Social media and professors: why some use it and others don’t

By on August 29, 2011.

If a teacher walks by and notices a student is on Facebook or Twitter in class, they might be alarmed. However, some professors on BYU campus are changing what is considered “normal” communication with students.

Due to the overwhelming popularity of social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, some professors are beginning to interact with students through social media. For some professors, this means becoming friends with students to interact with them on a different level. Others use social media to take the place of more conventional online learning resources like Blackboard. Although most professors stay fairly neutral about social media and the classroom, others say it can help foster online discussion.

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History Professor Eric Dursteler comments on a student's assignment via Facebook. Professor Dursteler began using Facebook to interact with students at the suggestion of psychology professor Mikle South.

“There has been a lot of conversation among faculty and within our department about how to deal with a new electronic frontier, in which students are very wired, ” said Eric Dursteler, a history professor. “Plenty of students come and play on their computers or shop or take notes depending on the day and the student.  And so some faculty wanted to make the class electronic free with only paper and pencil. And others were wondering how do you connect with the students and use the technology in a new or different way.”

 

 

Dursteler got the idea to use Facebook from psychology professor, Mikle South. Dursteler said he has only used it for this past summer term, but is considering using it for some of his classes this fall. Dursteler created an “electronic zone” (the first row of his class) where students can use electronics in class; otherwise students have to stick with the notebook and pen.

Other professors on campus don’t believe Facebook is feasible yet for a variety of reasons. Most agree that while it is user-friendly, the large amount of students in their classes may make it overwhelming and not as effective. If the class is small, then an online discussion on Facebook may be more realistic.

“If you have a small class size of 10-15 students, you can carry on a great Facebook discussion,” said Clark Callahan, a communications professor. “If you have a class of, let’s say 42 or 49 people, and everyone posts and then everyone has to comment on a post then that could get oppressive.”

Callahan said he prefers Blackboard to sites such as Facebook because they can hold other things such as a syllabus and are more conducive to larger classes. With smaller classes he said he believes social media could be helpful.

Todd Parker, a religion professor, agrees it all depends on the class size. With as many as 1,200 students a semester, he said communicating with them by email or phone is easier than through social media. Parker said in the foreseeable future, he doesn’t see social media playing a large role in any of his classes.

Students who have taken classes using social media believe it can be helpful as well as harmful. For Nate Sandholtz, a junior studying statistics, he thinks a professor using social media would be distracting from the course materials.

“I would prefer that a professor would not use social media,” Sandholtz said. “I feel like there are other ways to accomplish the same purposes of an interactive, online discussion. I think having a discussion on Facebook might be more of a distraction and not the best atmosphere for a class discussion.”

Heather Broomhead, a freshman studying history teaching, said having a class which uses Facebook is a little scary because other people can see her assignments and she is worried classmates might compare each other’s work. Her classmate, Chelsea Chen, said using Facebook for her history class was positive experience.

“I think it was very positive because it was very easy to see what other students were doing and connect with other students through Facebook,” Chen said.

However, Chen admitted she was worried her professors might be able to see her status updates, and a trip to Disneyland which caused her to miss class could get her in trouble.

Elizabeth Cole, a sophomore from Sequin, Texas, said she believes new technology helps students gain a better grasp on the subject matter.

“I think it helps because it encourages us to think about the subject matter outside of class,” Cole said. “Technology can be used for constructive purposes and not just to waste time.”

The positives and negatives of social media in and out of the classroom have created quite a stir nationally. Recently Natalie Munroe, a teacher from Pennsylvania, was suspended and then reinstated when she spoke negatively on her blog about her students. This and other events have caused many teachers and professors nationally to be careful about using social media.

However, attempts to create a dialogue within a class can be more difficult and social media helps facilitate student interaction, according to Dursteler.

“I like it because it provides the opportunity for a dialogue, an electronic dialogue, which doesn’t exist when I have students do the same thing in class,” Dursteler said. “But with this they can see each others work, they can think about what others are learning … and they can have a dialogue if they see something they are interested in or have questions about.”

 

Bryce Kunz

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