With Twitter and Pinterest, profs embrace social media

Many instructors are embracing social media and using it to evaluate students’ work and class participation.

by Claire Bramel


The days when students were penalized for surfing websites like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest during lectures are gone in many University of Minnesota classrooms.

Professors across disciplines are using social media as a form of coursework. They say it’s a unique way to get students involved with the course material and helps familiarize students with modern technology.

Students in Elizabeth Housholder’s interactive advertising class use social networking sites for a grade.

“I decided to use Facebook because students are all there already,” said Housholder, whose 4000-level class uses a Facebook page to discuss lectures, stay informed and post real-life advertising examples.

“I wanted the discussion of class material to be more organic and natural,” she said. “It leads to authentic discussion.”

Housholder said the course’s teaching assistant Yoshikazu Suzuki posts to Twitter during class presentations using the hashtag #JOUR4272. Students can reply and tweet about the lecture, which counts toward participation.

Staying connected with the advertising industry is also an advantage of using Twitter in this course, Housholder said.

“The Twitter hashtag is a great way for students to interact with the guest speakers we’ve had from agencies,” she said

Junior advertising major Kevin Walker, a student in the class, said he has posted questions and responses in the Facebook group and thinks using social media for class is “awesome.”

“We can connect with our classmates even better than we could before,” he said in an email. “It makes collaboration much easier.”

Associate professor Joseph Gerteis also incorporates Facebook in his introductory sociology course, but his class utilizes the site’s capabilities differently

than in interactive advertising.

“The students aren’t using Facebook in the traditional way — it’s not like we have a course Facebook page or something. Though that might not be a bad idea,” he said.

The course uses Facebook as a way to track and study data concerning social networks. Gerteis said the class is using the Facebook application TouchGraph, which allows students to see the structure of their online social network. The app examines the user’s mutual friends and information like tagged photos to determine social network patterns.

“What students are doing is mapping out the structure of the network and then using that to understand something about how they know people in their lives,” he said. “They are also comparing their own networks to those of their classmates to see whether their pattern is typical of people of their age group.”

Leslie Plesser’s basic media graphics class creates boards on the photo-sharing site Pinterest. The adjunct instructor said she first realized how valuable this tool could be for her students through her personal experience with the network.

“I really noticed how much my own personal design aesthetic was represented,” Plesser said. “It helped me to better design my personal style.”

For a class brimming with design-minded students, she said she thought this was an excellent outlet.

“Since many of my students are just now starting to really think about their visual style, I thought this would be a good tool of discovery for them,” Plesser said.

She said Pinterest also allows her to keep track of what her students are doing throughout the semester. She can monitor their progress and evaluate how other designers affect and inspire them.

When it comes to using social media for classroom instruction and learning, Plesser said its effectiveness varies from course to course.

“As I work to inspire students with all the great design and photography that is out there, it’s a fantastic tool to draw inspiration from.”