In teaching assistant Alvaro Llosa’s Spanish 2 class, business is not conducted as usual.
Rather than listening to instructor lectures as would be expected in a typical college class, Llosa’s students take cyber shopping trips to Spanish cities or video chat with native speakers half a world away. Instead of writing ordinary essays, they upload posts to the class blog or wiki, complete with pictures and captions.
Llosa’s class is not an atypical case. A recent study released by the Babson Survey Research Group showed that, with little variance in age, increasing numbers of professors are jumping on the social media bandwagon. Eighty percent of professors report that they have at least one account with major social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Skype. Fifty-two percent of these professors report using at least one of these tools in their classrooms.
“These [social media] tools can be especially helpful in a class like Spanish where the instructor is trying to expose students to culture and language,” Llosa said. “This technology allows us to thrust students into real situations and to have direct contact with a culture they may not have experienced otherwise.”
Llosa primarily uses blogs and wikis but said he also has used Skype, Youtube and the photo-sharing site Flickr in the past.
Sociology instructor David Orzechowicz said he often finds outlets like Youtube or Myspace helpful as a way to connect with his students on a level that they understand.
“It provides a nice opportunity to take something familiar and make it almost exotic by highlighting things that you wouldn’t necessarily think about,” he said. “For instance, I will use these sites to talk about the way in which people go about doing presentation of self, which is a major sociological theory.”
Though he uses social media tools frequently, Orzechowicz said he is conscientious of using these tools in a way that is beneficial for his students.
“Anything you bring into the classroom, whether it is media or lecture, is only as effective as the instructor makes it,” he said. “My biggest concern is making sure that these tools actually connect to the material and aren’t seen as me just taking a break from talking.”
Despite the increasing popularity of social media in the lecture hall, some professors have chosen to maintain a traditional approach to teaching.
“Technology gets between me and my students,” said Randolph Siverson, a professor within the political science department. “When I give my lecture, I try to maintain as much personal contact with my students as I can by looking at them and watching them as they sleep or flirt or even listen.”
Despite his personal choice, Siverson acknowledges that social media can be very useful within certain contexts.
“One of the good things about academic freedom is that it means you get a wide variety of instructional methods presented to the students and students have the opportunity to learn in a variety of ways,” he said. “I have colleagues who have invested a lot of time creating multimedia tools for their classrooms and they have been very successful.”
Siverson said he also chooses not to use social media accounts outside of the classroom.
“I have gotten random requests from people in Portugal wanting to add me to Facebook and I am totally bewildered as to how they even made contact with me,” he said. “I just say ‘no thanks’.”
As director of the technocultural studies department on campus, Jesse Drew said he understands the advantages of social media as a way to communicate with students on a familiar platform, but said it has the disadvantage of being used incorrectly.
“The negative side is that professors may feel pressured to take advantage of technology just so they are not viewed as being out of touch,” he said. “Just because social media is being used, doesn’t mean it is done so in an appropriate way … we cannot just use it for the sake of using it.”
Drew also said he is wary of using too many of these outlets, many of which are owned by commercial companies, in an academic setting.
“UC is a public university and professors should not be so fast to surrender what we do to commercial enterprises because it contributes to a general drive toward privatization,” he said. “In addition, many sites like Facebook are under scrutiny right now for violating people’s privacy and selling their information.”
Drew said that if instructors are trying to use social media in their classes, he advocates using smaller scale technology like wikis or even the university’s own Smartsite.
In the meantime, Llosa says he looks forward to the new ways social media will be implemented in the classroom in the future.
One idea he thinks will gain popularity is the integration of interactive media into student essays, much like websites that have pictures and links to videos and other articles.
“This is how students get their news and access culture when they go online,” he said. “Why not submit essays online in a similar layout so that students get familiar with this format early on.”
ERICA LEE can be reached at email@example.com.