Social media has found a prominent place in the college classroom.
In fact, nearly 80 percent of faculty members are using social media in some way, according to a recent survey of nearly 2,000 college faculty by the Babson Survey Research Group published in April.
While some platforms, such as YouTube, have been widely accepted in the classroom, Twitter has been slower to catch on as a teaching tool. In the same survey, only 2 percent of professors reported using the microblogging site—which limits posts to 140 characters—in class.
[Read about Twitter in the college classroom.]
Jim Newman, a Ph.D. student and instructor at Northern Illinois University, says that he uses Twitter not as a news source for his class but as a bulletin board.
"[Twitter] is not something I'm going to be using to chat [with students]," Newman says. "I use it as an additional way to let students know if there's some last-minute news, like class being cancelled."
Where some college instructors use the platform to update students on classroom logistics, it offers others an opportunity for community learning. "The growth of knowledge is a very social process," says Patrick J. Murphy, an associate professor of management at DePaul University's Kellstadt Graduate School of Business. "It's always involved someone giving knowledge or information to someone else. I believe [Twitter] has the potential to transcend the boundaries of the classroom and socialize knowledge."
While some professors may see the appeal Twitter can bring to a classroom, they should put some thought into how the platform should be utilized, says Chris Machielse, a rising junior at the University of Michigan—Ann Arbor.
"I think [Twitter in the classroom] would be well received if it were used in a good way," Machielse says. "I think if [professors] are using it just for the sake of using technology, students are going to complain about it."
[Discover five social media tools for college students.]
Some professors are using Twitter in innovative—and effective—ways that benefit students. Here are five unique ways Twitter is enhancing education:
1. Creating a personal brand. A motivation for going to college is to prepare for a future in the workplace. But good grades without a strong personal brand may not lead to immediate employment, says Alyssa Hammond, associate director of undergraduate career services and adjunct professor at Bentley University.
To help her students, Hammond created a social media course that focuses on building a personal brand through social media. "Students need to know how to use Twitter for their own personal branding because people are using it and really gaining a lot of notoriety," Hammond says. "The goal of this class is to give them a good education into what these various systems do from a branding perspective."
In the course, students were required to build a personal brand on Twitter, deciding what type of voice and content they would produce for their online community. They also created a professional brand in which they were a "social evangelist," or cheerleader, for an existing company or corporation, Hammond notes.
"We were able to understand how it could benefit our own lives through branding on the web but also how social media can help companies to brand themselves," says Puja Shah, a recent graduate from Bentley. "I know [this class] will be helpful to me as I enter the real world."
[Learn how job seekers can build their online brand.]
2. Learning to be concise. Although writing lengthy essays about the Declaration of Independence or the Federalist Papers involves heavy research and labor, exacting a response to these materials in 140 characters or fewer can also require deep thought.
Daniel Klinghard, an assistant professor at the College of the Holy Cross, uses Twitter to debunk the fact that these new technologies are destroying the English language. In his political science courses, Klinghard uses a Twitter-inspired project that requires students to summarize major political text without going over the Twitter-imposed character limit.
Students reacted positively to the assignments, says Alex Wong, a rising junior at Holy Cross. "The assignments were helpful because they forced us to try to condense our thoughts about a particular reading," Wong says. "It made us look at the overall point of the [text]."
3. Personifying characters on Twitter. In a literature course at California State University—San Marcos, students brought characters from the New York Times bestselling Twilight series to life.
"The popularity of Twilight is very much linked to social media," says course lecturer Natalie Wilson. "So when I taught this course, I wanted to bring that into the classroom and make students aware of how its Internet presence has fueled its massive cultural popularity."
Each student chose a character from the series to personify on Twitter, demonstrating their knowledge of the book's writing style in their tweets. The project was initially received with skepticism, Wilson notes, but students quickly accepted and engaged in Twitter. Students worked together to create campaigns, including one to rid the social platform of Bella, one of the main characters in the series.
"It was really impressive what they did," Wilson says. "It was much more effective than just sitting in the classroom talking about the characters."
4. Teaching executives about social media. The goal of the Social Media Marketing course at the University of California—Los Angeles Extension, a continuing higher education provider for working adults, is to equip students with social media tools of the business world, says Beverly Macy, author of The Power of Real-Time Social Media Marketing and professor at the UCLA Extension.
"There's a complete shift in how we're doing business," Macy says. "People are now getting their [information] from LinkedIn and Twitter and Facebook."
The course, which Macy calls "social media for executives," teaches students how to act and react in real time by implementing social media practices. Macy live blogs during her class, and students are encouraged to live tweet notes and ideas using classroom hash tags to create Twitter conversations.
Though her classes are normally a mix of older students who are wary and skeptical of the value of real-time social platforms, "by the middle of the class they get it," Macy says.
The course has been "nothing short of life changing" for Tiffany Paralta, one of Macy's students. "I've been introduced to an entirely new world," Paralta says. "[I] realize that this class is a serious game changer in my career and in how I consume information in general."
5. Bringing clients to class. Students at DePaul University can go to Twitter for lecture notes in the Entrepreneurial Strategy course, led by Patrick J. Murphy, the associate professor.
During the course, students aid and consult entrepreneurs as they attempt to grow local businesses. With lecture notes available on Twitter for students—and the public—to view, students are able to better connect with the business community and even develop relationships, Murphy says.
"I've found clients through [Twitter]," notes Murphy. "They hear what [the class] is talking about and then they reach out to me. They may not have found [our class] if it hadn't been for this medium."
[See why college grads may find more jobs at entrepreneurial firms.]
Students have bought into Murphy's practice of using Twitter to connect their classroom with business professionals, says Rajiv Nathan, a graduating senior and student in the course. "I honestly think this class has so much more value now than if we had taken this before Twitter [existed]."
The power of this public forum has given Nathan and his peers a voice and an opportunity for more experience before graduation. "We don't know yet what entrepreneurs or clients are seeing our work that'll want to come and work with our class in the future," Nathan notes. "It all happens through Twitter."
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