Editor’s Note: This is the fifth in a series of occasional features provided by the UCCS Teaching and Learning Center to encourage faculty to share ideas about teaching strategies that engage students and enhance learning. Faculty members are encouraged to share their ideas by contacting the TLC at 255-4872 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Free coffee vouchers are available to get the discussion started.
Q – How do you define social networking tools?
A – In the context of the class, we discuss these as various social media tools (wikis, blogs, social networking websites, and other electronic tools) that allow businesses to have interactive communication and an exchange of ideas with internal and external audiences in convenient, cost effective, timely, and creative ways.
I asked my students to expand on this with some of their thoughts.
“I would define social networking tools as an online community that allows for users to communicate with other users. People immediately think of Facebook and Twitter as social networks, I would also include blogs, wikis, Four Square, Constant Contact, etc. as social networks. Online articles that allow for reader comments can also be considered a form of social networking because the people commenting on an article of a local publication begin to learn about the other users based on previously posted comments, and sometimes reference one another in their posts. I think wikis would be the best social networking tool to be used in conjunction with classroom activities because everyone can access it and contribute. I think Skype can also be used as a social networking tool among students, especially when group projects are involved.”
“I would define social networking tools as websites that facilitate easy discussion and connections. It is a place where you should be able to find people and have people find you, for fun as well as for business.”
A – In Comm 3240, Business and Professional Communication, we discuss social networking in different contexts and explore how businesses are using social media to revolutionize their internal and external communication. There are a number of video clips and types of multimedia available to integrate into lectures discussing how the world of Web 2.0 has changed the dynamics of business communication environments. I wanted to think of an activity that would give the students an opportunity to participate in this in some way and have a place they could meet, share, and discuss class assignments outside of class. We already use Blackboard to support the course but I wanted something the students could create themselves and interact with over the semester. The class wiki is their little office space. For example, some of our wiki pages are titled “Cubicle Artwork” where students post cartoons and graphic art related to things we have discussed in class. “Bring your Pet to Work” is where some students have pictures of their pets posted. “Office Videos” is one of the areas with some related video clips, and “Did You Know…” is where students share interesting facts and information. Students continue to create, edit, and update the site.
Q – How did you integrate social networking into a communication course?
A – It is not a mandatory part of the class curriculum or a grade requirement. This is a multi-section course I have the pleasure of teaching with my talented colleagues in the Communication Department, the course director and several instructors, and we share the same basic course structure. Each instructor uses some unique activities to support the curriculum and I initially implemented it as a work-from-home assignment on a snow day in 2009. Now, I introduce it several weeks into the semester after we have discussed the foundations of business and professional communication, various social media, and technologies in the workplace. Activity on the site beyond its initial introduction is optional and done outside of class on the student’s own time.
A – I’m happy to share some of the responses my students provided in response to the question.
Natasha Quinn: “I have embraced the wiki as a part of our course because it made a rather complex topic easy to understand and relate to. I have been able to take what I have learned in class, discuss it with other classmates, and everyone understands the concepts.”
James Kern: “Personally I have used my class wiki to share information with classmates that relates to class. For example, a girl in class did her midterm presentation on females in sports-casting. As I was watching sports, I noticed something related to that topic and shared it with the class. Also, I did my presentation on mapping and posted that for the class to view. I know that in the future if I have any questions regarding anything in class I will be able to post my question and wait for a reply to maybe get a better understanding of what is expected and what others are doing”
Kathryn Adams: “In other class discussion areas I find it difficult to talk with someone that I am not familiar with. If I have a picture to put with a face, it is easier to discuss topics brought up in class. Also, having some background information on them gives me better insight into their views as well.”
Q – How did you evaluate student participation and performance?
A – Since it is not mandatory, I have used it to assign attendance/participation points (when it was used as a work-from-home assignment on the snow day) and I have used it as optional extra credit. I look at overall contribution to the site, student profile development, and discussion posts over the entire semester.
A – Yes, I think I will continue to use the wiki, and with the students’ feedback, look for ways to make it better for them. I also want to continue to incorporate new evolving technologies as course enhancement tools. I recently attended some of the Teaching and Learning Center’s hybrid course development sessions and I will be developing two of my traditional courses into hybrid course alternatives so I will be looking at how to make these as interactive and interpersonal as I can.
Q – Would you recommend the use of wikis as a teaching tool to your colleagues?
A – I would recommend incorporating them as a way for students to interact outside of the classroom. It offers an opportunity for personalization that seems to facilitate a sense of course ownership for them. They have the chance to create their own space, start discussion threads for group project brainstorming, and to share their research in an environment that has a more collaborative feel than email.
Some student comments I received illustrate this point.
Erin McIsaac: “The wiki has been an invaluable addition to our course. Before taking this class, I did not know what a wiki was and had no idea how to use one. Our wiki has added a hands on element to our class, and I believe that the skills I am developing by working on the wiki will prove useful even after graduating from UCCS. I think the use of wikis would be helpful in any course. It is great to be able to post questions to my classmates and to share interesting articles related to the course. Wikis seem to offer more freedom in content than other online tools such as Blackboard or Sakai, which I used in a sociology course through the University of Rhode Island. I believe we will see more online classes and hybrid (online and traditional) courses available for students. Social networking can make an online course more personal and substantial. In the future, students will have to find a way to navigate both the virtual and ‘real’ world we live in. As someone who first entered college in 1999, it is so interesting to note the way social media has pervaded higher education. None of the courses I took in the late 1990s/early 2000s used any form of online interaction at the college level.”
James Kern: “I think the class wiki gives students a better chance to interact with each other and maybe find out something you didn’t previously know. Each week we only have about 2 and ½ hours of class time and I (being a geography major), have no other classes with students in our class. The wiki is kind of an extension of our class and allows interaction between students every day of the week rather than just the 2 and ½ hours we actually have at UCCS.”
Kathryn Adams: “I could see more communication classes starting wikis to enhance more class discussion among students outside of class. Since we only meet once a week, I think it would help students stay on track with class themes during the semester”
Q – Where do you see social networking among students heading?
A – It interests me to see programs like Second Life being used in training and development, where individuals attend meetings in a virtual meeting space as avatars. I see that students desire to be connected to each other and to their campus in new ways. In their careers (if they aren’t already) they know they will be using technology to be connected to everyone, everywhere. I think a majority of students want to see more social media tools enhancing traditional classroom formats, but they don’t want technology to replace their human interaction and relationships. I feel they want the benefits of a productive balance and the challenge for educators will be determining that balance.
Our class wiki can be viewed at: http://comm324-eberhardt.wetpaint.com
— Photos by Jeff Foster, University Advancement