and administrators, but perhaps most directly on students. So, what is a social classroom and how can you prepare for success in this kind of learning environment?

The Social Classroom Experience

What “counts” as social media? TechTarget.com provides a helpful definition: “Social media is the collective of online communications channels dedicated to community-based input, interaction, content-sharing and collaboration.” It’s not difficult to see how these capabilities might be helpful in an online class.

Pearson’s annual survey of college faculty members found that the use of social media for teaching is increasing. More than one-third (41%) of faculty members reported using social media with students in 2013. Blogs and wikis were the most popular platforms, followed by podcasts, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. Of the students surveyed by Vital Source Technologies earlier this year, 77% said that instructors had used social media in their courses, primarily YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter.

The social classroom can include existing social networking platforms, like those described above, and social communication features (e.g., group wikis, class blogs) embedded in the school’s learning management system (e.g., Moodle, Canvas, Blackboard, Desire2Learn). Online professors use these tools in a wide variety of ways, often with a goal of increasing students’ interaction with each other during a course. Here are a few examples of the kinds of activities you can expect to encounter:

  • Community and relationship building: Students are often asked to post “introductions” in online courses, which can include information about their work and family roles, as well as career goals. Adding links to Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn profiles can help classmates get to know each other a little better from a distance.
  • Guest speaker presentations: Whether recorded and uploaded to YouTube or conducted live via Google+ Hangout, Skype, or other virtual meeting space, guest speakers provide insight about course topics and how they relate to the workplace and beyond. Students can ask questions via hashtag, and leave comments to participate in the session and conversations that follow.
  • Assignment submission: A social alternative to uploading documents and other assignment files, blogs allow students to post their work online in a format that is makes it easy for instructors and peers to provide feedback. These and other shared, online options (e.g., Google Docs, Wikispaces) bring the social component to traditional assignments.
  • Group projects: A variety of online communication and collaboration tools make it easier for online students to work together in small teams assigned to projects and presentations. Google Drive is just one of the available options, providing file storage and version control, as well as multiple, simultaneous editors of documents, slideshows, spreadsheets, etc. Google+ Hangouts and other video calling systems allow for quick small group meetings.
  • Announcements and reminders: It’s not unusual for instructors to use a class hashtag (e.g., #CHEM101, #XYZunivCourse) to “tag” updates via multiple social platforms. This is a convenient way to share a collection of materials, such as bookmarked sites with Diigo, and quickly broadcast class changes through systems such as Twitter or Facebook.

Make Sure Your Accounts are “Class Ready”

You may already be active in online social networks, but for personal (i.e., friends and family) or work purposes. Are those accounts ready for educational use? Students participating in Vital Source’s survey acknowledged a common problem: 65% said their Facebook accounts weren’t ready to be viewed by classmates and instructors because of “questionable content.”

If you aren’t sure about your current social media identity, and how it might represent you in school, follow these steps to prepare for the social classroom:

  • Conduct an account audit. TheGlobeandMail.com recently published a five-step social media audit for companies that works well for individuals, too. It covers the basics, such as making sure all of your profiles are correct and up-to-date, and suggests a few additional checks for consistency. What do your instructors’ and classmates’ profiles look like? These provide good benchmarks you can use as models for your social media presence.
  • Clean up current accounts or consider setting up new accounts. Managing multiple accounts can be overwhelming, and starting from scratch takes time. However, if the results of your audit are even more overwhelming in terms of the clean up needed, a fresh start with a social media presence focused on school use may be the way to go.
  • Check school guidelines. Many colleges and universities now provide either formal policies or informal guidelines for faculty members who connect with students via social media. These can be helpful for students to review, as well, and you may find school suggestions for your accounts, too. North Dakota State’s College of Science and San Jacinto College both include student social media expectations on their websites.
  • Talk with your instructor or teaching assistant. Why did your professor decide to add social media to the course? What are there goals for these kinds of assignments and communication tools? If it’s not clear in the instructions provided, initiate contact to ask for more information, ensure you understand the expectations, and share any concerns you might have about using social media.

Social media isn’t just for college classes, or even college students. The Horizon Report cites a University of Massachusetts Dartmouth study finding “that 100% of surveyed universities and colleges use social media for some purpose.” This can include anything and everything from marketing and recruiting to providing student services and conducting course-level communication. Social, online interaction is also found in K-12 classrooms, and in corporate settings used to connect employees for collaboration and training purposes. Understanding the benefits and challenges of social, online communication is becoming more important in all areas of our lives.

Are you ready to connect with your instructors and classmates, and potentially your supervisors and co-workers, via social media? Do you have concerns about sharing your accounts within the context of a college class? Share your ideas and experience with us here.

Join Melissa Venable on Twitter and Google+.

Source: Inside Online Learning Blog