In April, Pearson released a report entitled “Teaching, Learning, and Sharing: How Today’s Higher Education Facutly Use Social Media.” There’s increasing attention being paid to how faculty use social media sites  and the report provides evidence and insight into how faculty use such sites (e.g., YouTube and Facebook being the most popular sited for academics). Additionally, survey results from 1,921 respondents indicated that “over 90% of all faculty are using social media on courses they’re teaching or for their professional careers outside of the classroom.” This is impressive.

But what does “using social media” mean? We know that instructors use technology, but how and why are they using social media, and, more importantly, are they using social media in a fashion that aligns with the philosophies behind social media? For instance, are they using social media to democratize the educational process? Are they using social media to embrace diversity of opinion? Are they using social media to connect to individuals who are outside of the classroom?

Or, are social media co-opted and used in familiar ways, and in the process, being stripped of their social media affordances? For instance, there’s multiple ways one could use YouTube. Let’s say that a faculty member is discussing  Cognitive Load theory. S/he scours YouTube for a video clip relevant to the topic and comes across the following lecture:

There’s multiple ways that one could use this artifact, that could be categorized under “using social media in teaching.” Here’s two fictitious (and quite different) examples to demonstrate that not all “use” is equal:

  • You show the video as a way to start class. In your mind, showing the video might get students excited about the topic.
  • In semester 1, you ask students to watch the movie and evaluate the arguments presented. You ask them to create videos presenting evidence against the theory and to post them on YouTube as a response to the original. You then invite colleagues to respond to those videos, in an attempt to extend the conversation beyond class. In semester 2, you ask your new students to watch the original video and the responses, and create counter-arguments posted as videos on YouTube. Again, you ask colleagues to contribute and extend the conversations (and you ask students to reciprocate).

There’s a multitude of ways that technologies can be used in class. And while the optimist in me knows that good instructors capitalize on the opportunities provided by technology to empower their pedagogy, the pessimist in me also knows that technology adapts to fit familiar practices.