By Dr. Jeryl Benson, Assistant Professor, Duquesne University Occupational Therapy Dept.
When I first began my academic teaching career, social media was not a part of American culture and was certainly not a part of my classroom. But as times change, so must our ways of reaching our students. Social media usage has increased dramatically over the years with 89% of young adults between the ages of 18-29 reporting social network use (Pew Research Center, 2014). As educators, how can we use the phenomenon of social media to engage students in learning?
Academic curriculum is rigorous with large amounts of information to convey in 15 weeks. As an instructor in a professional program, I am responsible for delivering specific material that is tied into both the students training as well as accreditation standards that must be met. It takes all of the 15 weeks to ensure the students leave my classroom with the required skill set. But it leaves less time than I would like for those rich discussions that plant the seed of curiosity in our students. I often find myself desiring more time to discuss those topics in greater detail or to have the opportunity to share information about a topic that is not included in the course learning objectives but would augment the students’ knowledge.
During one particular semester, I found myself coming across newspaper, magazine and research articles and even news media videos that were related to our class topic and/or discussions. I wanted to share them with the students, so I started posting the links to my Blackboard course site (www.duq.edu/blackboard). The response was positive as the students would come to class and share their thoughts and opinions. The conversations were fun and thought provoking. As we began to discuss current events related to class topics the students started finding various media items and started sending me links to post for the class. The students were engaged and it was a fun way to approach society’s perspectives related to disability, acceptance, and trends.
Although I found this teaching method to be effective it was somewhat labor intensive. I would occasionally come across something and would tell myself that it would be a great topic to post for the students, but I would either forget or at a later time I would be unable to relocate the link or item. Then one day I found an item I wanted to post and when I hit the “share” feature on the webpage to email the link to myself I realized that the choices for how to share the information grew! There were multiple icons….I could share to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, and many others. Really? It is that easy?
My personal opinion of social media is, overall, not positive. I am still trying to figure out why sharing every detail of one’s day and life is a good thing. But… I decided that maybe the ability to instantly share information and resources with my students was a positive side of social media. Maybe it was time to enter the “world” of my students to better understand them as individual learners. So I signed up for a Twitter account (that would be used for professional purposes only) and I invited my students to “follow” me. Now, instead of using the Blackboard course site, when I come across a resource, an opinion or a tip that is either related to our class discussions or my profession…I Tweet it, hashtag and all! Examples of recent hashtags include #tummytime, #AutismAwareness, #Nobullying, #WorldOTDay. It has been a learning curve for me but I am finding that it is also fun and efficient. With just a few clicks I can disseminate information and start the conversation which ultimately increases student engagement and learning using a format that is central to their lives. In fact, students have started sharing media stories and sending them to me to tweet, which is both increasing engagement and making it easy for me!
#engagingstudents #duqedtech #edtech
Now It’s Your Turn: in the comments below, please share your experiences/ideas about using social media as an instructional tool.
Dr. Benson is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Occupational Therapy at Duquesne University. She teaches both undergraduate and graduate coursework in the areas of foundations and concepts in OT, lifespan occupational performance, neurological and sensorimotor function, and occupation based theory.