Using social media to empower the student

GSM London’s Zach Thompson looks at how social media can take today’s student from passive listener to active contributor

Social media is an important tool in the classroom, particularly in a world where everything, including education, is increasingly ‘on demand’. Nada Dabbagh and Anastasia Kitsantis commented in their study on Personal Learning Environments that “learners should not be considered as passive information consumers; rather [as] active co-producers of content”. The use of social media in this respect, therefore, can empower the student, taking their role from passive listener to active contributor.

However, implementing social media into the lecture hall can be challenging. As an unregulated platform, how can you turn the very devices that are criticised as distracting students from their work into an effective learning tool? With a view to improving student engagement and empowering their learning via social media, I started to look into ways to use channels such as Twitter and YouTube to benefit and complement learning. 

As any lecturer will be aware, giving feedback to students can be a time consuming task and one where efficacy is difficult to measure. Many students also struggle to use such feedback in future tasks, seeing it as relating solely to what they have just been assessed on. With this in mind, I decided to trial using YouTube as a platform to deliver ‘feed-forward’ videos to students. These videos included guidance related to the expectations of the work and highlighted the specifics of the live project. They also included common mistakes that students make and specific information related to more challenging areas of the work. This gave students the ability to ask questions in the comments section. A survey of students following the trial demonstrated that 79% watched the feed-forward videos, with over half agreeing or strongly agreeing that it was useful to their learning.

In one of my business strategy modules I recently set up a Tweet Wall for the class to use, with the intention of using it for student questions, formative assessment, distribution of content and tutor feedback. Putting social media into a more formal environment also helps students develop an appropriate ‘netiquette’; becoming ever more important as employers are increasingly looking at prospective employees’ digital CVs.

The Tweet Wall pulls all tweets using the same hashtag from twitter onto a ‘wall’ that can be projected onto a screen. I have mine running continuously throughout the lesson, next to PowerPoint slides from the lecture that I am delivering. Using social media in this way enables the students to become more active in their learning; they can potentially influence the direction of the lecture and the discussion of certain topics. They can clarify certain queries with their peers, instead of asking the tutor. Students who answer their peers’ queries are able to reinforce their knowledge by temporarily taking on the role of teacher. Meanwhile, the tutor can discretely identify students who may need further support. Resources can be disseminated easily, and sharing a great idea is only as difficult as hitting the ‘retweet’ button.

When used correctly, social media can provide an innovative and inspiring way of creating new learning opportunities, increasing student engagement by taking the student from passive to active, and creating a collaborative learning environment. It is also a useful tool for tutors to review and manage progress and student satisfaction. When engaging with the digital generation, my advice is if you can’t beat them, join them!

Zach Thompson is a principal lecturer and Head of Department for Strategy and Enterprise at GSM London.