Social Media as A Pedagogical Tool: A College Professor Explains Why (Day 15)

An Educator’s Journey to Reimagine Education Series


Yes, finally, the WHY part.

Within the past several weeks, I have shared lots of “hows”. For example, How to participate in a Twitter chat? What are the top Twitter chats for public relations and social media professors and students? How social media has made me a better professor? What are some good textbooks for social media professors?

Today, I want to focus on the most fundamental, the “why” part.

Why did I embrace social media as a pedagogical tool at the first place?

After all, isn’t social media a tool for people to have fun, to be entertained, and to be social?

Yes and No. Here are the top three reasons that I embraced social media as a pedagogical tool at the first place.

Reason ONE: Are digital natives truly digitally savvy?

“Digital natives are digitally savvy.” Are they really? This is the biggest misperception that many educators including myself struggled with. I used to believe that students, growing up in the digital world, were savvier than me when it came to using social media. However, they are only savvy to a certain extent. While they are quite adept at using social media to connect and communicate with their friends and family members, students need lots of training from qualified teachers when it comes to using social media as a professional and strategic tool. As Hootsuite CEO Ryan Holmes points out in his commentary on social media skills gaps:

While social media races ahead, formal training and education programs are lagging seriously behind. If that isn’t making headlines, it’s testament to social media’s comprehensive mainstreaming: “Facebook? I use that everyday. Who needs to be trained in it?”

That was exactly my mindset a few years ago. On one hand, I saw social media exponentially gaining momentum and popularity. On the other hand, I was under the impression that students somehow just figured out how to keep pace with social media and excel at using it.

How wrong is that!

Reason TWO: Students have changed

The world has changed. Today’s students are different. They grew up in the digital era. They speak the language of emojis and gifs. 👍 They prefer texting to speaking over the phone. Their attention span is short. They are, simply put, different. I remember a YouTube video that I watched a while ago, titled, “I just sued the school system!!!’ by Prince Ea, a filmmaker, speaker, and poet. Several scenes from the video stuck with me. See the screenshots below. He compared the “modern” classroom environment to the automobile industry and then drew a conclusion.

A car from today, screen shot from Prince Ea’s YouTube video
A car from 100 years ago, screen shot from Prince Ea’s YouTube video
A picture of today’s classroom, screen shot from Prince Ea’s YouTube video
A picture of a classroom from 150 years ago, screen shot from Prince Ea’s YouTube video

After making all these comparisons, he concluded, “In literally more than a century, nothing has changed.”

screen shot from Prince Ea’s YouTube video

This particular video got more than 6 million views on his YouTube channel. If you read some of the comments under the video, it hurts, especially if you are an educator.

Compared to many of my colleagues, I didn’t start embracing social media and digital pedagogy until very late — just two years ago. However, the journey has been overwhelmingly transformative. I have come to believe:

Why? Because the world has changed. We have to change as well, even though change may evoke fears and unveil uncertainties.

Reason THREE: A paradigm shift from information dissemination to content co-creation

One of the most compelling ways that social media and technology have revolutionized human existence is that it has made the world smaller and flatter. The fact that you are sitting in your room reading a blog by a professor who works in the US but currently lives in South Korea is the best testament to how our world has shrunk.

Technology has not only enabled but also escalated social sharing and content creation.

Our ability to share and gather facts and information, instantaneously, has fundamentally dismantled the hierarchical structure of knowledge creation and dissemination.

Anyone has the freedom and ability to create and share content to educate or to entertain people. The old model of transmitting knowledge from an authoritative figure to a passive audience is no longer an effective method. Students don’t need professors to simply disseminate information that they could just as easily find on Google. However,

Students do need professors’ guidance to learn to capitalize on technology and social media to transform facts and information into creative productions that can move humanity forward.

This is why I embrace social media as a pedagogical tool so that students don’t just learn from me, but share and apply what they have learned with the broader community and to bring more impact to the outside world. The fact that I can co-create a participative classroom environment, via social media and technology, with the broader community, that can transcend the physical walls of a classroom is empowering, liberating, and exciting.

I also want students to understand the following:

Everything is fluid. The roles we play are fluid. We are teachers and students at the same time. If the world is a stage, we are all actors and actresses on the same stage. Students need to understand the power of social media to create and share stories that can impact someone’s life. Students can no longer passively sit in a classroom, listening to teachers inform them of facts and information. Instead,

Students need to proactively search for information and come to class to learn ways to transform that information into impact.

Participating in Twitter chats, joining trendy topic discussions online, voicing their opinions confidently online, contributing to public discourse digitally, cultivating digital citizenship, and actively developing the skills that allow them to tell stories visually, orally, and textually.

Conclusion

I learned from my personal teaching experience that words are plain compared to actions.

When I lecture, I talk a lot and students take lots of notes. However, it was only when I changed my behaviors that students changed themselves and acted on what I was also doing. Gandhi encourages us to “be the change that you wish to see in the world.” If we may borrow these wise words from Gandhi, how about, “be the change that we wish to see in the classroom.”

Call to Action

To teach students to become lifelong learners, we should become lifelong learner ourselves; to teach them to build a digital footprint, we should build one for ourselves first; to teach them about responsible and professional use of social media, we should demonstrate such behaviors first. When we change ourselves, students change themselves.


Blogs so far: Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5 Day 6 Day 7 Day 8 Day 9 Day 10Day 11 Day 12 Day 13 Day 14 Day 15

Ai Zhang received her M.A. from Syracuse University and Ph.D. from University of Maryland, both of which are located in the United States. She is currently an Associate Professor at Stockton University, where she teaches Public Relations and Social Media classes. Ai also serves on a number of social media committees at national communication organizations. Ai is passionate about education and innovation through the power of technology.