Five Lessons from the Field: Using Social Media for Community Building

As I mentioned, yesterday I did a presentation as part of FantasTECH, a virtual conference offered by JR Reynolds Community College. They use the AvayaLive Engage platform, an easy-to-use virtual environment. It was fun to be part of a new environment for teaching and learning and am hoping to have a chance to explore further before next year’s conference. While it was easy to access, I know I didn’t get to really dig into the platform to figure out how to make it more interactive.

My presentation was focused on using social media in the higher ed classroom and I used the “five lessons” approach as a way to organize my thoughts. I have the sense that nothing I said was all that earth shattering but I hope I gave people a way to think about integrating social media in their courses in meaningful ways. For today, I’m covering Lessons One and Two: Consider Goals and Align Carefully.

Consider Goals and Align Carefully: If we feel pushed into using social media because “all the young people are doing it”, we are making a mistake. Just as with any resource, activity or project we use in our courses, we need to know WHY we are using and how it supports our learning goals and objectives.* For instance, in my ed tech for admins courses, one strong objective is to help my students connect to the larger world of education–that great big PLN in cyberspace–through Twitter, Feedly and Google Plus. The objective is tied to the ISTE Standards for Administrators, specifically Standard 3: Excellence in Professional Practice:

Educational Administrators promote an environment of professional learning and innovation that empowers educators to enhance student learning through the infusion of contemporary technologies and digital resources.

a. Allocate time, resources, and access to ensure ongoing professional growth in technology fluency and integration

b. Facilitate and participate in learning communities that stimulate, nurture and support administrators, faculty, and staff in the study and use of technology

c. Promote and model effective communication and collaboration among stakeholders using digital age tools

d. Stay abreast of educational research and emerging trends regarding effective use of technology and encourage evaluation of new technologies for their potential to improve student learning

I have a myriad of tools I could choose from to fulfill this goal, but I stick with what I see as the Big Three: Twitter, Feedly and Google Plus. I hope that, by giving my students the time and excuse they need to dig into the tools, I get them “hooked” so they continue on in the future. I haven’t done any follow up surveys to see if that was the case although I do see the occasional former student posting in my Twitter feed. What I really hope is that, once they take on leadership roles, they consider opening the time to their faculty as well as a way to provide access to just-in-time, individualized professional development.

But I don’t use those three tools in every class. For instance, this fall, I’m planning to use Pinterest as part of my instructional design course. With a very visual component, I think having students “pin” links to resources and, even more importantly, example both good and bad, would be a really powerful part of the collaboration. Even though they work on their own projects, they form a design team for the class. So, I have dual goals: use the platform to support the team but also create a gallery of instructional design that might help spark their own creativity.

I can only make these kinds of decisions after I have considered the goals. Then, I choose the best tools to meet those goals. Part of the reason I use Feedly AND Twitter is that Feedly helps connect students to current events and commentary that can then be great Twitter fodder. They can share their thoughts in the Tweet rather than just retweeting other links and resources.

Tomorrow’s Lesson: Integrate Tightly
I’ll describe my professional learning assignment and also discuss why I made Diigo optional.

*I know some teachers use social media as a course communications tool (ie, test and homework reminders) but I’m thinking specifically about how to use social as a learning tool that integrates with the content of the course.

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