by Jonathan Dame
A month before they walked into her classroom last fall, Krista Jackman told her freshmen writing students to join Twitter.
Their assignment: get to know each other.
“My goal in all the classes that I teach is to get my students as comfortable as I can as quickly as I can,” says Jackman, a lecturer at the University of New Hampshire.
According to a study released in October by Pearson Learning Solutions and the Babson Survey Research Group, Jackman is not alone in mixing academics and social media.
The survey of over 8,000 faculty found that 41 percent of college professors use social media as a teaching tool, up from around 34 percent in 2012.
“What we have been trying to get to with this research for the past couple of years … is to really get an understanding of how social media can be used effectively in the teaching and learning process,” says Hester Tinti-Kane, co-author of the report, and Pearson Learning Solutions’s vice president for marketing and social media strategy.
In its definition of social media, the study includes blogs, wikis and podcasts, as well as more obvious platforms like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
Jon Marshall, an assistant professor at Northwestern University, says he started using Twitter in one of his lecture classes to connect better with students.
“Nothing replaces the face-to-face communication, but when you have a class that large I found it was helpful to have yet another tool to get to know them,” says Marshall, adding that it also gives shy students another way to participate.
Students say using social media for academic purposes can be beneficial, as long as it doesn’t get too personal.
“The fact that I am able to communicate so easily with so many people all at once makes the learning experience that much more simple,” says Cheri Bailey, a senior at the University of Florida.
According to Jackman, one of the most common critiques from students is that using social media with a deliberate purpose is difficult.
As digital natives, students are used to posting on social media on a whim, she says, which can make assignments for class seem contrived.
The two biggest concerns for professors who are hesitant to begin using social media are privacy and the integrity of student submissions, the study shows.
Many professors are worried that third parties might be able to view class interactions on social media, potentially compromising the personal privacy of the instructors and students.
“On the flip side, I have heard stories … that people say it’s actually great to expand your classroom and include people that might be subject-matter experts in their discipline,” Tinti-Kane says.
Nicole Kraft, an assistant professor at Ohio State University, is in the latter group.
She says tweets that she and her class sent to journalists at Esquire, TIME and CNN eventually led to guest lectures and in-class video conferences.
Class size can also be a barrier to social media use. Marshall says he had to stop using social media when his class went from 90 to 192 students.
“It became a very time-consuming part of running the class,” says Marshall, who used to have his students answer a question on Twitter every week.
Tinti-Kane says many professors are deciding to use social media to help students create a professional online footprint.
“Some of them are feeling that it is their responsibility as faculty to prepare their students to be able to leverage social media in a professional context,” Tinti-Kane says.
Alexandra Barca, a senior at Pennsylvania State University, says she’s glad professors are trying to help students in this way.
“Facebook, Twitter is something that I go on every single day so I might as well have that be part of my homework,” she says.
“As I’m coming closer to the job world, I really want to make all of my social media accounts very professional.”
First published in USA Today College. Used here with permission.