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How social media can change the classroom

Social media expert Marcus Messner discusses the boons and pitfalls of a digitally liberated classroom

Marcus Messner, right, at a recent discussion with the founder of Tumblr, David Karp. Marcus Messner, right, at a recent discussion with the founder of Tumblr, David Karp.

Marcus Messner is one of the foremost researchers of social media use in journalism and higher education. All of his undergrad classes at Virginia Commonwealth University utilize Wordpress, Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr, along with a slew of other platforms, depending on the class.

How does the classroom dynamic change when students can see each other's work on sites like Wordpress, Facebook and Tumblr?

It’s a whole new paradigm from ten years ago. To me, the openness of these platforms means that students and professors need to learn together. I try to be upfront from my students: Yes, I have expertise on the topic, but I certainly don’t know everything, and I will learn from you at times. That’s not always easy to say.

Do you ever get frustrated by having to keep up with all of these platforms?

I actually find it more efficient, because I no longer wake up in the morning to 150 e-mails. So much of my classroom communication is channeled into Facebook and Twitter. I try to make myself available during normal business hours. But when I’m not there, the students are helping each other. Also, realistically, e-mail is just not the best way to communicate with students any longer. They are far more willing to engage in conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

What do you think of exposing your classroom to advertising by utilizing Facebook?

In our closed Facebook space, there is no advertising content, yet. If that changes, perhaps I will reconsider. Of course, when students use it privately, there is advertising. But I have never had to tell a student to create a Facebook account for a class, because I’ve never had a student that didn’t have one already.

What should students consider before engaging with classroom social media?

Before I use Facebook in my class, I always have the students look at each other’s pages and see how much they can access and how much inappropriate content there is. I try to walk them through all of the ethical pitfalls of engaging on these platforms and how to clean up their pages when they’re entering the job market.

 
 
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