Active Voice: Social Media in the Classroom – Perhaps more than just “Social”

By Yuri Feito, Ph.D., M.P.H.

Viewpoints presented in SMB commentaries reflect opinions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect positions or policies of ACSM.

Yuri Feito, Ph.D., M.P.H., ACSM-RCEP, CES, is an assistant professor of exercise science at Kennesaw State University, Kennesaw, GA. He is a strong proponent of social media to provide a ‘bridge’ between scientific knowledge and skill application for his students. Dr. Feito, an ACSM member, earned his Ph.D. in exercise physiology from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. His current research interests include the role of social media as a pedagogical tool to promote engagement and professional collaboration among students and peers.

This commentary, along with two others scheduled to appear in SMB this summer, relate to a special symposium on the topic of teaching innovations in exercise science that Dr. Feito and two of his ACSM colleagues presented as part of the 2013 program at the Annual Meeting of the SEACSM.

Over the last decade, the use of social media has increased substantially with sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest among the most popular. Today, most young adults are online and regularly browse the World Wide Web. As expected, these young adults lead the way using wireless technologies, and over 50% have access to the Web on a portable device such as a laptop or cell phone. This trend may not change any time soon, as one in every four teens connects to the Internet mostly using a cell phone.

In 1984, Alexander Astin developed the “theory of student involvement” where the primary focus was student engagement. This theory explained that a positive academic experience at college campuses was based on the students’ interaction with faculty, involvement in co-curricular activities, and interaction with peers. With the development of the Internet, mobile technologies and social media, student engagement may be more possible today than ever before.

Considering the popularity of sites such as Facebook and Twitter on college campuses today, there may be an opportunity for academicians to consider using these sites as part of a course’s online component. Although incorporating this resource may involve adjustment for both the faculty member and the student, the use of social media may help actively engage students that would not otherwise be involved – with the outcome of providing an enriching experience for all. A national study of undergraduate students show that over 70% of them use social media to communicate with their classmates and about 50% of them exchange about their academic work, asking each other questions about class assignments/projects and/or exams. Yet, when students were asked about the academic value of Facebook, over 50% reported they felt it had limited or no value at all. Note: We should use caution when generalizing this finding, as these students concurrently were not undergoing any formal instruction.

Although social media could provide additional opportunities for engagement long after the class session has ended, there are some hurdles faculty must consider prior to adopting its use in their classrooms. First, there is a potential for erosion of professional boundaries, especially using Facebook, as users must be “friends” in order to communicate effectively. Twitter may be a better medium in which to avoid this limitation. Secondly, privacy settings must be understood and set prior to engaging with students. Lastly, ethnic and socioeconomic status must be considered, as this could limit universal student engagement and involvement.

Even though Facebook and Twitter are different in their content and operation, faculty can use these tools to: 1) disseminate information (e.g., assignments, announcements, events); 2) create an “outside-the-classroom” community where everyone follows and interacts with one another; 3) follow professionals and/or professional organizations, such as ACSM; 4) provide instant feedback on questions/assignments; 5) encourage student-driven exam reviews, and 6) follow live feeds for breaking news in the field.

As social media continue to gain popularity among college students, faculty should consider incorporating some of these technologies, thereby maximizing potential “teachable moments.” In addition, we should stop trying to figure out how students use social media and should consider how WE want them to use them in our classrooms.