“Experience is the name every one gives to their mistakes.”
- Oscar Wilde
As powerful as many social media tools can be, they also present some pitfalls. But by keeping the following suggestions in mind, you’ll keep the technology under control and your students on task.
Focus on your strategy, not the technology. Like blackboards and textbooks, social media applications are aids to the learning process. Use them to enhance the course, not just to say you use them. For instance, outside of class, use social media to increase the level of discussion and collaboration on new or tangential topics. This will help you free up in-class time for more central topics.
Don’t drive the bus – take a seat in back with your students. Don’t create a blog post and then just sit back and wait; continue to be a part of the conversation. Respond to students’ comments. Ask “Have you considered this idea?” or “How does your comment relate to this link?” Encourage responses to your response to their responses – and so on. Social media is about having a conversation, even if you are the professor.
Participate, but don’t officiate. Social media tends to lower inhibitions – students will write things about others that they would never say face-to-face, even when each post is attributed to its writer. Why the most egregious violations of civil discourse are less likely from college students, you should still set guidelines for what is appropriate and what isn’t. Make it clear that students should challenge ideas, not attack other students’ motives or intelligence. Writing “a better choice might have been” is, well, a better choice than “only an idiot would have reached that conclusion.”
Also remind them of the level of discourse expected. Using a Twitter feed to post what they had for lunch does not move the discussion forward, unless the comment is meant to highlight a facet of customer service, marketing, or pricing strategy.
On the other hand, you also should avoid being too restrictive. Most blog sites allow you to approve comments before they are posted to the broader audience, but I recommend against that. You risk giving students the impression that they can post ideas only if you approve of them. Or worse, that all the ideas posted are in fact things you do agree with. Let them post whatever they want. If a comment is completely out of bounds or overly confrontational, you can easily delete it. Otherwise, let students respond to offending comments.