Last week I was involved in a University of Ulster Centre for Higher Education discussion forum on social networking with students. The event was held by video-conference across three campuses and attracted a good deal of interest from staff. It was useful to hear short accounts from colleagues using social networking with students and to consider some of the issues in getting started in this area.
For some staff there was the feeling that the technology can sometimes be daunting especially if bespoke tools are used that need server set-up and some level of configuring. However some scenarios were described where Facebook groups had been used to successfully to engage students especially as a number were already au fait with this social networking tool and using it regularly.
Some tips that came out of the discussion and from my own experience are given below.
- Why do you want to use social networking with students; is it just a nice tool that we shoe-horn into a pedagogic purpose?
- Are tasks on social networking clearly defined? Students will not just network for the sake of it!
- Can students “see the point” in what we are trying to achieve, how do we get them to buy-in to the exercise?
- Choice of networking tool. Are we intruding on their social space by using tools that students consider their private areas? We need to clearly define the boundaries and use social networking in a context that does not compromise accepted professional standards.
- Manage expectations. How will academics interact with students online; will we be available 9 to 5 or 24/7? Students need to know!
- Don’t ask students to do something you are not prepared to do yourself. Do you want your students to blog? Do you blog? If the answer is “no” it will very soon become apparent to the student group that you are only a by-stander.
- Social networking should augment existing communication channels with students therefore important course information should not be communicated by this method alone.
- Social networking should help to increase inclusivity within a group. However, ensure that the chosen exercises do not alienate some within the class who may be uncomfortable using the technology.