Helping Students Learn How to Learn Using Social Media at Seneca College
Having been a long-time fan of technology, Bhupesh Shah, a Professor in the School of Marketing at Seneca College in Toronto, was intrigued when a group of students asked him if he was on Facebook. He had dismissed Facebook as a tool for kids, but on closer examination, realized it could be an effective platform for engaging with students outside of the confines of the face-to-face classroom and on-site office hours.
Professor Shah describes his new approach as “playing in their playground”, building social media relationships often not possible in class. The social media tools are used not only to share content and insights, but also for increased student engagement, responsibility for learning, and skills for independent and interdependent learning.
The use of social media relates to course content, assignments, communication – and deeper learning of workplace and personal skills:
Content: Both professor and students post links to content-related items they think will be of interest to the class. For an International Business course, part of the International Accounting and Finance program, the course Facebook page featured links to YouTube videos, images, and short illustrated talks on concepts such as the supply and demand curve. The varied presentations of the information offer students more ways of learning – what Professor Shah describes as “simply a better way of teaching”.
Assignments: Examples of assignments are posted so that students are clear on the requirements. Tips and aids on how to use the online tools accompany the examples of assignment requirements. Accuracy, attention to detail, and fulfillment of requirements – essential workplace skills – are stressed as part of the assignment.
The assignments in the courses Professor Shah teaches on digital media for Marketing Program students are modelled on the marketing tools used in industry – students create blogs, videos, tweets, and similar products. The expectations also mirror what would be required in a workplace, such as catchy headings, good visuals, striking placement and format, etc.
To prepare for an assignment in the Social Media class to produce a video, students receive special in-class instruction. After posting photographs of one class group on Instagram, the photo sharing site, Professor Shah received numerous comments from other class group members anticipating the workshop. As an added benefit, students are also seeing the use of social media as an effective marketing technique.
Communication: Professor Shah provides his students with all his contact details – cell phone, e-mail, social media accounts – and tells them to reach out at any time. He may not always respond instantly, but he tries to model the good business practice of always responding as soon as possible. Students don’t often use phone calls or e-mails, preferring social media. Also contacts in the early hours of the morning are very rare, regardless of media, but students appreciate the access beyond office hours.
Responding to student enquiries about content and assignments can be time consuming, but most enquiries are part of an open forum so all course participants can benefit from the answers. Students are also encouraged to use private messaging for particular types of messages, underlining the differences between private and public communications.
As part of their learning about business practices, students are expected to use Twitter to explain absences or lateness for classes. Professor Shah keeps his responses regarding lateness light, but he is using this strategy to encourage awareness of workplace expectations around responsibility and courtesy.
Feedback: Students use the course hash tag to share what they think about the course or the content of a specific class. They also help each other to understand the topics, creating a sharing of learning.
Benefits and Outcomes
The skills students are taught are not limited to creating quality assignments, but to their use of social media as marketing tools in their careers.
Using social media for assignments encourages students to be creative in using a wide range of tools and content.
By using social media, Professor Shah is able to “drop knowledge” that students can pick up on while they are surfing the web, looking at posts, and then reading something that applies to today’s lecture. The learning becomes part of their regular communication routine.
Challenges and Enhancements
To accommodate students who choose not to join Facebook, Professor Shah was listing all the links in Blackboard, the learning management system, as well as on Facebook. This was awkward and time consuming. He now incorporates both the Facebook and Twitter posts directly within BlackBoard allowing access by students who do not want to personally register on social media sites.
When he first integrated social media assignments into his courses, Professor Shah often had to search for the assignment components for each student – blogs, tweets, visuals. He now has them send links to all their assignments in an e-mail so the search time is reduced. The assessment remains time-consuming as assignments must be assessed according to a wide range of criteria – such as content, image, format, and approach.
As Professor Shah is always reading, finding content for sharing is not a challenge. The strategy of choosing what, when, and where to share content is more demanding.
To benefit from the social media materials, students need to use a web-enabled mobile device. As some may not have this, they are able to borrow iPads from the college IT department.
Professor Shah is always trying out and incorporating new tools. One passed example is Geddit, a free app that functions as a virtual clicker, allowing polls, multiple-choice questions, and even short messages. It can be used to assess the level of understanding at any point in a class, and activity summaries can be used as attendance records. He is always on the lookout for new tools to help students, and, as a bonus, make his life easier.