Class in 140 characters or less?


Social media in action

Instructors at various institutions are already using tools such as Facebook, Twitter, Skype, and geo-tracking, among others, to help improve student engagement and collaboration. For example:

  • A professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, Dr. Monica Rankin, encourages students to tweet comments on classroom lectures in real time, removing the inhibition some students feel about asking questions in front of peers and increasing student engagement.
  • Welcome to Hairdressing Training, an iPhone application that helps students learn techniques, provides real-time streaming of classroom concepts. It was developed by hairdressers Jordan and Burr and ported to mobile devices by Mimas JISC national data center of the University of Manchester in Great Britain.
  • Hotseat, a network for students to post messages and access an ongoing dialog with their peers, developed and used at Purdue University, improves engagement and collaboration.
  • Virtual Language Exchange via Skype, a program designed by a foreign language professor at Marquette University, Janet Banhidi, connects students in her classroom with those in South America to help them practice foreign language skills.
  • Current and prospective students at North Carolina State University can access a program called WolfWalk to gain information on campus historical landmarks and buildings via geo-tracking. This kind of technology also could be used by students and professors with a focus on anthropology or history, among other subjects.

The opportunities abound. Other methods either currently being used or on the horizon include:

  • Virtual office hours, which have become an increasingly important tool for both instructors and students using Skype, chat, and other platforms.
  • Peer-to-peer collaboration via social media to allow for easy sharing of study materials and methods among peers or as a platform to discuss course topics or create virtual study groups. McGraw-Hill’s own GradeGuru.com is an example of this in action.
  • The wisdom-of-the-crowd concept, which has massive implications for education because it can allow for a world in which class case studies can go global to draw in a diverse cultural and educational experience.
  • The Web 2.0 concept of creating an online academic profile and developing virtual networks around it, which has the potential to go full circle—taking students from an online, interactive portfolio on to real-world career networks and job opportunities.
  • Augmented reality, which could play an increasingly important role in student learning as the educational experience across physical and digital environments gets “smudged” to deepen engagement and drive increased interaction with course concepts in three dimensions. In an open, digital world, the potential to address the needs of different learning styles through a breadth of approaches and deliver students real-world examples that connect course concepts with their daily reality becomes imminently possible.

Not only can these new technologies and interactive resources improve engagement; they can also better prepare students for the 21st century by helping them build professional skills on platforms that are already mainstays in the commercial world. Students will need to know how to use social networking sites to communicate professionally from the day they begin job hunting.