by Deanna Tran, Pharm.D., Assistant Professor, University of Maryland School of Pharmacy
“OATUS, IMHO that class was so much fun LOL! T2UT”
Do you understand that sentence? I do! As a member of the Millennial generation, information technology and multimedia are second nature to me. This is also true for many current college students. According to USAToday, ninety-five percent of college students use Facebook for an average of 238 minutes per week!1 Millennials prefer learning environments that incorporate technology, active learning, teamwork, and multitasking.2 And now that I’ve started a career in academia I can’t help but wonder whether we should incorporate social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Google+ into our classroom instruction.
Social media platforms play such a large role in popular culture. By incorporating them into the classroom, we could potentially increase student involvement, interest, and enthusiasm in the course content. When social media platforms were used in a graduate-level medical humanities elective at Penn State College of Medicine, the students expressed satisfaction with its use, and the instructors noted increased interest in classroom activity.3
Using different social media platforms can also help enrich student learning. In the medical humanities elective at Penn State, YouTube was used to demonstrate cross-cultural perspectives on aging and mental health.3 Skype allowed experts from across the United States to share their experiences with the students.3 These two social media platforms provided the students unique opportunities to connect with experts and real-life patients, something that the instructors could not have provided otherwise. The instructors also used Twitter. Real-time observations were solicited from the students while they were at off-site outreach events. The instructors also noticed that students learned how to phrase thoughts and ideas more succinctly when they used Twitter.3 This is a skill that not only needs to be taught to our future physicians, but also student pharmacists. Additionally, Twitter could be used to make lectures more dynamic; for example, discussion questions could be posted on Twitter during lectures. Lastly, Twitter might be a useful educational tool because it can serve as an additional channel for dialogue between the students and instructors. Twitter might encourage engagement with the quieter students who may be afraid to speak up during class as well as students who may need more time to formulate responses.
Using social media may also help to address different learning styles. Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ have the capability to host small group discussions. This would probably resonate with the “Doers” of the class, whom according to David Kolb, tend to like small group discussions and self-directed work.4 Online text-based discussions might appeal to the “Watchers”, who prefer observation and reflection, the time to read and ponder on what’s being discussed prior to responding. Lastly, online discussions would allow the “Feelers” of the class to learn from their peers.
Social media platforms can facilitate many student-directed activities such as posting blog entries and making videos. These projects are consistent with the principles of andragogy. By making students responsible for their own learning, students would not only be more invested, but also have a deeper understanding of the content.
Lastly, social media could capture the attention of the class since technology is something many students find interesting. If it is used at the beginning of class session, social media might help the instructor gain attention – the first step in Gange’s nine events of instruction.5
Even though there appear to be many benefits to integrating social media into the classroom, there are some limitations and concerns. There are currently no best practices guidelines on how to most effectively use these technologies and there a very limited number of studies.6 Thus, more evidence is desperately needed. Social media is a public form. Therefore, there are concerns that students might post unprofessional content online. And privacy and confidentiality issues need to be considered. Social media use can also be distracting in the classroom. In a Pharmacy Practice Development, Management, and Evaluation class at Auburn University Harrison School of Pharmacy, students were required to post at least two tweets during class.2 Surveys at the end of the cources indicated that students felt that Twitter distracted them from taking notes. Also, there is no mechanism to prevent students from sending private tweets to one another during class. Lastly, we can’t forget that the instructor has to feel comfortable using the technology too! I’ve had a few experiences where professors were not familiar with the available technology in the classroom. I felt frustrated and distracted as the instructor fumbled along trying to get everything to work. This makes for a less than ideal learning environment!
I believe the potential advantages of social media outweigh the disadvantages and that we should selectively incorporated these new tools into the classroom. Many of the disadvantages could be overcome. When using social media, instructors need to set clear expectations in order to prevent any unprofessional behaviors.3 Clearly more research is needed and we should all be will share our experiences so that best practices will emerge. There is no doubt that social media is here to stay and as an educator I believe we should not ignore it but embrace it!
1. Marklein, Mary Beth. Teachers embrace social media in class. USAToday. 2012 Mar 4 [Updated 2012 Mar 4; cited 2012 Oct 14].
2. Fox B, Varadarajan R. Technology in Pharmacy Education Use of Twitter to Encourage Interaction in a Multi-CampusPharmacy Management Course. Am J Pharm Educ 2011;75(5):1-8.
3. George D, Dellasega C. Use of social media in graduate-level medical humanities education: Two pilotstudies from Penn State College of medicine. Med Teach. 2011;33:e429-e434.
4. Kolb David. Experiential learning: experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall. 1984.
5. Gagné, R. The Conditions of Learning and the Theory of Instruction4th edition. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston. 1985.
6. Copland, D. For Social Media In the Classroom To Work, Instructors Need Best Practices. ReadWriteWeb. 2012 May 2 [updated 2012 May 2; cited 2012 Oct 14].