Friday, June 11, 2010

Digital and Social Media in the Classroom

A few weeks ago, I considered whether laptops in the classroom were digital distractions—a topic that appears to have divided the academic community. Since that post, I've learned of a number of different ways that the social web and digital media are being implemented in the classroom. A few colleagues expressed uncertainty about whether these technologies have a place within higher education, and while usage is far from widespread, these examples suggest means of harnessing digital and social media to assist in the classroom.

This topic gets to the heart at one of the more important areas where we can witness and study the impact of digital and social technologies on our lives. Quality of education, which encompasses access to resources, has often been linked to success in life and as our world increasingly becomes a digital one, access to digital resources and the ability to maximize the utility of these resources may prove to be crucial. 

Twitter seems to top most lists for technology tools in the classroom.  As an instructor, you can tweet about lectures, exams, events, share pictures and supplemental "in the news" type information, and respond to student questions—it creates an instant link between students and instructor and doesn't require too much additional time from either party. By using hashtags, students can collaborate with other students and instructors about class topics. And it can provide a means for monitoring in-class discussion and understanding—students can raise questions privately or pose them to the group. It provides a means for information to flow between groups and can encourage participation if the idea and implementation work.

Can it work?

Yes, but it needs support from both ends—that is both instructors and students need to come to view it as a tool that can be utilized in this setting and not just as a means for connecting with friends. For example, Bill Caraher experimented with Twitter in one of his undergrad courses at the University of North Dakota and found that while there are limitations, the tool does indeed have promise in an educational setting.

One of the biggest challenges Caraher identified is that students don't recognize Twitter as a source for information, and many of them aren't using the service. This may be changing as more users become aware of the service, but nonetheless presents an opportunity for educators to introduce the tool as they would want to use it, and help students understand that there are multiple ways for finding information online. It may be that Twitter isn't for everyone, but it presents an opportunity to help students learn how to vet technology in relation to their needs. Caraher states that his students struggled with hashtags. Hashtags are quickly becoming a cornerstone for online communities and may be one of the ways we come to organize information on the web. Educators have an opportunity to be involved in developing this understanding. Caraher has indicated that he intends to try working with Twitter again for an online course, and suggests that because those students are already interacting with course material online, they may be more likely to adopt Twitter for the class. Hopefully, he will share the results of that endeavor with the online community.

Another example of the ways interactive features are being incorporated into education come from George Haines, whose seventh grade students actually created a digital math text book. The text book is impressive in that it's students teaching other students. Haines' eighth graders were also recognized for Tweeting Animal Farm—so there is a willingness on the students' part to use these types of tools in the classroom. The age difference between Haines' students and Caraher's students bears noting. In Haines' case, we have individuals who have likely grown up immersed in digital and social technologies, so it seems natural for them to interact this way. Whereas this is likely not the case for Caraher's students, although that will soon change (and perhaps now is the time to prepare for that change). Caraher indicated that he believes he needs to stress the community structure of the class more—Haines' students may already grasp this by the time they get to college. We're in the midst of a cognitive shift and it will be interesting to observe the way modes of learning change in the coming years.

Campus Technology compiled a list of web 2.0 tools that may also be useful in the classroom. I skimmed the list and didn't think that there were too many options that suggested sharing between students and students or students and instructors. Most of the suggestions seemed designed to assist the instructor, but there were a few good video sharing options.

Has anyone tested web 2.0 technologies in the classroom? Share what worked and what didn't below—and if you don't think this will work at all, feel free to join the discussion as well.


  1. I'm compiling an e-learning course for next autumn and hope to use various media in it (e.g. (micro-)blogging, bookleteer, pressie, wikis, google-docs), but most of it will come from my universities OLAT (, which is really rather usefull and already incorporates many media. I'm not sure yet about using twitter, facebook etc., but am interested in reading more about this. I'll be writing about it on my blog in autumn.

  2. Marcel, it sounds as though you are working with an older set of students. I would definitely be interested in hearing more about how your course unfolds. Please share a link to your posts once they're up. Cheers.

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