A Firsthand Response To How Social Media Is Being Taught In Our Classrooms

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DeNel Rehberg Sedo is an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication Studies at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

The following is a rebuttal to a guest post that was published on 9/13.

I am a professor in the very program that Kris Allen refers to in this post, and I take issue with many of his accusations. I would like to respond from my own perspective because as a supporter and teacher of social media I feel his commentary is indeed a “bashing” whether or not it is qualified as such.

Our program was created –and continues—with the goal of teaching students to be creative, engaged and ethical professional communicators. Kris’ post suggests that we are falling short and I want to set the record straight. His attitudes are potentially damaging to a program with a good reputation built on the backs of many of my innovative and dedicated colleagues.

First, I must point out that Kris has never taken any of my courses. He was not in my Employee Relations class when for the first time in Canada, part of the course was taught in Second Life. That was in the Winter term of 2007. (Interested readers can find a report of that endeavour in Partnerships.) I’ve been on Twitter since its inception, but don’t want to be on Foursquare. The relative newness of these tools might be the reason Kris’s professors didn’t use them; then again, maybe he just didn’t know they were using them because they didn’t want him to know.

Second, I do not know which writing courses Kris took, but I do know that two of the most accomplished of my colleagues who teach writing do so using blogs. Not only do they teach effective writing and storytelling via this medium, they encourage discussion about the necessity (or not) of blog communication as a tool in public communication. Importantly, they also ask students to consider the ethical debates around the public nature of learning on the virtual platform.

If Kris did not utilize social media in his management courses or in his research class, that might have been a reflection of his own inability to communicate well with his teacher and his clients. I know that when I have taught these courses, students get to choose the tools most appropriate for their client. Sometimes, but not always, different social media tools are implemented or used for evaluative purposes. I have no reason to believe I am unique in my teaching methods.

Third, I am not certain which classrooms Kris took classes in because every room is connected to the Internet. If he was wishing for wi-fi access, that might be another issue. Several years ago, the wi-fi access was removed from the classrooms because faculty members were finding that students were updating their Facebook statuses and looking at photos when they really should have been listening to the discussion that was taking place in the physical space. If students would have been searching the Internet to augment the discussions, perhaps my colleagues and I would have been more inclined to keep the access.

Finally, I really must defend my Social Media senior seminar course. Not only because I believe in it but also because I’ve received positive feedback on the evaluations from students who might not be Kris’s “very close friends”. It isn’t a 13-week course but rather, an intensive six week course. Yes, some of it is “introductory in nature.” That is because both years that I’ve taught the course, less than 10% of the students are familiar with social media beyond Facebook and MySpace. I know this because I take an inventory on the first day of class. And yes, we do create and evaluate wikis. We create them for not-for-profit clients, along with YouTube videos, blog pages, mash-up plans, photo sharing, social bookmarking, etc. We also critically evaluate the use of social media. We learn the basics. In fact, had Kris taken my class, he would have never written this sentence: “We know they are vital to deliver our messages, but how do we use them to our advantage?”

I teach my students to use social media as communication tools. Each of the different social media have their strengths and weaknesses, but none of them should be used to “deliver messages… to our advantage.” This is an old school way of thinking about new technologies. The way I teach it, social media is not another promotional opportunity, but a way to really attempt to engage with our various publics through dialogue.

I’m sorry that Kris and I didn’t get the opportunity to learn from one another. Maybe he’ll consider coming back to our graduate program where students have investigated the potential of the Internet to keep Aboriginal elders’ stories alive, using social media as a communication tool for the provincial and national government, and community building through corporate forums, among many other projects. Perhaps not so much on the “cutting edge of technology and leading the way on social media instruction” but important none the less.

DeNel Rehberg Sedo is an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication Studies and is a lecturer within the Cultural Studies program at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. She was one of the first professors in Canada to offer course delivery through the virtual world of Second Life, and has published on the experience in an academic journal. She is also the first scholar to publish research about online reading communities. You can reach her via Twitter at @Dr_Rehberg_Sedo on Twitter or via e-mail: denel.rehbergsedo@msvu.ca.


12 comments on “A Firsthand Response To How Social Media Is Being Taught In Our Classrooms

  1. Wow. Not so sure I’d’ve been this frank with a student in a public forum, but perhaps all students need this reminder that what they put online is open for public comment and criticism.

    A larger point here is something that I’m constantly trying to emphasize — that students are responsible for their own education, not just what school they choose or classes they take, but in what they read and do in their spare time.

    Even if, for example, your school teaches blogging in a class, you ought to be reading blogs and creating your own blog so you can learn the culture, practice writing, use analytics, etc. The minute you graduate, you will no longer have a teacher telling you what to do, and the digital world changes rapidly, so you’re going to have to know how to learn at least some of this stuff on your own.

    • I, too, think that students are largely responsible for their own education, Karen. I do think we need to provide the foundational theoretical and practical guidance. I think it’s important to teach the students how to make critical choices in the kinds of communication tools they use and to evaluate the media they consume, for lack of a better word.

      I don’t think that there is a reason to not be frank. Too many times we’re too ambiguous, and I’d like to teach my students to be precise and to avoid euphemisms– words or thoughts.

  2. First and foremost, social media is way too new to be taught in schools. I know some people are super excited about it and want to saturate the world with its creamy goodness, but now isn’t the time. Social media is not fully developed, and its implications have not been fully realized, and will not, for another 5-10 years, if it hasn’t been deemed irrelevant by then.

    Second. no professor will know more about social media than the students do. I cannot stand the thought of how painfully awkward it would be for a 60yr old communications professor droning on about “the twitter” because the ‘new, hip department chair’ forced it on to the curriculum.

    • Aldous, I have to completely disagree. The very nature of social media is sharing knowledge and collaboration, which is a highly effective method of learning. There have been some amazing developments in educational social media in recent years and months. I gain wonderful new resources every day from teachers I follow on Twitter. I’m not sure if you’re in the field of Education, but if you are I’d highly recommend following @web20classroom or checking out his blog (http://web20classroom.blogspot.com/) for a more knowledgeable presentation of this notion.

  3. I am a graduate student in Public Relations at the Mount and as DeNel referenced social media is very much of the program.

    Not only is there is a seminar on social media but it weaves through many of the other courses, providing an enriched experience. I have tailored my own program to explore social media through most of my research papers and in my research seminar, as did many of my fellow classmates. I am encouraged by the increase in published research on this topic since I began my program in 2006. I cannot comment on what is being taught at the undergraduate level but many of the graduate level professors (who support and encourage social media research) lecture at the undergraduate level.

    Professor Parsons, Dr. Rehberg Sedo, Dr. Kenny and Dr. Thurlow were nothing but supportive to me and my research which focused on social media and most (if not all) incorporated social media into the class to provide an enriched experience. DeNel – please know that Kris’ comments do not reflect the opinions of all BPR OR MPR students.

    • Thanks, Keri, for taking the time to reply to this conversation. It means a lot to me to see you here, and to hear that your experience has been positive. I know you’re a social media guru! I look forward to hearing about how your senior seminar project has influenced the social media work you’re doing for Dalhousie!

  4. While social media is not a new concept to many students, it has become a target within the field of education. Deciding how to structure the course and what aspects of social media to cover are the primary topics.

    The different platforms of social media change quicker than the seasons in the year. A school may develop a course of study, but by the time the course begins changes have already occurred. This could include format changes to existing platforms or new software programs altogether. A course in social media needs to fluctuate as easily as the subject it is covering.

    With the surplus of information available on the internet, students (and nonstudents) should take the time to learn about the new forms of social media and how they work. There are plenty of tutorials and blogs that offer help in learning to navigate the new platforms. Isn’t rule number one, if you don’t know something take the time to research it? Covering the basics in class is helpful, but I think a social media class should focus on strategies and implementing in practical business.

    I’m excited to see schools beginning to teach the importance and impact of social media in public relations. The structure and content of the program you teach sound like it would be beneficial to students who take an active role in the learning process. Unfortunately, that is not something you can teach.

    • I think there are basic foundational theories that will stay consistent, but that you’re right, we need to be adaptable to the different tools available not only as communicators, but as educators.

      We cannot teach students to take an active role in learning, but we can spark the fire by using relevant and timely content and delivery systems. That’s where social media excites me.

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  6. I applaud MSVU for the steps it is taking in teaching Social Media, or at least the most promising or most ubiquitous Social Media tools.

    If a course is being taught it has been vetted to some extent, because universities at least have some sort of process… even if the timeline is not moving at the same speed as the technology.

    We all would like to be handed knowledge. In real life, it’s a do it yourself world and no one will hand you anything.

    If you are not learning about Social Media, a whole world of knowledge is out there on the Internet. Connect, read, and watch. Try new things. You have a world of people to connect with – and not your peers in a course you are taking.

    Most importantly, think for yourself. That’s the real benefit of getting an “education”.

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