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Using Social Media for Teaching

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Many of our students participate in social networks like FacebookTwitterInstagram, and Snapchat. All of these social networks are rife with opportunities for critical thought and discussion; indeed, what makes teaching with social networks often so appealing to instructors is the organic way in which thoughtful discussions about a variety of topics can emerge from the social networks' infrastructures. Teaching with social networks can also be an appealing prospect because they are a way for students to examine critically a space that they use regularly. In other words, social networks can be a space where students can see the rhetorical work that they do in their classrooms have public and social impact.

Instructors should consider the implications of using social media for teaching carefully. There are myriad benefits to helping students write in a space with an authentic audience, and there are also substantial risks for student privacy. Some of the benefits of writing in a social network include engagement with an authentic audience, the potential for engaging in a conversation with people outside of the classroom environment, and an awareness of genre and rhetorical conventions that guide much of contemporary connections. Yet the risks should also be noted: students may not feel comfortable merging their "social" and their "academic" identities together in the space of the composition classroom. Further still, students may not like their academic work to be exposed in spaces that can be accessed by anyone, including future employers.

This page offers some resources for assessing whether teaching with social media is appropriate and some strategies for incorporating social media use into a class.

When is Using Social Media in a Composition Class Appropriate?

  • When the instructor wants the student to write to an authentic public
  • When the instructor's course theme intersects with a particular movement or idea that is spread through a particular social network
  • When the instructor wants students to learn about digital genre differences and wants students to engage with and enact those differences
  • When the instructor wants students to conduct research in social media environments
  • When the instructor gives the students a specific prompt or purpose for engaging in the social network

How Can I Make Social Media Participation Safe for My Students? 

If your students are writing for a larger public, there is no way to control what all of the interactions will be like. That said, there are some steps as an instructor that you can take to make students feel safer when contributing to a public online environment: 

  • Give students the option to opt out of posting directly to social media. Some students may not feel as though they can post directly to a social network even if they want to participate in the activity. You may want to give students the options to post as though they were sharing directly in a social network, but have them submit evidence of their work directly to you in an alternative platform or format. 
  • Give students the option of using an alias rather than their real identity online. Some students may want the experience of engaging in the activity on the social network itself, but may not necessarily want to use their real names or identities. You may ask students to submit what their alias is to you privately, but to maintain their interactions online via whatever public alias they so choose.
  • Provide feedback on the students' social media engagement outside of the social media platform itself. If you reveal information about a student's grade or progress in the course in an online, public space, that may be considered a FERPA violation. FERPA is designed to protect student privacy and to help them feel safe in their learning environment. Make sure students have clarity on where you're giving them feedback on their work. 
  • Discuss shared ethical guidelines for social media usage among your class community. Even if you and your students can't control what people outside of the class environment share or do on social media, your class community can develop some shared guidelines and principles to foster class community. Conversations about ethics can be challenging, but developing shared trust is critical to helping students engage on platforms without fear of being silenced or shut down.

Resources for Learning More About Using Social Media as a Teaching Tool

"8 Things You Should Know Before Using Social Media in Your Course:" Jennifer Rafferty, Online Learning Consortium (April 10, 2017)

"Learning in Bursts: Microlearning with Social Media:" Stephanie Trowbridge, Clair Waterbury, and Lindsey Sudbury (Educause Review, April 10, 2017)

"Meet Your Students Where They Are: Social Media:" Greg Heiberger and Reynol Junco (NEA Higher Education Advocate,2011)

Walls, Douglas M., & Vie, Stephanie. (2017). Social Writing/Social Media: Publics, Presentations, and Pedagogies. Perspectives on Writing. Fort Collins, Colorado: The WAC Clearinghouse and University Press of Colorado.