Learning Communities/Networks: Harnessing Social Media to Create Social Capital

All, Education, Rants, Research, Teaching, Technology, Writing

teaching_social_mediaOn Friday, my friend and colleague Lee Skallerup Bessette presented a session at the 2013 Kentucky Innovations Conference. Our session, Learning Communities/Networks: Harnessing Social Media to Create Social Capital, was intended to focus on the important role that community plays in learning and the importance of social capital for both students and educators. There are many tools available to form and foster community and we planned a session to introduce educators to four social media tools (Twitter, Google, Facebook, Edmodo) which can be used for personal learning networks as well as to support classroom learning.

I teach writers and writing teachers, direct the Morehead Writing Project, and run the MWP Writing Studio plus serve as the interim [soon-to-be-actual-maybe] College Readiness (Developmental Education) Coordinator at Morehead State University. I write and research writing pedagogy and teaching with technology. I Tweet and Blog and post to Google+ about all these things and more. I feel quite passionate about using social media for my personal growth and development as well as teaching. I am a teacher but I am also an NWP site leader which means I am also responsible for teacher development. In addition, as a researcher I am interested in the ways that technology helps and hinders connections.

internet_connectionsWhy does this interest me? Why am I so passionate? First and foremost, social media allows me to connect with others who share my interests and passions – and these connections are so important to me I become rather evangelical as a result. I work with only a few people who really think about teaching the way that I do and no one who shares my specific research interests. Worse, I teach online which means there are days I do not see my colleagues in the hallway or over the copy machine, but social media allows me to share triumphs, challenges, worries, or laughs – just socialize and make human connections. I enjoy that aspect of social media but I really love how social media challenges the way that I think about teaching, learning, and research. People share casually and deliberately through comments or posts, blog posts and articles, and videos and other methods. Conversations and debates spontaneously occur at all times of day and night. I believe social media has made me better – as a teacher, learner, researcher, and leader.

As a teacher and leader, I use social media to create and sustain connections with and among my students and teachers. These connections are essential to learning but they also make our work together more fun. My students are constantly amazed at how tight knit we become for people who do not meet in person but that is the power of social media. I had a student this semester who began the class very resistant to my methods. She didn’t like the organization or the assignments – and I don’t think she liked me much either – but because we had a back channel where we could talk about our common interests and get to know each other as people – not just teacher-student – we were able to overcome her initial concerns and end the semester on a high note. Even better, my students have easy access to each other when I am not available and can help and support each other. Social media gives them the access but also the comfort to use it.

social_media_teachingHelping my students and teachers establish a social media presence and becoming comfortable with its use also helps us connect beyond our group. There are special interest communities of all sorts on social media and I deliberately push my students to find and make these connections – especially those which support their professional goals. I have charted much of my use of social media in the classroom as well as for my personal learning and leadership functions on my personal blog over the years, but here is a brief description of how social media became so important to me and how I use it.

I earned my Ph.D. through the online Technical Communication and Rhetoric program at Texas Tech. I think because of the specific focus of our program we really took advantage of the social media tools available to us. While our instructors certainly used these tools, we typically coopted them for our own purposes and regularly held back channel sessions while in class and held chats and meet ups outside of classes. We formed bonds, friendships, and support networks before ever meeting in person and these relationships persist long after we finished classes and the program. Even more wonderfully, through social media we have been able to expand these networks beyond the TTU TCR cohorts to the colleagues and friends of my TTU peers. That is, in essence, how it began for me and why today I am a daily presence on social media – Twitter, Facebook, and Google-Plus.

social-media-connectionsBecause I knew social media was such a powerful force in my own learning, and because I knew that MSUs content management system, Blackboard, was not designed for creating this sense of community, I began integrating social media into my classes. I believe very strongly in the importance of building community when teaching writing as well as its importance for simply learning. I never take creating community for granted and always integrate activities to create a sense of community in my classes. I began with Twitter but this academic year transitioned to Google-Plus. Sometimes I use it simply as a backchannel but I have also created social media assignments. I have also participated in Edmodo for work with students as well as other teachers although it is not my network of choice. I do not use Facebook to teach – mostly because I want some space that is safe from students and I think that gets a little creepy treehouse but I do use Facebook for my work with other teachers and it is certainly an important part of my personal learning network. Last summer I successfully taught a graduate seminar completely in Google and I intend to do it again this summer – this time it should be even better thanks to the creation of Google-Plus Communities.

Read more:

Is social media important to your personal learning and development? How do you use social media with your students?