Using social media in the classroom

Lately I have heard from quite a few VET teachers who have tried to use social media in the classroom and eventually given up as the students have not participated or even enjoyed the experience.  You might be thinking… ‘Why would I want to use social media in the classroom or workplace training anyway’?

I believe that if used effectively social media can enhance your traditional training strategies and your online/e-learning programs, but like anything your approach must be well thought out and revelant to the context. 

In my experience I have found that social media can provide opportunities for learners to collaborate outside of the classroom or learning experience, it can assist learners to develop independent learning skills as well as providing opportunities for learners to document informal learning.

A common scenario

Consider a two day workshop where learners in an organisation come together to learn a specific skill… after the two days the course is over and there is no additional support or opportunity to reflect on learning and no evidence that those involved in the training have been able to apply what they have learnt to the workplace (this is an area I am particularly interested in and will form part of my thesis and future blog postings).

Social media could be used in this scenario to continue discussions outside of the learning environment (if appropriate), to provide further discussion and collaboration between those involved in the training, provide additional opportunities for reflection and document how the learner has applied this new knowledge and skill to the workplace. 

Social media may also assist individuals to capture evidence of informal learning activities relating to the training and their own career aspirations. 

In this post I will draw on the tools I most commonly use with learners; however, I would really love to hear how you use social media in the classroom…. make sure you leave a comment before leaving and feel free to send links to examples for how you have done this.

Let’s start with wikis…. they have been around for quite some time, they are not new ….. but still a great tool to use with your learners. 

Wikis are a fantastic tool to use if you want to promote collaboration between participants and more importantly if you want your participants to actually build the content on the wiki (my advice here is to set some clear guidelines for the wiki and encourage your learners to be the experts).  Wikis can also be used as a course or online booklet to enable you to quickly distribute pre and post course reading material.  Even after several years of not using a particular wiki http://cert-iv-taa.wikispaces.com  I  am still receiving emails and requests to join. 

To keep track of your wiki activity and to keep your discussions going I recommend that you use the notify me feature and regularly review page content.  To get started with wikis visit  www.wikispaces.com.

Make sure your learners (they will need to be members) have editing rights….. my warning here is…. make sure you set clear guidelines for the wiki’s use and the content that should be developed so the site stays on track and is relevant to your course. 

If you haven’t used a wiki before try linking the goals of the wiki to the learning content and assessment activities. To make sure everyone is involved ask each learner to take responsibility for at least one topic or area of content.  You will find this activity will be most successful if linked to an assessment activity rather than creating a wiki …. just because it is a good idea :-).

Next let’s look at blogs.  A blog is a great tool for reflection and provides an opportunity for learners to build knowledge, capture informal evidence (in words, pictures and videos) and link to well known websites on their topic.  Blogs can support both face to face learners and online learners.  Depending on how the blog is setup each individual student is responsible for maintaining their own blog site and posts; however carefully designed activities can also encourage other learners to make comment on each other’s posts.

My teaching area is Business and Administration.  Many of the subject areas in the Business Services training package encourage the learner to keep a self-reflection journal… a blog may well be your perfect tool. I find it really helpful to have a list of activities that build on the content of the learner’s blog throughout the course.  I have found it less helfpful where learners are given assessment activities that expect the learner to keep a self-reflection journal and do not provide an outline of what is required.  As with wikis you should provide clear guidelines for their use and align the use to set activities that encourage reflection and the building of knowledge.

Blogs can also bring out the creative flair within your learners.  If you are teaching writing skills for example or even photography you have a great tool to assist learners to get out there and well…. just write or build a portfolio.

Facebook is one of my favourite forms of social media…. but can you really use it in the classroom? 

I find facebook an excellent way to support student learning.  It has a built in chat feature, message feature (great for sending out course announcements and reminders) and it provides an opportunity for your class to be an open or closed group.  Teachers/facilitators can send out links to readings, videos (youtube and teachertube have multitudes of recordings that might be helpful to promote discussion and demonstrate skills) and favourite websites before or after the session to encourage the learners to engage with facebook outside of standard classtimes. 

Like everything the use of facebook should be well planned.  If you haven’t tried facebook consider how you can use it as a lesson planner.  For example, once you have determined the number of sessions and the topics covered in each session, you can then send out a session post prior to the session with information about the upcoming topics, details of any pre-session reading, assessment events, viewing of videos etc.  Use the event feature to build in assessment dates and activity due dates so your learners have very clear guidelines on what is happening and when assessments and activities are due.

Finally let’s consider twitter. Now I can hear some of you growning already :-). I acknowledge twitter can be one of the more difficult forms of social media to administer in training… but it does have its place.

So let me give you a simple way to use it…. think up a useful hashtag eg: #twitinclass and encourage your learners to tweet about any new content or information they consider important during your face to face class or virtual session.  The goal of this activity is to  encourage your learners to focus on the session content and improve their listening skills as well as their tweeting skills.

After the class set some homework.  Point your learners to a URL, youtube video or content within your learning management system and ask them to tweet key themes and/or anything they need further explanation on in the next session. 

As the teacher/facilitator you can also use the same hashtag to tweet reminders, news and links to helpful websites.  Make sure you are proactive doing this as your students will lose interest if there is minimal activity.

At the end of the training you can also offer to support your learners for a certain period of time by asking them to tweet how they are applying their learning to the workplace and where they are experiencing any difficulties.

I am sure you agree, people love to talk about themselves.  I find the activities that provide opportunities for learners to tweet about their own experieces, opinions or where they agree or disagree with the learning content generate the most activity.

Hopefully this post has generated some interest and you are now considering where social media could enhance your own delivery. If you are only just starting out my recommendation is to use the technologies your students are already using. For example, many of your student own a smartphone and they may well have both facebook and twitter already on their phone.  If so and they like using these applications, this could be a good starting point…..

If you have found this post useful please consider expanding this conversation and sharing your experiences.

You should also stop by and visit my facebook page http://www.facebook.com/UsingTechnologyInVet

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2 thoughts on “Using social media in the classroom

  1. There is a really great resource (and the inspiration behind this particular post and some of the strategies I have trialled with my learners) …. “Social Media for Trainers” by Jane Bozarth that I recommend it will give you some great ideas on how to implement social media in learning, provide some instruction on how to set up accounts and get started etc as well as providing insights into the advantages and disadvantages. You can buy this book online from a number of distributors including bookdepository.com and amazon.

    P.S. Don’t forget to stop buy and share your experiences

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