Social media gets many 'likes' in the #classroom

Social media gets many 'likes' in the #classroom

by Leah (Zuber) Twilley

When Robert Talbert started teaching in 1997, he listed his fax number at the top of his syllabus.

Fast forward 15 years and his Twitter handle has replaced his fax number.

Its a sign of the times, said Talbert ( @RobertTalbert), assistant professor of mathematics, who joined Twitter, a social media platform that boasts 500 million users  more than the total population of the U.S.  because it looked interesting.


Associate professor David Coffey incorporates Twitter and other social media platforms into his mathematics courses.

When Twitter first became popular you were tweeting about vacuous things, he said. It seems like in the last year or so, academics, specifically professors, have started to take social media seriously.

Todd Carlson, associate professor of chemistry and chair of the Chemistry Department, said when he began teaching at Grand Valley more than 25 years ago there werent any email accounts or personal computers. Today, students are using their smartphones as personal computers, he said.

From dated technology such as document projectors and chalkboards to modern technology such as laptops and tablets, Carlson said everyone has their own preferences on what tools to use when teaching, including social media.

John Golden ( @mathhombre), associate professor of mathematics, started using Twitter to have conversations with his student-teachers.

We knew we had a problem getting feedback from them because we only had a few hours every few weeks in the classroom, so we took the discussion online, said Golden.

He used Twitter to share interesting articles, answer questions and connect his students to professionals across the country. The platform is comprised of 140-character messages called tweets.

I was amazed at the connections that were possible and the kinds of resources you were linked to, he said.

Golden and David Coffey ( @delta_dc), also an associate professor of mathematics, started to incorporate hashtags, a relevant keyword that categorizes tweets, into their classes.

Coffey created the hashtag #ed331 to be used by his students in his Methods and Strategies for Secondary Teaching course.

We use the hashtag as a back channel for conversation, Coffey said. For example, when I show a film in class, students will use the hashtag to talk with each other about it on Twitter.

Golden and Coffey also use #mathchat, which is used by professors and students to connect all math-related tweets, and #m432, which is used by Grand Valley student teachers and stands for their secondary math education class.

Another emerging platform Golden, Coffey and Talbert are using is Google Plus, a social network that includes an online video streaming service. Coffey and Golden used the tool earlier this year to video chat with a high school math teacher in a remote part of Hawaii, allowing their students and future math teachers to talk with a professional thousands of miles away.

The Mathematics Department at Grand Valley also maintains its own YouTube Channel, where it regularly posts videos of lectures. In fact, Talbert doesnt use his class time to lecture. He records his lectures ahead of time so his students can watch them on YouTube before class.

This way, they come to class knowing the material and can spend class time doing work and asking questions, Talbert said. Students have been very responsive to this type of teaching style. Ive gotten positive feedback from people in other countries as well, so its like were extending Grand Valleys reach and quality through this social media channel.

Spanish professors Mayra Fortes and Natalia Gomez found advantages in integrating another popular social media platform into their curriculum. They have their students use Tumblr, a blogging service that hosts more than 82 million blogs, throughout the semester. Students maintain their blogs by sharing photos, videos, articles and opinions related to a specific Latino subject.

Natalia and I sat down to brainstorm ways that would be helpful for students to practice writing, reading and interpreting Spanish, said Fortes, a native of Mexico. My students and I discuss so much in class that it can be hard to cover everything, so Tumblr allows students to continue the conversation outside of the classroom.

Students tag their blog posts with #SPA31312, which congregates all posts in one feed, so students can easily share, read and comment on each others blogs. At the end of the semester, each student presents their blog to the class as a final project.

Its a good space for students to practice writing in a less formal way and explore ideas that sometimes arent discussed in the classroom, said Fortes.

Austin Langlois ( @austin_langlois), a junior advertising and public relations major and Spanish minor, has noticed an increase in social media use among his professors since his first year at Grand Valley in 2010.

He has taken classes with Fortes and Tim Penning ( @penningink), associate professor of advertising and public relations.

Its nice to see professors use different types of social media networks, Langlois said. If Dr. Penning sees an article, hell tweet it and include our class hashtag, so people following that hashtag will see the article.

Students often alert Penning to interesting articles. Thats when youve really achieved it, Penning said. Thats when you feel that theres a two-way, peer-professional dialogue and it shows you that they get it.

While Penning enjoys having discussions with his students on Twitter, he advocates for proper social media etiquette.

I saw a professor from Oregon tweet to a student, You are NOT tweeting in class while your fellow students are presenting, Penning said. I asked her about it when I saw her at a conference. She laughed and said she could tell that the student saw her tweet because he immediately froze and slowly looked around.

He said keeping up with the ever-changing world of social media can often be difficult.

A lot of faculty are reading books, grading papers, writing research articles and meeting with students face-to-face, so a lot of their time is spent offline, Penning said. On the other hand, many professors take advantage of new technology and use Skype, for example, to bring in guest speakers for their students. So it is what you make of it.

Penning served on a panel at a National Communications Association conference in fall to discuss using social media as an extension of the classroom. We are definitely at the front edge of a wave with some faculty using social media and others feeling a need to start looking into it, he said.