Janaury 2013 Issue • Volume 41 • Issue 1

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Using Social Media in the Classroom:
A Community College Perspective

Chad M. Gesser, Owensboro Community and Technical College

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In addition to being an Associate Professor of Sociology at Owensboro Community and Technical College, I am an academic, a teacher, and a mentor. Often faculty members at community colleges assume a wider range of academic roles compared with that of faculty at baccalaureate and post graduate programs. Our work is just different. There generally are a wider set of student needs and opportunities at a community college.

While the college readiness of our student population varies, there are some recent commonalities: (1) faculty, staff, and students are in the midst of an information revolution tied to collaborative tools and services; and (2) mobile technology is ubiquitous.

For many students using open and free web 2.0 tools and services there is an ease of access and the opportunity for increased engagement of faculty and staff with students. Students not only know how to use these services, but they take them along in their academic career and personal lives. I prefer the coordination sometimes required with these tools over the use of any content management system (CMS), particularly a CMS that students will never use once they complete their higher education.

In this age of web 2.0 and beyond, Google services have been my go-to toolbox for developing and sharing my work. I coordinate much of my professional work through Google Sites (sites.google.com/). I have a website for each course I teach and other websites I use to aggregate and present sociology resources to the general public. Google Sites makes it is easy to create pages, upload files, share with the public, or establish privacy for your class. I use Google Sites in conjunction with using Google Drive.

I store the entirety of my personal and professional work in Google Drive (drive.google.com/#my-drive), which can house my files. I sync my files from my computer to My Drive. With a cellular or Internet connection I am able to both create (word processing, presentation, and other files), access, and share (whether publicly or privately) my material anytime from a number of different devices (smartphone, iPad, laptop, and desktop). More importantly, I am able to post, email, or text message any outline, presentation, syllabus, assignment, and other course material to anyone, anytime, from almost anywhere.

I also use Blogger (www.blogger.com), a free blog publishing service for private or multi-user sharing of text, photos, and video, with each class I teach. My students complete and post most of their assigned work through Blogger. I encourage students to read and learn from each other’s work. Over the course of a semester I work with students as they become aware of expectations for their coursework, and I teach them how to write for the Internet. I encourage students to use different media to both understand and communicate their ideas. Beyond demonstrating learning via written text, students elaborate and illustrate their depth of understanding as captured through an embedded photo or video. These experiences help students to develop digital literacy.

Over the past several years, I have used YouTube to create playlists on a variety of topics in sociology. This allows me to quickly access videos to play in class or to send as a link in an email, text message, through Twitter, or other service. More recently I have engaged students with completing their homework in the form of capturing, editing, uploading, and sharing YouTube videos. This practice helps students to see their world with a unique perspective, with their sociological imagination.

My use of Twitter has largely been for professional development. Most of the early adopters of the now-mainstream social media/networking tools were the learned type. Being the sole full-time sociology faculty member at my college, I found the resources and connections I could make through Twitter to be invaluable. It was remarkable to be able to interact and exchange with like-minded people from all over. Over time I have reciprocated that behavior, “tweeting” information relevant to sociology and related to my broader interests.

My Twitter interaction with students has been mostly for casual interaction and extra credit through live chats. I look forward to using Twitter more with students as they become more engaged with the service.

There certainly are other tools that can be used to connect and enhance learning with students. For example, I have used Facebook in the past. In the fall 2012 semester, I began academically engaging students via Instagram. It’s safe to say that academics at all levels will continue to be exposed to tools and services that afford us opportunities to engage with the college community in innovative ways.

What I have communicated here has largely been pedagogy. There are a variety of sociology concepts that can be addressed using web 2.0 tools and services. These include social norming, digital identity, presentation of self, norms of reciprocity and interaction, and other micro- and macro-level social phenomena. The introduction of new media tools and online services has profound sociological impacts for individuals and society.

The rubber truly meets the road, however, when we take into consideration the role of mobile technology. Current, future, and past students and colleagues can access my sociology content, my person, anytime from almost anywhere. I believe in “meeting students where they are.” In 2013, more than 90 percent of my students are using mobile devices. Making sociology—as well as myself as an academic, a teacher, and a mentor—available to students and colleagues promotes collaboration, learning, and personal and professional development. As we are becoming all too aware, education and learning is not relegated to the four walls of the classroom or the one-semester experience through a proprietary CMS. Perhaps what we have yet to realize is how to use these tools and services in ways to professionally develop, to teach, and to promote in education and in other aspects of faculty, staff, and students’ personal and professional lives.

Chad Gesser can be reached by email at chad.gesser@gmail.com or on Twitter via @profgesser.

 

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