Social Media in College Classroom: A Public Sphere?

Social media use has increased nearly tenfold in the past decade. We use social media for personal communication (Facebook), professional communication (LinkedIn), news (Twitter), and for entertainment (YouTube). Social media has a role in the classroom as well. So much so that Wikipedia’s page on social media has a subsection dedicated to social media “In the classroom.”

According to a 2010 article on Inside Higher Ed, 80 percent of professors had accounts with social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and so forth. (Several of the websites they list, including MySpace and Google Wave, no longer exist.) The poll cited found “little variance” in social media usage by age of professor. The article goes on to say that 52 percent of professors used one or more of these websites as teaching tools. Another study cited in a 2013 Inside Higher Ed article found 40 percent of faculty using social media in the classroom. I am in that plurality.

I have used YouTube many times in class and as a teaching tool. The amount of lectures, speeches, and documentary material on numerous topics makes YouTube a perfect supplement to readings and other class assignments. I can search for nearly any topic and find recorded lectures from prominent faculty, scholars, and practitioners on that topic in seconds.

I have not used other social media in the classroom, however, though I have received videos from students on class topics that they have found through Facebook. I do not have a YouTube account to which I upload videos. This makes me less concerned about breaching personal/professional boundaries with this particular service.

However, I have a Facebook and Twitter feed.  When I began teaching I made sure to set my privacy settings on Facebook to restrict access to anyone who is not already my “friend” in order to prevent my students from finding and seeing my posts. In the classroom we can engage in intense and sometimes uncomfortable discussions but they are face to face. This real interaction helps (I believe) to limit misunderstandings that can arise when reading a Tweet or Facebook post.

Though we have freedom of speech in the US and academic freedom as teaching assistants there are still often repercussions for speaking in ways that are considered “inappropriate.” The Inside Higher Ed article mentions a case of a professor being reprimanded for comments made on social media websites. This reminds me also of the case (relevant to Virginia Tech) of Steven Salaita. He expressed unpopular views and suffered repercussions for them.

I would like to consider social media (and the internet more broadly) as a public sphere in which open debate and dialog can take place. However, open dialog means that views can (and likely) will be voiced that are not popular or that do not conform to what everyone considers “polite” or “appropriate.” I see a troubling trend of punishing those who express views that are outside the mainstream rather than engaging with these views in a productive way.

This is exactly what the classroom is for. And it is important to make it an open space to explore all possibilities of an issue or topic. I do not believe this is happening yet (or perhaps that is will happen in the future) on social media.

One thought on “Social Media in College Classroom: A Public Sphere?”

  1. Thanks for finding the statistics on social media use among professors. I didn’t know that the rate was that high, especially professors who use those forms of technology for class. I find that to be surprising based on the overlap that you mention in which teachers have encountered trouble for posts on their social media. It is amazing how little of our lives is private anymore!

    I hadn’t thought about YouTube for some reason when thinking about putting together my own blog related to this topic. I use YouTube regularly for my own learning as well as for teaching and presentations. You’ve got me thinking more about just how much social media really affects classrooms.

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