Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced recently that a billion people are now signed on to the ubiquitous social networking site. If you’re a college student today, you’re probably one of them. Facebook is where students check out their roommates, classmates, and potential dates long before they meet in person. And if they’re not on Facebook? What are they hiding?
Watching my students use social media tools has led to several observations:
- Facebook: For everybody.
- LinkedIn: For those who think it will help them to find a job.
- Twitter: Diehards who realize that tweets can convey more than “I had a peanut butter sandwich for lunch.”
- Google+: Slowly increasing, but for most students, “Why bother? All my friends are on Facebook!”
In the classroom, Facebook becomes the perfect naughty distraction. When the instructor walks by, one quick click hides the browser tab that enables students to peruse posted party pictures, chat with their pals, or play Words with Friends during class. All the tapping at the keyboard and smug grins suggest these students may not be taking notes.
More than the birds are angry. In response, many faculty prohibit the use of laptops, smart phones, or tablets in the classroom.
Not me. I want my students to use social media during class.
Let them tweet what they are learning, to share their knowledge with others. Let them blog on topics of interest, to build an online reputation as an authority. Let them look up facts on Google or trending topics on Twitter, to clarify or enhance points made in a class discussion. Let them discover the importance of privacy to know what is appropriate to share. Let them use these technologies to connect the classroom to the world.
Students are already connected with the two or three mobile devices in their pockets or backpacks. Faculty today need to model best practices for using the social media tools that are part of students’ lives. Intentionally bringing Facebook and other social media sites into the information technology classroom teaches 21st-century digital literacy skills necessary as students enter the workforce. Today, companies use social media tools to promote themselves, build a brand and reputation, improve business process, and connect with employees and customers.
For the past four years, I have been working with Diana Andone, a colleague at the University of Timisoara, in Romania, on a research project to study how college students use social media and web-based collaboration tools. Two Bentley students partner with two Romanian students for four weeks as they research web startup companies. They use Skype, Google+ Hangouts, Facebook, or Google chat to talk in real time, and email, a blog or a wiki to have longer discussions and share ideas about their assigned companies. They create and narrate a multimedia presentation and post it online for their classmates and instructors to see. The assignment mocks a real-world business environment, one that requires international collaboration. Students learn how to manage the seven-hour time difference, find it rewarding to connect internationally with their peers to create a real, tangible work product in a short amount of time.
So bring it on. Turn it on. Social media plays a major role in how Bentley’s new Computer Information Systems Learning and Technology lab, the CIS Sandbox, connects with students in person as well as online. Our strategy is simple: connect with students using the same tools that they use to connect with each other.The CIS Sandbox Facebook page and Twitter account promote and events and current news stories. Student tutors post to a blog several times each week about current technology topics as well as instructional videos that they created and shared on YouTube.
It is up to faculty to create authentic opportunities, both inside and outside the classroom, that engage students using social media tools. Doing so transforms their experience from consumers to professionals prepared for the business world they are about to enter.
Mark Frydenberg is senior lecturer in computer information systems and director of the CIS Sandbox.