Preface – The Plugged-In Professor


We write this Preface using tools that were conjecture mere decades ago, and inconceivable just centuries ago. Reed, chalk, and quill were used for millennia; today information is routinely recorded, stored, and retrieved digitally. Although we have lived through the development of electronic media and witnessed first-hand the growth of the World Wide Web, social media were not on our radar even in the 1980s or early 1990s. As new as computer and digital technologies are, social media are even newer! (For example, MySpace and Delicious were launched in 2003, Facebook and Flickr in 2004, Twitter in 2006, and Tumblr in 2007.) Social media may be new to us, but today’s classrooms are filled with a generation of students to whom social media are a way of life – and who cannot envisage a world before Internet and digital technologies. Social media usage has spread to encompass adults as well as youth – and educators are increasingly considering social media as teaching tools, both in order to more effectively reach students, and because these technologies are being used more and more in the workplaces our students will be entering. One problem that often develops with our use of social media in the classroom is that the technology, rather than the pedagogy, can become the focus of the teaching. This book puts pedagogy first, considering ways in which underlying instructional purpose can guide our use of social media.

Social media and education

Before we proceed, we should define our use of the term “social media” in this book, since it has become such a popular buzzword. Social networking is the most public face of social media; in a social network such as Facebook users deepen connections by sharing thoughts, photos, links of interest, etc., and develop relationships by creating cohorts of “friends” who can then become “friend of a friend”. But in this book we do not limit our understanding of social media to social networking. With Kaplan and Haenlein (2010), we define social media as any medium enabling connectivity and interaction among users and communities. So we include wikis, blogging. and Web conferencing in our understanding of social media. In our opinion, wikis are the oldest social media (Ward Cunningham launched his wiki in 1995, with the iconic Wikipedia introduced in 2001) and perhaps have the longest history of educational application. We also include Web conferencing and blogging as electronic media that allow users to interact easily, offer quick feedback to communication, and collaborate effortlessly.

Having defined social media, we should consider the question of whether social media have a place in education. The fundamental question indeed is whether social media are a relevant and useful tool for learning. The importance of social media in our lives is indisputable, and undeniably there is a growing interest among educators in the potentials of social media in the classroom. At the same time, social media are evolving so rapidly that it is a challenge to determine what works best to promote which specific learning goals. It is our opinion that while social media pose challenges for teaching and learning, they also offer opportunities that justify exploration of their affordances. Social media can expand opportunities across a wide range of higher order learning: communication, collaboration, research, information literacy, critical thinking, and creativity, among others. Social media have the potential to help our students learn at many levels.

This is a potential not lightly dismissed, given the importance of social media in the lives of youth today. While estimates of time spent using social media vary, estimated use is nothing less than astounding. Social media account for 22.5 percent of the time that Americans spend online, compared to just 7.6 percent for e-mail (Nielsen, 2011). An illustrative example of the importance of social media can be seen in the use of a leading social medium, Facebook. Its use has grown from 175 million active users in January 2009 to 350 million users in 2011 (Socialbakers, 2012a) to 901 million in July 2012 (Facebook’s S-1 filings with SEC at At the same time, every minute, ten hours of content were uploaded to the video-sharing platform YouTube (Socialbakers, 2012a). Student use of social media supports this data. While it is difficult to estimate the time students spend in social networking, one recent empirical study (Junco, 2012) found that the average time American students spent on Facebook was 106 minutes per day, although many spent more. In Western Europe most countries reached over 75 percent Internet penetration “with up to 99% of a population social networking” in Portugal (Socialbakers, 2012b). Asia has lower social media penetration, varying from above 50 percent (in Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan) to 3 percent in India (Richards, 2012). But social media growth in India is one of the fastest, with 20 percent growth in the past six months (Socialbakers, 2012b). Even students in the developing world with little access to computers are mobile social media users. In Africa, for example, there is 65 percent mobile penetration and 50 percent of the population is younger than 20 ( Interestingly, 4.8 million people in the world (of the approximate world population of 6 billion people) own a mobile phone, while only 4.2 billion own a toothbrush (Infographics, 2012).

While the pervasiveness of social media offers significant opportunities for making learning more attractive, perhaps more important are the affordances offered by social media technologies for making learning more effective. In particular, these technologies have features that “afford” (Gibson, 1977) or support the human characteristics that facilitate learning. For example, we know that socio-collaborative instructional experiences can be used to promote deeper learning as students discuss/debate, collaborate/critique, and share with/listen to peers. Clearly, many of today’s social media (e.g., wikis, virtual chats, Web conferences, or electronic discussions) can be used to afford these socio-collaborative learning experiences by providing anytime/anywhere access to shared ideas while at the same time saving participants' dialogue, affording reflection, and allowing consideration of decision-making processes. Other technologies, such as online tagging and social-bookmarking tools, afford the mental processes involved in collecting, labeling, organizing, and aggregating information and ideas found on that globally shared knowledge space we call the Web.

The educational potentials of social media, when considered in conjunction with students' attraction to social media, lead us to conclude that we should seize the opportunity and take advantage of the unique habits of our students. Careful and considered use of social media by educators becomes an important way to give larger meaning to technologies that are used primarily for social and entertainment purposes.

Instructional goals and social media

The fundamental issue regarding social media use by educators is careful and considered use. The rapid growth of technologies places them in a state of high interpretive flexibility (Brent, 2005) meaning that such tools are particularly amenable to shaping by educators. This makes a pedagogical focus to social media particularly meaningful and necessary today. We feel that clear and effective instructional purpose is essential in shaping social media technologies for educational use. We agree with Halverson (2011) that goals for learning are more important than the use of any individual technology in the classroom. Too often the technology overrides pedagogy, so we strongly endorse the use of student learning outcomes as an effective way to ensure that social media are used to facilitate pedagogy. Learning outcomes are formal statements that articulate the knowledge, skills, and/or understanding that students should be able to demonstrate after instruction, and why they need to achieve these competencies. Outcomes may be based on standards set by professional organizations (e.g., teaching standards) or educational consortia (e.g., American Association of Colleges and Universities,, or governmental agencies (e.g., European Parliament’s Framework for Key Competences for Lifelong Learning, ) or they may be set by the course instructor, who carefully designs educational activities to ensure that students meet overall course objectives by the end of the semester. By clearly focusing on instructional purpose before selecting and utilizing social media in the classroom, educators can ensure learning by knowing what they are doing with social media, why they are doing it, and what students are learning as a result.

Rationale for this book

This book was developed to provide a comprehensive resource for using social media and other new technologies to help college students meet discipline-specific and general education learning objectives. The book includes techniques and activities built around well-known social networking technologies like Facebook and YouTube, Delicious, Tumblr, and Twitter as well as online collaborative technologies such as Web conferencing, wikis, blogs, and some functions of LMS. With a practical focus and an easy to use format, the book shows educators how to apply techniques using social media technologies, and includes clear student learning objectives, step-by-step directions, observations and advice, and supplemental readings and resources.

We feel a book such as ours is needed because today’s students are in truth a social media generation, however much of their time spent with social media is for social rather than educational purposes. As Ellaway and Tworek (2011) note, “exposure to media does not necessarily equate with generative, creative or constructive learning outcomes” (p. 325). In addition, and perhaps more importantly, utilizing social media in pedagogically thoughtful ways in our classrooms allows us to expose students to ways in which these technologies can be used to effectively develop their professional careers, further their personal goals, and empower them with lifelong skills. Thus we recommend social media to not only make student academic success more attainable to the instructor, but to also make student professional and personal success more likely.

The primary audience for this book will be educators in colleges and universities, but within education we reach a broad and inclusive audience. Because of the range and diversity of the chapters, the book is of interest to anyone wishing to develop teaching to more effectively reach students. This includes anyone in higher education, and also includes K–12 teachers, as the strategies and techniques in the book are easily adaptable to a school audience. The secondary audience for the book will be practitioners in industry, as many of the teaching activities can be modified for use in training.

This book can also prove useful to both novice and expert users of social media. Novice users will find complete directions to guide them through selection and use of social media in the classroom. More experienced users of social media can get ideas that are "transferrable" across social media technologies and can be adapted to different uses.

Other noteworthy features of the book: it is as applicable to the traditional classroom as to the online classroom; it is also both discipline specific and cross-disciplinary. Each social media technique will discuss discipline-specific applications, yet the book moves beyond traditional disciplines and boundaries. With contributions from authors from four continents and chapters addressing every academic discipline including the arts, business, education, humanities, sciences, and social sciences, this book has broad and crossover utility.

Structure and organization of the book

The book is divided into four broad parts organized around the key pedagogical competencies of writing, research, and information fluency; communication and collaboration; critical and creative thinking; and integrative learning. Our overarching focus on pedagogy guiding the use of social media can be seen throughout the book.

Part 1 – Writing, research, and information fluency

The chapters in this section focus on pedagogical techniques which promote students' skill in locating, analyzing and evaluating, organizing and structuring information with the goal of producing a written paper or similar product.

In Chapter 1, “Writing for Wikipedia: co-constructing knowledge and writing for a public audience,” Lori L. Britt discusses an assignment in which students use Wikipedia as a pedagogical tool to research topics, engage with the material, see connections, and articulate their findings in their own voice. Through these processes, students can move beyond instructor-defined knowledge and classroom-limited lecture and discussion to a recognition of knowledge as fluid, connected, and “alive”. Writing and revising existing Wikipedia articles also enables students to communicate more effectively to a public audience.

In Chapter 2, “Organizing with Pinterest and Delicious,” Melanie L. Buffington, describes how students can research and categorize resources (such as images, videos, or information from websites) using the social bookmarking sites Pinterest and Delicious. This allows students to create conceptual linkages, and see, refine, and share ideas. It also promotes the ability to plan and organize research, and to develop products such as papers, presentation, or art. An added benefit is the anytime/anywhere feature of such learning.

In Chapter 3, “Students' inadequate exposure to learning technology: overcoming the pedagogical challenge using wikis,” Linzi J. Kemp describes how students with little exposure to learning technologies can easily be shown how to use a wiki to research and post information, evaluate and synthesize information, and write collaboratively. She uses a case study assignment (in which students report on a successful real-world leader) to encourage work in a social medium, supplemented by face-to-face group work. The resultant case study is “published” in the wiki. The project has real-world value in addition to realizing the learning potential of a wiki.

In Chapter 4, “Collecting and analyzing primary sources,” Lisa M. Lane considers how social media (such as a class blog, wiki, discussion forum, or collaborative document) can provide a way for students to form their own collections of visual and textual primary sources, and to develop and hone theses. Disciplines that encourage the use of primary sources in the analysis and construction of arguments can benefit from the potential of the Web, and social media encourage interdependency and peer work in developing and refining supportable theses.

In Chapter 5, “Unraveling the research process: social bookmarking and collaborative learning,” Caroline Sinkinson and Alison Hicks leverage the ability of social bookmarking to capture the social, collaborative, and participatory nature of research. They demonstrate how social bookmarking sites such as Diigo can help shift the focus from a final research product to the experience of inquiry, as well as repositioning research as active dialogue. They also enable students to work collaboratively, negotiate multiple streams of information, think critically about information, and draw connections and meaning from information to inform their contributions.

Part 2 – Communication and collaboration

Because of the importance of communication and collaboration across disciplines, this section is subdivided to allow for a more complete exploration of each of the broad instructional goals of communication and collaboration.

Part 2A – Communication, oral and written

Part 2A focuses on activities in which students select communication skills appropriate to the context, compose and revise written materials appropriate to the discipline, or compose and deliver oral messages appropriate to the intended audience. In essence they create audio, video, interactive, or text-based products based on the concepts and skills taught in the course, for use by peers or a larger audience.

In Chapter 6, “Using Wimba Voice Board to facilitate foreign language conversation courses,” Silvia U. Baage shows how an asynchronous audio-based threaded discussion forum can be used to strengthen speaking and listening skills. Students can use the voice tool to create content in discussion threads. The discussion forum allows for peer-to-peer learning, as research and reflections about specific cultural topics in a target language are shared. This activity not only develops communication skills, it also promotes collaborative work and knowledge.

In Chapter 7, “Web conferencing and peer feedback,” Kevin Garrison utilizes Web conferencing to facilitate the peer review and feedback process in a collaborative, virtual space. An online social medium can overcome the limitations of traditional peer workshops by allowing for greater interactivity among a larger number of students, while promoting revision, based on audience feedback. Additional benefits are the opportunities to develop digital communication skills, preparing students for success in workplaces that encourage collaboration.

In Chapter 8, “Learning through YouTube,” J. Jacob Jenkins and Patrick J. Dillon use YouTube to promote exploration of an academic concept/theory through student presentation and peer critique. A popular social media site can engage students in an active learning process as they work in small groups to create an original short video that explicates or exemplifies a course concept/theory. The video is then presented to the class, and critiqued by the audience. Social media can thus be incorporated into action–inquiry pedagogy, allowing students to engage in open dialogue via collaborative knowledge construction.

In Chapter 9, “Wiki-workshopping: using Wikispaces for peer writing workshops,” Hans C. Schmidt discusses the potential of Wikispaces to facilitate peer writing workshops. Wikis offer the opportunity for outside-class work for the processes of peer editing, reflection, and learning. Additional benefits of using a wiki for peer review include the freeing of in-class time, easy tracking of peer suggestions and revisions, and exposing students to the power of Web 2.0 technologies, which can help develop basic media literacy competencies.

Part 2B – Collaboration

Part 2B focuses on activities in which students work cooperatively, using collaboration, teamwork, and group presentation skills, to determine goals, develop plans, make ethical decisions, solve problems, and articulate ideas with individuals and groups, and, where appropriate, create audio, video, interactive, or text-based products based on the concepts and skills taught in the course.

In Chapter 10, “Using persistent wikis as a pedagogical resource,” Evan D. Bradley avails of wikis' potential for collaborative learning. Wikis have a unique ability to build content incrementally across multiple courses, or over time periods beyond a single term. By participating in the creation, maintenance, preservation, and growth of such wikis, students can benefit from an accelerated learning curve and access to a strong content resource, instructors can benefit from evidence of student achievement, and both instructors and students can benefit from continuing contributions.

In Chapter 11, “Social media and public speaking: student-produced multimedia informative presentations,” Paul E. Mabrey III and Juhong “Christie” Liu utilize social media to supplement face-to-face interactions as students create and present a group multimedia informative presentation focusing on a course concept, and teach other students an important communication concept reinforced by the production of digital exam questions. Combining face-to-face interactions with digital video develops students' ability to effectively convey course concepts in an interactive manner, as well as promote the peer review process.

In Chapter 12, “Collaborative presentations using Google Docs,” Michael S. Mills discusses a project in which students produce a collaborative presentation using Google Docs. The synchronous editing capabilities of the social medium allows groups of students to create multiple parts of a presentation independently and then serve as peer reviewers and collaborate to synthesize material into a final form. Using Google Docs to create a presentation has the benefits of familiarizing students with online content creation and problem-solving tools, preparing them for writing in team-based scenarios and teaching them to harness user-friendly Web 2.0 tools and apply effective presentation design.

In Chapter 13, “Cooperative study blog,” Amanda E. Waldo discusses an activity that uses student blog posts to identify and discuss key course concepts. Students individually post definitions, explanations, and analysis of a specific concept. The shared posts function not only as a resource for review and understanding, but allow students to think critically about how course material relates to larger course themes. This activity has the additional benefit that students can see the added value of a shared forum in study and exam preparation.

Part 3 – Critical thinking and creativity

Because of the importance of critical thinking across disciplines, this section is also subdivided to allow for a more complete exploration of each of the broad instructional goals.

Part 3A – Critical thinking

Part 3A focuses on activities in which students question, understand, explore, analyze, and synthesize concepts and skills taught in the course.

In Chapter 14, “Using Facebook to apply social learning theory,” Michelle Kilburn describes an active learning exercise that frames social learning in a social networking medium. The activity allows students to understand and apply course theory in a real-world forum, and has the benefit of creating awareness of posting socially inappropriate materials, and of the impact of friends and other social associations in social networking sites. As students transition from the classroom to their careers, such awareness can be of real value.

In Chapter 15, “Technology as a tool to develop problem-solving skills in general chemistry,” Madhu Mahalingam and Elisabeth Morlino scaffold electronic and traditional (face-to-face) learning to reinforce deeper learning. They utilize commonly available technology, such as online homework systems, online quizzes, and personal response systems in the classroom to build a knowledge base within the discipline. The level of problem solving is raised gradually to culminate in higher level learning in face-to-face group work. Scaffolding of technology and group work allows instructors to effectively develop students' problem-solving skills.

In Chapter 16, “Communicating experiential learning through an online portfolio in Tumblr,” Aaron J. Moore uses Tumblr to document integrative learning by students performing experiential work (internships, co-ops, fieldwork). The social medium allows students to connect their academic coursework to their professional or field environment, while feedback from the instructor, and from other students, forms communal discourse. In requiring students to pull together their entire experiences inside and outside of the classroom and create a narrative that exhibits intellectual and professional development, this project has the benefit of serving as a resource for the student and an artifact for the instructor.

In Chapter 17, “The Biology Taboo Wiktionary: a tool for improving student comprehension of key terminology in introductory biology courses,” Jeffrey T. Olimpo and Patricia A. Shields use an interactive in-class game supplemented by a course wiki to promote knowledge of terminology and understanding of foundational processes and concepts. The in-class game requires that students first define concepts in their own words, then individually upload definitions to a course wiktionary. The benefits of these activities are not only the development of a deeper understanding of connections and a foundational understanding of the discipline, but also the creation of an online study resource.

Part 3B – Creativity

Part 3B focuses on activities in which students use concepts and skills taught in the course to generate new and unique ideas, make connections, and become more comfortable with unorthodox methods.

In Chapter 18, “Mobile digital storytelling in the second language classroom,” Apostolos Koutropoulos, David Hattem, and Ronda Zelezny-Green harness the power of mobile digital video technologies to help students learn about a target culture, as well as develop new vocabulary and new grammatical structures. The assignment calls for students to prepare and tell stories using audio and visuals of their choosing in a short narrated video that can be created using smartphones or pocket digital video recorders. Videos are then uploaded to YouTube for review by, and comments from, classmates. This assignment has the benefit of allowing students autonomy in learning, which not only increases their motivation to learn but also develops their ability to express ideas more articulately.

In Chapter 19, “Creating a video dialogue with streaming video clips,” Sandra L. Miller describes the potential for streaming video in the classroom. Streaming video not only allows for anytime, anyplace learning but using annotations and playlists (a series of annotations or customized clips accessed through a single link) promotes active learning. Discussion and the ability to share comments with others build interactivity into the experience of watching media, which removes passivity. In these ways, streaming video can augment student learning in a social media environment.

In Chapter 20, “Remix as an educational activity,” Christopher Shamburg, Kate Mazzetti-Shamburg, and John Shamburg introduce and develop the concept of remix as a tool for understanding and developing literary and communication skills. Here “creativity” is not limited to creation of new material, but also encompasses reorganizing and recombining existing work to produce a new, unique interpretation. Two projects from the humanities are described, which can easily be adapted for any discipline or source material. Learning experiences such as these foster students' imagination as well as engagement.

In Chapter 21, “Using Twitter to assist students in writing a concise nut graph,” Tia C. M. Tyree harnesses the potential of microblogging to teach students how to encapsulate information using the formula of 5Ws – Who, What, When, Where, and Why. Using this formula in a Twitter nut graph (a journalistic paragraph that summarizes the news value of the story) allows students to concisely provide information to an audience with and without time constraints. Participation in live microblogging with classmates has the added benefit of sharpening students' summarization and audience engagement skills.

Part 4 – Integrative learning

The chapters in this section focus on activities in which students apply disciplinary knowledge, skills, and responsibilities to real-world contexts and complex problems, and reflect (in a real-world setting) on concepts and skills taught in the course.

In Chapter 22, “Simulation, video sharing, and discussion threads for practice-based skills,” Lindsay B. Curtin and Laura A. Finn discuss how computer-based simulations, video recording, and online discussion can be used to improve practice-based skills and critical thinking. Students first experience a computer-based simulation; they are then video recorded completing a live simulation; finally they view uploaded recordings of their peer teams and assess their peers in an online discussion board. Supplementing technology with social media has the benefits of active learning, challenging students to use reflective and critical thinking skills in a comprehensive activity that assesses their abilities globally, and reinforcing skills in applying theoretical knowledge to real-world scenarios.

In Chapter 23, “Using Facebook Mobile as a tool to create a virtual learning community for pre-service teachers,” Erkkie Haipinge describes how, in an environment with low Internet penetration (Africa), Facebook and mobile phones can be used to connect pre-service teachers with practicing teachers in the field. Accessible social media can be used to create a learning community in which pre-service teachers, through online discussions and postings with practicing teachers, explore ways in which educational technologies are used in the schools. This enriches both groups by improving both learning and practice, and is an innovative use of social media in a country where Internet penetration is low, but mobile phone usage is high.

In Chapter 24, “Using social software tools to facilitate peer e-mentoring and self-reflection among students on practicum,” Mark J. W. Lee and Catherine McLoughlin discuss ways in which Web-based social software can facilitate peer-to-peer mentoring relationships among students undertaking practicum placements at geographically dispersed locations. Weekly blog entries and voice recordings of critical incidents allow students to assist and support one another as they post, comment, respond, and react to peers. As they learn about their professions and themselves as practitioners, they become active members of a supportive community. This activity has the benefits of developing students' self-awareness, reflective, and collaborative/communicative skills, while promoting professional skills in the use of social media.

In Chapter 25, “Using opinion leaders on Twitter to amplify PR and marketing messages,” Sarah H. VanSlette explains how students can use a microblogging tool, Twitter, in a social media campaign. By engaging an opinion leader or celebrity (through a retweet, @ing them in messages, or a direct request) students can amplify the reach of their social media campaign. This activity helps students understand the power of opinion leaders within any public relations or marketing campaign. It has the benefits of teaching students how to use Twitter with consideration and propriety, how to write short (within the 140 character Twitter limit) compelling messages, and to think of ways to creatively engage their audiences.

Chapter structure

Throughout the book, every chapter follows the same structure:

 Chapters begin with “Abstract”, “Key words”, and “Discipline/Academic areas addressed” sections, which are followed by the sections outlined below:

 “Instructional purpose” explains the broad purpose of the activity, assignment, or teaching technique. It covers the social media used and the reasons for using these media, and shows how pedagogical goals are achieved.

 “Student learning outcomes” (SLOs) states clear, measurable competencies that are expected of the student after successful completion of the assignment, project, or activity.

 “Prerequisite skills and knowledge” outlines how instructors can determine the adequacy of students' preparation for the activity, project, or assignment. Where appropriate, resources are recommended to help students attain the necessary skills.

 “Step-by-step directions” lead the reader through the activity, project, or assignment, using step-by-step instructions which facilitate the development of students' competencies (as specified by the SLOs) and achievement of the larger instructional goal. Also included in this section are directions for evaluation and clear guidelines for students.

 “Approximate time required” provides information on how much in-class and out-of-class time is needed to complete the activity, assignment, or project.

 “Required resources” details any technological or content resources that are necessary for the effective execution and completion of the activity, project, or assignment, as well as links to tutorials or guides for getting started with the technology.

 “Variations on the basic theme” discusses ways in which other social media can be used for this assignment or activity, and how the activities can be adapted for different disciplines or alternative learning outcomes.

 “Observations and advice” provides authors' reflections on what they have observed when their students engaged in the project, so that others can benefit from their experience.

 “Recommended reading” provides a list of resources which can be used to learn more about the social media, the theory, or the discipline.

 “Supplemental materials” provides examples of handouts and guidance used by the authors when implementing the activity or assignment. This may include instructions or guidelines given to students and/or rubrics used to assess the students' work.

As we have already noted, each teaching technique provided in the book has a clear pedagogical focus and is designed to be easily utilizable, whatever one’s level of experience with social media. We hope that this book will prove a timely and valuable resource for educators. Since social media have become integral to the landscape of daily life, a careful and considered incorporation into our teaching can help prepare our students for personal and professional success.


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