Using New Social Media in Learning & Teaching

Last week, my colleagues and I presented to our Faculty on the School of Politics’ use of new social media (NSM) in our learning & teaching. This covered our work with Twitter, Facebook and blogging, plus some brief excursions into wikis.

The aim of the event was both to share our experiences and to reflect on the utility of NSM, since it remains a relatively new field for all involved.

Our Facebook page for the School has been very useful indeed for connecting with current students, alumni as well as future students and applicants. It provides a relatively stable place to post information about events and news, as well as connecting to colleagues’ research. 

In contrast, our Twitter feeds allow us a much more high-tempo channel of communication. The School’s channel is a site for joining up other users and the Facebook page, especially for reminders of events. Myself and most colleagues (such as Jack Holland) run individual accounts, where we hashtag posts for individual modules and events. For the former, it has been a good way to stimulate debate outside of the classroom, to share resources and to connect teaching to the real world.  For the latter, it has proved a particularly good way of getting in questions during public debates and for sharing those in real time with other people (e.g. our event last week was tagged as #FAHSLT).

Blogs serve a somewhat different market, mainly being aimed at academic colleagues and practitioner groups. Our two Surrey blogs (Politics @ Surrey and Cii), plus my own postings here on ALPS, allow us to post relatively timely contributions to topical debates, connect with new communities and try out new ideas for more substantial research projects.

Overall, we would argue that NSM has brought a number of basic benefits:

  • It offers a much more speedy and timely way of engaging in discussion, with all our users, allowing us to shape those discussions in a way that was very difficult beforehand;
  • It offers huge potential for synergies between teaching and research, as well as programme administration and marketing activities;
  • Finally, it extends our reach and profile well beyond what we could have achieved with old media channels.

However, it is also important to reflect on the costs involved:

  • Time costs are substantial, since NSM is predicated on constant interaction and the creation of new content. This requires many hours a week, however it is spread across individuals;
  • Personnel costs are also significant, especially if the different channels are to interact with each other. We have been very lucky to have a 0.5FTE post for the past two years working on this, which has meant we can constantly update sites, cross-link materials and generally encourage others to contribute;
  • Finally, NSM has the potential for serious reputational costs. We talk with students (and colleagues) about netiquette and the boundary between public and private. Usually that works, but sometimes not, so again that requires management of individuals. Just as good news can be spread very quickly, so too can criticism.

With all this in mind, the three basic questions to ask if you are a unit thinking of getting into NSM (and they are still relatively rare) are:

  • Is it worth it for you to do this?
  • Can you get it started? i.e. are there enough people who will be bothered enough to get over the initial hurdles?
  • Can you keep it going? Nothing is worse that a NSM account that’s not touched for a few months, so you have to have people who can generate content, week after week.

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