Make the Social Shift and Engage Students Beyond the Classroom

As a teaching institution, Belmont prizes the faculty’s engagement with students both inside the classroom and beyond. And with today’s emergent social media capabilities and increasingly connected students, the opportunities to connect, interact and collaborate have never been greater.

A recent study released by Pearson and the Babson Survey Research Group found that nearly two-thirds of higher education faculty members are using social media for personal activities but only about one-third are using it for instruction. The results clearly reflect an increasing adoption of social media among faculty members for personal, professional and instructional purposes across academic disciplines and demographics (Moran, Seaman, & Tinti-Kane, 2012).

Technology for Teaching & Learning

In 1967 Marshall McLuhan observed: “There is a world of difference between the modern home environment of integrated electric information and the classroom. Today’s television child … is bewildered when he enters the nineteenth-century environment that still characterizes the educational establishment where information is scarce but ordered and structured by fragmented, classified patterns, subjects, and schedules” (2001, p. 18) For many classrooms even in the 21st century, McLuhan’s astute observation remains accurate.

From chalkboards and overhead projectors to interactive whiteboards and multimedia presentation systems, classroom design has evolved with instructional technology designed to engage the students in the learning space. For decades most of the advances in instructional technology have kept the instructor at the center of the stage maintaining control and direction of the students’ learning process.

However the prevalence of personal, mobile technologies now being carried by our students (e.g., laptops, tablets and smartphones) reflects a shift in the culture of digital native learners. As a result, educators must choose either (a) to fight a persistent battle to ban students from using the digital devices in the classroom or (b) to embrace the technology for teaching and learning with the always-connected learners.

Social Media Shifts

Karl Fisch (2006) described a societal shift that was occurring and affecting learners (and educators). His short PowerPoint presentation set to music and titled “Did You Know?” was intended simply to start a conversation among his teaching colleagues at a Colorado high school. However it quickly went viral and continues to be updated with compelling data about the dynamic nature of society vis-à-vis technological advancements.

One of the most notable results of Web-based, mobile technologies has been how users have quickly seized the tools to assume more active roles in the production as well as the consumption of content around which people interact. Relationships are the heart of social media, which encompasses the myriad of interactive platforms through which individuals and communities create and share multimedia content. Social media is interaction driven and user controlled around user-generated content. Among the most popular social media tools are Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. But there are hundreds—even thousands—of Web-based tools for consumption, curation, conversation, collaboration and creation.

Unlike traditional media, social media is characterized by an emphasis on personalization. Thus, I find myself abbreviating “social media” as “SoMe.” This fitting contraction serves as a constant reminder not only of the nature of the media but also the expectations that are being fostered among the digital native generation that is coming of age with the new media itself.

It’s important to note that while social media continues to expand, traditional media have not disappeared but are being augmented to support Henry Jenkins’ concept of convergence culture. In Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, Jenkins (2006) posited, “Media convergence is more than simply a technological shift. Convergence alters the relationship between existing technologies, industries, markets, genres, and audiences” (p. 15). The relationships among teachers, students and our academic subjects are equally being altered. Signifying the convergence culture, social media simultaneously reflects and facilitates a paradigmatic shift in users’ expectations of media interactions as summarized in the following table.

Benefits of Engaging Students with Social Media

Erik Qualman (2011), author of Socialnomics, created the popular video series titled “Social Media Revolution.” Highlighting research on how people use technology to interact with one another as well as with information, Qualman insisted that “we don’t have a choice on whether we DO social media, the question is how well we DO it.” While his target audience for much of his work is the business world, Qualman’s declaration is germane to the educational institution and its faculty who seek to remain functionally relevant in a changing media landscape.

While there are many benefits of using social media to engage students, the following three are foundational to taking the plunge to integrate social media into your pedagogical arsenal:

  1. Engage students in a familiar and shared space. For centuries the formal learning environment—the school as well as the classroom—has been has been a space controlled by those in authority. Social media changes that. Social media is not just second nature to most of our students; it is natural for them. However, the social media space isn’t exclusive to digital natives. As digital immigrants, instructors can use the tools of social media to engage the digital natives in a shared space.
  2. Extend learning beyond the classroom. As faculty, we have the opportunity and responsibility to engage our students in the learning process. Engagement involves more than our interactions during class meetings or office hours. It’s even more than participating in on- and off-campus projects (e.g., service learning and extra-curricular activities). Learning is no longer confined to the formalized blocks of time when we gather face-to-face. Through continuing engagement through social media, we can facilitate and participate in non-stop learning.
  3. Model effective uses of social media for learning. A myriad of opinions debate the effects of our hyperconnectivity on our brains, sanity, and relationships. Our responses tend to fall into one of three categories: We can completely disconnect, immerse or strive for a balance. As digital immigrants and mentors to our students, we have an opportunity to model effective uses of social media for personal and professional growth.  We can assist students in finding a balance in their online and offline time, demonstrate how to build a personal learning network for life-long learning, and facilitate countless opportunities to collaborate and share their newly discovered knowledge with others through relevant experiential learning using tools that are readily accessible.


Carr, N. (2008, July/August). Is Google making up stupid? The Atlantic. Retrieved from

Dokoupil, T. (2012, July 9). Is the Web driving us mad? Newsweek magazine. Retrieved from

Fisch, K. (2006, Aug. 15). Did you know? [Web log message]. Retrieved from

Jenkins, H. (2006). Convergence culture: Where old and new media collide. New York: New York University Press.

McLuhan, M. (2001). The medium is the massage: An inventory of effects. Berkeley, CA: Gingko Press (Original work published 1967).

Moran, M., Seaman, J., & Tinti-Kane, H. (2012). How today’s higher education faculty use social media. Pearson. Retrieved from

Qualman, E. (2011, June 22). Social media revolution 3 [Video file]. Retrieved from

Valkenburg, P. J., & Peter, J. (2009). Social consequences of the Internet for adolescents: A decade of research. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 18(1), 1-5.

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Trowbridge basks in building bridges between ideas, concepts and theories and ultimately among individuals, groups and organizations. He is a learner, educator, maximizer, strategist, researcher and enthusiast who gets to blend those roles as an strategic communications educator and consultant. Trowbridge is an assistant professor of public relations at Belmont University, located in Nashville, Tennessee.

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