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Social Media Expert Meets PC Teaching Community​

Providence, R.I.--Integrating technology into the “classroom” at Providence College has become commonplace. 

Students often use blogs to discuss assignments and research, take part in discussion groups on the College’s ANGEL learning management system, and use “clicker” response systems to answer questions.

Recently, a leader in the study of social media and its relationship to student engagement spent the day on campus to discuss the best ways to incorporate various social media into teaching.

Dr. Rey Junco, an associate professor and the director of disability services in the Department of Academic Development and Counseling at Lock Haven University,​ met with several College constituencies that have an interest in using technology to foster student learning and engagement.

These included representatives from the Phillips Memorial Library, the Instructional Technology Development Program, the Department of Information Technology, and the Office of Academic Services​.

Junco also helped lead a discussion on research he has conducted about the use of social media in the classroom in the Experimental Social Psychology class taught by Dr. Shannon Rauch, assistant professor of psychology.

Panel: Advantages and disadvantages

To conclude his time on campus, Junco led a panel presentation for faculty, staff, and students. The dinner presentation, “Social Media and Student Engagement in Learning,” was presented by the Student Engagement Advisory Committee as part of The Provost’s Forum on Engaged Learning

It was supported through the College’s three-year Fostering a Culture of Student Engagement grant from the Davis Educational Foundation.

Joining Junco on the panel were Dr. Maia F. Bailey, assistant professor of biology; Dr. Robert J. Barry, assistant professor of theology; Dr. Deborah I. Levine, assistant professor of health policy and management, and three PC students--Alexandra Sexton ’12 (Lincoln, R.I.), Meg Van Name ’12 (Stamford, Conn.), and graduate student Margaret Wakelee (Pennsauken, N.J.).

Junco began the discussion by outlining his current research projects, which include the first experimental study of the effects of educationally relevant uses of Twitter on student engagement and grades, and an examination of the relationship between Facebook use and grades.

Following his presentation, the panelists offered their thoughts on the use of social media in learning; their views on the subject were mixed.

Barry said he was an early adopter of “virtually every technology we have since abandoned” and added that a Facebook page created by former students was successful for study purposes.

However, he said that he was hesitant to incorporate various social media into his theology classroom, which was a view shared by Wakelee.

“I’m not opposed to the use of Facebook, but I don’t think it’s appropriate for every class or subject,” she said. “I think it’s too fast--people don’t take the time to make a well-informed argument. Overwhelmingly, social media is being used for a lot of things without a lot of value or significance. We still need to learn how we can use technology for active engagement in learning.”

While Barry and Wakelee were cautious about how social media could enhance a course’s curriculum, Sexton said she thought social media--notably Facebook--could be a powerful tool for learning.

“I’m on the executive board of three campus groups, and we’ve found that social media is an effective way to plan and promote events,” she said. “There are ways that it can work. Since we [students] already spend so much time using Facebook, why not ask questions and foster dialogue?”

Bailey and Levine said they do not currently incorporate social media in their classes. However, both admitted that there are definite benefits to the medium.

“One of the reasons I use Facebook is to keep track of former students,” Bailey said. “As part of my NSF (National Science Foundation) grant, I need to track former students. It’s a nice transition from ‘I’m the professor and you’re the student’ to ‘We’re both people studying science.’”

Levine, who uses Twitter for her research on the history of obesity, added, “If we can encourage students to discuss the things we are doing, it can only make it better.”

Social media equals knowledge, power

Before the panel was concluded, members of the audience asked questions and discussed their own views on social media. Sigourney Considine ’12 (Canton, Mass.), a global studies major, said she saw social media as a powerful agent for change--one that could be of great use in a course.

“The one way for you to be updated or in-the-know is to be online, on Facebook, or using Twitter,” she exclaimed.

Dr. Nuria Alonso-García, associate professor of Spanish, agreed with Considine’s sentiments by saying that faculty should think about how to integrate social media into course dialogue. 

“To dismiss social media without giving them consideration is not wise,” she said.

Bailey said that like global studies, “the sciences have something new happening all the time,” and “these are wonderful conversations that I want to see my students have.”

Sexton said although she believes that face-to-face teaching and learning will always be how students mainly learn, adding a virtual, real-time component to a course could complement traditional styles.

“It’s not going to be perfect, but it can be tested to see how it works in the classroom,” she said. “There’s definitely room to try it out.”

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