Building a World of Knowledge: The Uses of Social Media in Education


[NOTE: The following is a brief summary of a presentation that I, along with my colleagues Jason Helms and Layne Craig gave last week about using social media in the classroom. I decided to post this synopsis as a guide for anyone else interested in an introduction to the topic. I want to thank Jason and Layne for their participation and wonderful contributions to the presentation. –Cedrick May]


Thank you all for listening to the presentation we gave at the departmental meeting on Wednesday, November 12th. At Karen’s request, I am sending along links to the various sites that we mentioned during the presentation.

Here is the link for those interested in trying out Academia.edu as a way to increase the visibility of the professional work that you do.

Lit Genius is, well, genius! This site is for those who want to create a collaborative space for students to read, annotate, and discuss works of literature uploaded to the site by their instructor.

I mentioned that Twitter is a very useful tool for communicating with groups of people who share your interests. It’s a great place to discuss ideas and exchange research.

We also briefly discussed how social media goes well beyond sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to encompass any online platform where people can communicate with one another in order to exchange information, including documents, pictures, audio, video, as well as other forms of information. The idea is that we should also think about taking the control of our communications and information out of the hands of third-party services and think about running our own social-media sites.

As an example I showed a site I put together earlier this week for my students.

The most important feature of this site is that it has an online forum where they can discuss their assignment and communicate with one another as they write, design, and code the form the site will ultimately take.

The tools being use to create the site and set up the forum include WordPress and bbPress:

But an alternative to bbPress called BuddyPress could be used, as well.

I also mentioned how I used a software tool called MediaWiki to set up a Wikipedia-style website that my students can use to practice writing and editing wiki pages according to Wikipedia standards. Doing this requires the ability to write in the wiki markup language (a lightweight language for formatting entries), so setting up a “sandbox” where students could safely practice. Here is a link to the course wiki site.

Note that the home page is the syllabus and the student’s wiki pages are linked off of the Daily Schedule.

Finally, I mentioned a tool called Moodle. I wasn’t able to go into much detail with this software tool, but it is a “Learning Management System” (LMS), much like eCollege or Blackboard, but completely opensource, so anyone can use it for free. If you watch the introductory video at moodle.com, you’ll get a good overview of its capabilities.

However, if you want, you can also download the software from moodle.org and set up your own installation on a hosted server that you, and only you, have control over.

In the case of all of the free opensource tools, you have the opportunity to exercise greater control over your own intellectual creations and the work that your students do. If you are someone who has issues with the ways that some third-party services (i.e. Google, Facebook, twitter, etc.) use information for marketing purposes, then these tools may be a solution for you.

I would like to leave you with an article about Wikipedia and its uses for education:
Wikis ought to be used in the classroom

My hope is that Wikipedia will be less scorned, feared, or generally dismissed as an educational tool. As I noted above, you can even set up your own Wikipedia-style site that you and your students can use to collaborate on projects.

Happy teaching, everyone!