Monday, August 8, 2011

Improving Student Engagement Through Social Media

With the beginning of a new semester almost here, it’s a great time to focus on creating meaningful learning experiences for new and returning students. The recent national spotlight on improving graduation and retention rates for college students makes it more important than ever that we find ways to support increased student success. Both the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) and the Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE) were designed to measure student engagement and discover best practices at colleges and universities across the country. According to CCSSE, “research shows that the more actively engaged students are — with college faculty and staff, with other students, and with the subject matter — the more likely they are to learn and to achieve their academic goals.” Professors and student affairs professionals must find ways to actively engage students both inside and outside the classroom, using a variety of approaches and tools, including technology.

With the ever-growing use of social media among students, many educators are looking for ways to utilize it to support student engagement efforts. There are as many ways to incorporate the technology as there are social media platforms available. Here are just a few examples:

Derek Bruff, a math lecturer and assistant director of the Center for Teaching at Vanderbilt University, discusses the use of a “backchannel” in class discussions on his blog and in a recent New York Times article. This use of social media takes a student’s tendency to get involved in social media discussions that distract from class and turns it to a focus on contributing to in-class conversation and learning. One example would be have students use their smartphones or laptops to post to a discussion board or Twitter at the same time you are conducting an in-class discussion or lecture. You would project the “backchannel” Twitter or discussion board feed on the screen and refer to it for questions and comments by your students.

Adding class blogs to the curriculum is another way to utilize social media in support of learning outcomes. Professor Alex Mueller utilizes them in his upper level English courses as a way to extend class discussion in completely new directions. A recent UMass-Boston EdTech Newsletter details some of the ways this allows students to produce writing and then participate in an on-going comment stream with feedback to refine their ideas and concepts.

Campus organizations and student clubs are using Facebook pages and groups to communicate, sharing ideas for events, sending out reminders of meeting times and offering a place where new students can find out more about them. Some clubs have even gone completely online – one example is detailed in a recent Braintrack article about supporting online students that shares information from Pennsylvania State University’s Online Psychology Club.

With new social media platforms and ways to connect within existing course software, this will be a growing area in the focus to improve student engagement. Please use the comment section to share successful examples for using social media on your campus to support student success and engagement. Do you have ideas you’d like to try but haven’t yet implemented? We look forward to continuing to explore this issue in future posts.