How the Social Media Mindset Can be an Asset to Your Classroom

Today’s students are always connected. But as educators, we may have reservations about just how connected our students are in our classroom. Sometimes it seems our students are paying more attention to their phones, laptop or tablets than their professors. And while it is true that these technologies can bring distractions into the classroom, they can also open doors and create exciting and innovative learning opportunities.

The connected mindset of our students is a great asset when we harness it in the classroom. In my experience, today’s students are eager to contribute and hungry for hands-on learning. They’re used to being able to create, contribute, comment, like, and share. So let’s bring that participatory culture into the classroom.

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Here are a few ways to harness social technologies in your classroom:

Use technology to create a culture of collaboration

One of my favorite things to do is to have a group of students collaborate in real-time on a single document in class, with each student contributing to the document from their own computer (I create a unique document for each group that anyone can edit in Google Drive and share the document’s URL with each team).

This can be used for in-class activities where you prompt students with questions which require them to scour social media platforms or the web to gather data, and then work together to arrive at an answer to the questions. For example, in my social media class I have an activity where students conduct research on brands and what Twitter users are saying about those brands.

Students use Hootsuite to search the brand and capture screen grabs of user Tweets and any accompanying photos. By using the Klout search feature in Hootsuite, students can focus in on influencers. After collecting their data into a common Google Drive document, they collaborate as a team to synthesize what they’ve found and extract insights. This is just one example of how you can creatively use real-time tools to create a classroom culture of collaboration.

Use technology to empower students to contribute

While I’m the professor of the class, my students shouldn’t just be learning from me. That’s not a connected mindset. We should all be learning from one another. As an example of how we can foster a culture of student contribution, let’s take the traditional classroom discussion.

The discussion can be greatly enhanced by turning students’ digital devices into extensions of a classroom’s collective knowledge. Rather than discouraging device use, encourage students to look things up when a question comes up in class.

But don’t just let your students search Google for an answer; challenge them. Have students pose the question on social media. A class hashtag can be useful for collecting and tracking the answers that students receive. And you can stream the hashtag on the projector using Hootsuite. As the answers come in over the class period, students will have to consider a few important things, including the value their social network can bring in terms of its collective intelligence, and how to assess the veracity of the different answers. Use this to your advantage to spark discussion. With a bit of planning, you can turn this simple technique into a great discussion-enhancing tool.

However you choose to empower your students to use technology to enhance classroom discussion, discuss the answers and sources with them as a means of teaching them to critically evaluate information.

3) Remember: students don’t always understand the difference between personal and professional social media use.

Although our students come to us with a social media mindset, they often need help crossing the bridge to professional social media use. I like Hootsuite University’s courseware on the Dos and Don’ts of Social Media Etiquette. It’s a great way to help students understand the implications of what they post online and learn proper social media etiquette.

Do you have students who are confident their social media postings are professional—the sort content they wouldn’t mind if the employer of their dreams saw? Put them to the test. Ask for volunteers to show their Twitter or Instagram account feed on the classroom projector. A fun tool I like to use is VisibleTweets, a website that adds fun colors and animation to any Twitter search.

By embracing social media culture in our classroom, we can harness technology to enhance learning while helping our students mature as consumers and producers of content.

Hootsuite’s Higher Education Program provides many ways to teach social media skills, in and outside of the classroom. This program is free for educators and provides access to courseware, lecture videos, webinars and tools—everything needed to teach social media effectively.

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Sign up for the #TeachSocial: Lessons from Top Social Media Professors webinar on August 21, 2014 to find out more about how professors and instructors teach social media skills. Register for the webinar today!

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