Using social media in teaching – tricky decisions and how to make them


I’ve been leading staff development sessions on using social media in teaching and learning for a couple of years now. The sessions are run in collaboration with a learning technologist and follow the typical format of my staff development sessions – a flip activity, then in the face-to-face session the institutional background, pedagogic rationale, a ‘hands-on’ activity and some case studies. The overall aim of these sessions is to get staff to think about how to use social media in their teaching – but over time, I’ve realised that the aim is actually to get them to use social media in a very controlled and thoughtful way.

Some of the infographics that represent social media show a complete smorgasbord of apps/social media that suggest infinite learning potential, or alternatively, an overwhelming amount of evaluation and choice before you find the right thing. (I’ve curated some of these here – social media infographics scoop-it). Now I’ve come to realise that the easiest route to encouraging staff to use social media is to think less is more – restrict the choice to make it clearer what considerations need to be taken into account before investing the time and energy developing activities. I visualise this in terms of ‘circles of trust’ – at the very centre are social media or their institutional equivalents where the data is controlled by the university, there is learning technologist support, staff can access user analytics, and there will be continuity. Outside this are well-known external providers who have a relatively consistent product unlikely to change from year-to-year and that are partially supported by the university. Beyond these are the fun, well-designed, who knows-how-long-they-will-be-around apps which may spark off a good learning activity, but that have no commitments in terms of data use, stability or sustainability.

So the cards we put together for the hands-on activity in the sessions err on the side of caution – out of the 10 suggested social media, only 5 are trully external (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest), with 4 being in-house (Blackboard’s discussion board, blog, and wiki tools, and studentfolio, our Mahara based ePortfolio tool), and one – Edublogs – a sort of cross over. We’re still working on these and thinking about how to develop whole session activities around them, but creating them has really crystallised my thoughts on the how, what and why of using social media in learning activities. Social-Media-Decision-Making-Cards-for-web

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