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Some teachers use social media in classroom to ‘connect’ students

Although most teachers do not condone cellphone, Facebook and Twitter use in classrooms, some professors see them as vital academic tools.
About 1.43 billion people are predicted to use social networking this year, according to digital marketing company eMarketer.
“It (social media) enables people to exchange information and connect together,” said Steve Nicholls, author of “Social Media in Business,” in an interview with The Lantern on Ohio State’s Center for Study and Teaching of Writing’s “Writers Talk.”
But Nicholls also said the marriage of social media and education is not risk free.
Matthew Stoltzfus, an OSU chemistry professor, teaches about 350 students in one lecture hall. With so many students, Stoltzfus said, “there is a large amount of diversity in student preparedness” and using social media helps him to track students’ progress in “real time.”
Students bring cellphones or laptops to class to answer questions by messaging in to a number given to them, instead of using the traditional clicker in the class.
Twitter is used to an extent in Stoltzfus’ classes. He gives his students his personal Twitter handle (the username associated with a user on the site) and they are able to decide whether to follow him from their accounts. However, Stoltzfus did say that he uses Twitter to post homework reminders and other course information. This method is new to some students.
“I’ve never seen anything like Facebook or Twitter used in classes,” said Kyle Ginaven, a fourth-year in mechanical engineering.
However, Ginaven said using Twitter would be a “pretty cool” method to post homework assignments.
“Maybe it’d be more fun to get it via Twitter,” he said.
Nicholls said social media has many more facets than just Facebook or Twitter.
“It’s a whole range of things. Really what social media is, is a class of software,” Nicholls said.
Stoltzfus’ classes use social media platforms outside of Facebook and Twitter on a regular basis. He uses the flipped classroom model based off that used by the Khan Academy.
He explained that the flipped classroom model allows for lectures to be given outside of the classroom and class time to be used for discussion and practice problem solving.
“This model is a great way for any class that wants to facilitate discussion,” Stoltzfus said.
Essentially, students watch a lecture video that is posted prior to the class meeting time and during what would normally be the traditional lecture period, students come prepared to discuss, ask questions and problem solve.
“How well they do in class helps determine their homework,” Stoltzfus said.
By seeing how the class does on practice questions, he is better able to determine what homework would be the most appropriate.
Laura Geruntino, a fourth-year in health science, said she has used Facebook to communicate with classmates for group projects but she doesn’t think that social media needs to be used to facilitate classroom learning.
“I don’t know if it’s 100 percent necessary with Carmen and email (available),” Geruntino said.
Many classes at OSU use Carmen, an online class forum many OSU teachers use to post syllabi, assignments and grades, but Stoltzfus said he mainly uses the website as a class bulletin and a way for students to access their grades.
While there are benefits to using social media within the classroom, there are still inherent concerns that can’t be ignored.
Nicholls explained the risks that can arise with inappropriate communication between students and teachers that becomes possible through social media.
“These have to be acknowledged as real risks and they have to be managed,” Nicholls said.
The risks, as Nicholls pointed out, can be managed through a social media policy which he said should be implemented by the school with the aid of a legal expert, policy maker or social media expert.
“I see Facebook as more of a social site, whereas you can follow people you don’t really know on Twitter … I don’t associate classroom interactions with social activity,” Ginaven said.
But Nicholls said the benefits of using social media outweigh the risks.
Of course, using the “flipped classroom model” as Stoltzfus does, or implementing social media into a class, requires time, effort and change.
“Instead of using age as a factor (in determining classroom model change) it is how open to change you are,” Stoltzfus said.
That change, Nicholls said, might be worth it.
“Within the classroom, there are a lot of things that you can do, as a teacher and as a student, not just connecting with your friends but also you can be very, very creative with these platforms,” he said.

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