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Introduction to Social Media and Teaching

Social media has radically changed how information is created and shared.  For nearly six hundred years, we depended on printing presses to distribute information.  More recently, in the past fifty years, information delivery shifted to electronic forms, such as radio and television.  In both of these models, delivery was expensive and therefore centralized in publishing houses and commercial media networks.

The web altered this formula.  With social media tools, anyone can publish and distribute content.  This means that faculty (and students) now can develop, distribute, comment on, and even alter content that originally was the province of commercial entities. 

  • Reach - both commercial and social media technologies provide scale and enable anyone to reach a global audience.
  • Accessibility - the means of production for commercial media are typically owned privately or by government; social media tools are generally available to anyone at little or no cost.
  • Usability - commercial media production typically requires specialized skills and training. Most social media do not, or in some cases reinvent skills, so anyone can operate the means of production.
  • Recency - the time lag between communications produced by commercial media can be long (days, weeks, or even months) compared to social media (which can be capable of virtually instantaneous responses; only the participants determine any delay in response). As commercial media are currently adopting social media tools, this feature may well not be as distinctive in the future,
  • Permanence - commercial media, once created, cannot be altered (once a magazine article is printed and distributed changes cannot be made to that same article) whereas social media can be altered almost instantaneously by comments or editing.

Elisabeth Losh, Writing Director at the University of California-Irving, listed some principles for using social media:

  • The closer the connection to course content, the more valuable the use of social media
  • We have to be mindful of the privacy of our students when we expose them to the public sphere
  • We have to be conscious of the potential politics of academic labor (and this includes questions about faculty rewards)
  • We need to model appropriately academic uses of social media: YouTube shown for scientific experiments, scientific blogs, etc.
  • We need to stress connections between print media and electronic media: blogs that became books, video or interactive essays by academics, etc.
  • We need to think about issues of authorship and appropriation
  • We need to plan for discomfort when traditional roles and structures of classroom authority are disrupted
  • We need to have clear criteria for grading and evaluating student work that uses digital media

In this section, we will review the following tools and examine their potential use in online classes:

  • RSS Feed and Aggregation
  • Using Blogs
  • Using Wikis
  • Google Docs
  • Graphics, Pictures, Videos and Presentations
  • Using Social Bookmarking
  • Microblogging
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Last updated: 09/22/2009
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