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Professor promotes use of social media in classes

Mon Mar 21, 2022 at 02:15 PM

More than half of Oakland University students are between the ages of 17 and 22, according to OU’s Department of Institutional Research. For these students, social media has always been part of their lives. Pew Research from 2021, shows that 84 percent of all 18-29 year olds are on some form of social media. Chiaoning Su, assistant professor in the Department of Communications, Journalism and Public Relations and also a faculty fellow in the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, said social media provides a convenient, engaging and useful forum for microlearning. In a recent CETL workshop, Su explained the use of social media in classes and ways instructors can get started. 

Where to start

“Instructors need to be comfortable with using social media. In my role as the CETL teaching fellow this year, I’m working with faculty members with social media. They have to be very comfortable with social media. You don’t necessarily need to be creative, but you definitely need to be curious and expose yourself to the different types of social media,” said Su. 

Su said social media is about social connection and not self-promotion. Having the ability to connect with material in a social way is just another avenue for reaching students. Su said social media isn’t a replacement for a learning management system, like Moodle. 

“I see social media as an extension of Moodle. We still need that centralized learning platform for things like traditional reading, assignments and instructions. However, social media is another way of reaching the students. The students feel you are speaking their language,” said Su. 

While Facebook has a large number of users, it isn’t used as frequently by the typical college-age students. YouTube has a diverse user set, including a strong number of users from all age groups. The most popular social network among 18-29 year olds is Instagram. Su recommends instructors consider that platform for reaching students, however, it requires a strategic approach. 

“Instagram tends to be a very visual driving kind of platform, so if you are thinking of using Instagram as your primary vehicle for teaching, you need to be very strong with visual design or video creation. That’s how you are going to catch your students’ attention,” said Su. 

Another popular social network is Twitter, which is used by a large number of those in academics. 

“Twitter is another creature in itself. It doesn’t have as many active users, but if you are teaching a political science class, if your class has a very strong political aspect to it, Twitter can be a good space for you to have that conversation. You don’t have to be able to do visual design or video creation as long as you are able to tweet, as long as you are able to write 280 characters, that’s all it requires. That’s how you do Twitter,” said Su. 

Students also favor TikTok, which is a social media platform that allows users to create short, authentic videos to share. 

Social media for classes

Su said social media is useful for micro-learning, which has become a focus of teaching philosophy in recent years. 

“We realize it’s actually very hard to get students’ attention. There is a very short span of attention,” said Su. While social media can be used as a tool to engage the students, it’s not a replacement for the traditional aspects of classroom education, like a syllabus or the tools that can be used in learning management systems like Moodle. 

Su said social media can be used to introduce a class, allow students to get to know each other’s personalities or add a new dynamic to classes. YouTube can be used for mini lectures, TikToks can be used for demonstrations in performing arts classes or to provide study guides or tips for exams. 

Social media can be used for projects, skills or engagement, said Su. She provided examples of each. 

  • Creating a social media campaign for a real client to refresh and amplify the client’s social media presence
  • Setting up social media accounts as a book character and creating posts and content as that character to demonstrate knowledge
  • Through social media, students can be taught skills such as identifying real and fake news and sources

“I think this will be much harder, if you are teaching biology or chemistry or other sciences. I’ve been working with some faculty from the sciences and other than a YouTube lecture, we haven’t been able to come up with other ideas of how to use TikTok or Instagram,” said Su. She said it doesn’t mean there aren’t applications, but instructors have to explore the channels and get creative. 

Getting around the hurdles

“I teach social media and public relations. My students are very open to social media and they are eager to learn how to use social media more in their everyday life,” said Su. She hasn’t had any students push-back, however, she said there are ways around those who would rather not join a social channel. 

Links to individual posts can be cut and pasted so students can see the information, but they won’t be able to like, comment or otherwise engage with the information. 

“This is something very natural to students. We don’t ask them to make their private accounts open. We asked them to engage in an open social media space. I haven’t really experienced any resistance from students because I’m not asking to see details of their personal lives,” said Su. 

She iterated that students should have an understanding of social media, and being able to use it for class is an opportunity to tap into it, especially because it can be a useful job-hunting tool. LinkedIn, which is a professional social networking platform, is one of the most effective places to find an internship or a job. 

For instructors who are worried about sharing their intellectual property online, Su said it’s actually a great way to expose the work to others. She said many other instructors will use videos created by other professors. If they are on a social channel, it’s easy to give credit to the author. Su said it’s a good way to claim ownership of the content. 

Su said instructors who need ideas or information have a resource right in their classroom–their students. She said she has learned so much from her students, including when to use particular types of content, the importance of hashtags and the value of linktrees. 

For more information on using social media in classrooms, visit the CETL website, in particular, the social media workshop