Friday, May 27, 2011

Twitter in the college classroom

US News reported five "unique" ways to use Twitter in the classroom at the perfect time for professors--many of us use the summer months to try new teaching ideas in smaller summer sections or to re-vamp our courses for the fall. As most readers know, I use Twitter in several ways each semester (depending on the needs of the students) and I found this article to be a good start for new ideas.

I began using Twitter in 2009 after a slow start with the micro-blog (similar to steps shown in image). I wasn't convinced that students would use it--they wanted the Facebook feel. After using Twitter the past two years, I wonder how businesses and educators get along without it. The immediacy, the audience possibilities, the direct-to-consumer contact, it is a great forum through which we can teach students about so many elements of my Communication discipline and so many other disciplines (Business, Education, Marketing, even Criminal Justice, Biology, and English). I found most of my students already have a Twitter account, most have access on their phones, and most don't really link social "profiles" with any personal, "real world" implications such as the job search, identity crafting, and professionalism. In my class, the use of social media is done as a way to further understand the lasting impact of communication, the process of communication, and the dynamics of sender/receiver/message in a changing world. After several semesters, I have learned to wait to craft any assignment with computer-mediated communication until I "meet" the class.

I typically wait until I have interacted with a class at least a week or two to determine their likes, dislikes, experiences, and proclivity with various computer-mediated communication before I offer up assignments in digital format. This is especially important at my institution, where the average age is 27, the typical student does not own a computer, students rely on smart-phones for academic activities, where our students are working at least part time, and many have families to care for. Any new activity must relate well to the class needs and not just throw technology at the students just to use that technology. It should be integrated, purposeful, and engaging. This semester I have a lot of new ideas for the classes I will be teaching both in the summer and fall semesters. I am eager to explore new opportunities with the students. I am also looking forward to continuing to link the social media and digital media with our classroom content.

Lastly, this semester I am crafting a goal to slant my tweets toward weekly course content updates, important university dates/news, and tips for my students, though I will continue to tweet regular topics as well. The hash-tag feature (#) will allow my students to track the course news and communicate with me and with one another. I am eager to see if tweeted news and updates will help the class stay on task and relate their class content to their lives.

There are still concerns about mandating any social media use in class -- the privacy issues are still out there for many of us. So any of my assignments always have the OPTION for social networking and can be completed in other formats. I know there are instructors requiring students to craft profiles on a variety of sites, but at this time that feels too invasive to me. I go with my personal feeling on this issue and stay up to date on literature relating to this topic. One thing I don't worry about is the fact that many students need to learn the responsible use of social media (including implications, privacy settings, and data mining) and feel my assignments help foster that understanding.

Looking for more? Here are a few additional resources for using Twitter in the classroom:
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Thursday, May 26, 2011

What do you "like"?

I found myself sitting at a conference a few weeks ago hearing a great comment from an audience member and, as a fellow listener, I wanted to mention how appropriate her comment was, how it succinctly encompassed everything I wanted to say, I needed one of those Facebook "like" buttons!

It is interesting to explore the ways social media use creeps into our every day lives and thoughts. I mentioned needing a "like" button and two other people commented they agreed and find themselves wanting to "like" in similar ways. We were laughing through the conversation, but there is some truth to the pervasiveness of the social networking culture--and we can see it in our communication patterns, our language choice, and our silly internal desire to click a like button that doesn't exist for a face-to-face comment.

What do you "like"? Do you "like" both personal and professional sites if you are a Facebook user? Or do you limit your "like" to comments and photos instead of pages?

Consider pushing that adorable thumbs up "like" icon for this blog! You can be a fan on Facebook and stay up to date via your Facebook account. Don't forget, you can "like" Communication and Higher Education Blog on Facebook by clicking the LIKE ICON above or by visiting

Monday, May 23, 2011

The ebbing energy of pre-tenure profs

I truly LOVE my job. Aren't I lucky to be able to say this? I know how fortunate I am to want to go to work each day and to love that work. What do I love about it? I especially love the teaching moments where students lean forward, throw their hands in the air, and see the connection between life and content. I love the contribution I make to our community through my institution. I love the researching and nerdy knowledge I can examine in new projects. I love talking with other professors about teaching techniques and tools. I love working with others toward a common goal. I really LOVE what I do.

But, despite all of these hearts and happy thoughts, this pre-tenure track status is getting me down! The stress, the need to push, the feeling that it isn't quite enough, the loss of energy as a new term begins...BLAH! I certainly don't love those feelings. And believe me, those feelings hit me hard this morning.

I returned to the office after a week off to find that I'm not quite ready for registration or for a new semester. If you are a long-time reader of this blog, you will note how out of character this is! I spent a few days visiting family and working in my little garden. Other time was spent on launching a new research project (See blog entry below and consider participating!) and working on other research projects, finalizing a grant proposal, etc. The work wasn't tedious or overwhelming and I had plenty of breaks, so I'm curious about this flood of fatigue that hit me as I turned my key in the office door this morning.

My hope is that my energy rushes back on Wednesday when we register and I can see the excitement on the students' faces, the possibility in a new class, and the potential of all of the scholars. I notice, however, that each semester closer to tenure review has me feeling less energy before a new term. To try to overcome this pesky pre-tenure lack of vim, I have a few tactics:
    Always writing: Journaling at WSU
  • I am spending a few moments reading student letters from the past several semesters. These are necessary for my annual retention packet so going through them isn't just a confidence/energy booster -- it is productive!
  • I am also hitting my own personal journal entries about being a student at Purdue, at Ball State, and during my fellowship at Washington State. These tasks help me remember the excitement of class from a student perspective.
  • I am taking breaks. Yes, there are thirteen million (slight hyperbole) things to do before the summer session begins in a few days, but I am taking a break each day for completely non-academic work. I will continue my volunteer work with Big Brothers/Big Sisters, I will paint the guest bedroom, I will go for a skate in the park, I will tackle the weeds along the back fence.
  • I am innovating! To rekindle zest in my course content, I am adding new ideas, new techniques, new stories, and new activities to my online and on-ground courses this summer and fall. I do not want to EVER feel bored with my content (even if I hear it 5 times a semester for 4 years in a row...), so each term I am embracing at least one new tech tool/option and new ways to share the content with the students. I find this helps to re-awaken that energy for another semester when the weight of it starts to pull me down.
By focusing on the positive, embracing the past, finding fun future activities, and taking a few breaks to breathe, I hope to avoid any sign of a stutter in the important start to another new semester.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Instructors talking about technology research

Instructor's talking about technology research participants needed!

We are conducting a study looking at how instructors talk about technology and its use in their classroom syllabus. If you are currently teaching a class that talks about technology in your syllabus (i.e., you have a laptop and/or cell phone policy, discuss how blogs or wikis will be utilized in the classroom), and would be willing to share your syllabus with us, and fill out a quick survey (under 10 minutes) about your teaching experiences, your participation would be greatly appreciated. The results of this study may help researchers and instructors better understand technology policies. We will accept syllabus submissions through June 30th, 2011.

If you choose to participate, you will first submit a copy of your syllabus to . You will next be provided with a response email including access to a survey website that will have the consent information provided. If you agree to participate in the study, you will move forward and respond to demographic questions about your past teaching (i.e., number of years). You will also respond to questions about your views of technology and technology use. Any demographic data collected from this study will only be used to describe the participants as a whole in the study write up, but individual information will be destroyed after the summary is constructed.All personal identifying information will be removed from all aspects of the data before analysis.

There is minimal risk involved with the study, as you might feel uncomfortable thinking about your classroom technology policies. However, you may skip any questions that you are uncomfortable with. There is no more risk than you would experience in your daily interactions.

Your identity will not be revealed in either written documents, or verbal presentations of the data. The following steps will be taken to protect your identity and confidentiality.

1. Consent forms will be separated from the data.
2. Personal identifying information will be eliminated from the data and any reporting of the data.
3. You can refuse to answer any question asked.
4. Files will be kept on a password protected computer and/or a locked cabinet.

In appreciation for the time that you spend responding to questions, you have the option of being entered to win a $50 gift card to Amazon.

If you have questions about the study or research related injuries, feel free to contact the primary investigator, Katherine Denker, (765) 285-1965 or Lora Helvie-Mason can be contacted at (504)286-5013 or or

If you have questions about your rights as a research subject, please contact: Research Compliance, Sponsored Programs Office,Ball State University,Muncie, IN 47306, (765) 285-5070,

Your participation is voluntary. You may quit at any time and you may refuse to answer any question. Finally, by submitting a syllabus and completing the survey you are giving consent to participating in the study.

Thank you for considering participating in this research.
Dr. Lora Helvie-Mason & Dr. Kathy Denker

Access to higher education via YouTube

I am not one to go to YouTube and stare at videos of kittens doing cute things or people's children singing...two things I certainly don't have the time (or the stomach) to view. I don't have a lot of patience with random video watching (dubbed "time wasting"). I don't procrastinate. I don't believe in publicly airing all of my family/pet moments. I do have concerns about privacy and video sharing. BUT...

I do think YouTube has become a great vehicle for educational access. I have used YouTube to host mini-lectures for my students when we evacuated for Hurricane Gustav and for my online students. The ease, access, and quality are all great for instructors needing to learn about recording lectures or for those new (or hesitant) to the online video sharing world.

Today, I read the US NEWS coverage, "YouTube goes to college" where the use of YouTube to provide free access to instructional materials, lectures, and universities (via university YouTube channels) was explored. Overall, the story concluded that YouTube raises both the awareness of the professor/lecturer and that of the institution. My thought: ACCESS. More people with access to higher education! More people learning from one another! Here are a few nuggets of information provided in the article:
  • Berkeley is one of nearly 450 universities worldwide—roughly 390 of which are in the U.S. and Canada—that have established a channel via YouTube EDU. In total, the schools have uploaded 63,500 hours—or about seven years—worth of video content, ranging from class lectures to interactive question-and-answer "office hours" with professors. 
  • Schools are required to post more than 20 videos to qualify for their own channel, and on average, schools have about 50 to 100 videos on the site, says YouTube EDU's manager Angela Lin. Some, like Berkeley, post thousands in hopes of reaching students far beyond the confines of their campus. In total, the service has nearly 1 million subscribers. 
YouTube EDU lists areas of concentration and institutions

This was great information to me! Particularly the use of YouTube for "office hours" with the professors--just another point of student-professor contact that is changing the landscape of higher education communication.

Viewers, be prepared to have a slew of choices. Creators (professors and institutions), don't be satisfied with just the common video--institutions are dressing up the productions and providing high-quality videos. Interested in learning more? Check out YouTube's Education page and talk to your colleagues about opportunities to enhance your community outreach, market your institution and your professors, and consider a step into higher education via online videos.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Contact me...really!

As our semester ended, I thought back to the communication with this group of students and found myself excited by a slight shift in student responsiveness. I typically have to BEG students to come see me during office hours (picture me at the front of the room, "I am in my office, I want to help you with your outlines, so if any questions come up PLEASE come by") but this semester it seemed everything clicked and students got information through a variety of channels AND I didn't have to beg. I simply provided detailed contact information on the syllabus (as always) and then tried something new:

I encouraged them to put my information directly into their cell phones. The first day students added my office phone, my Twitter handle, my IM handle, and my campus email right into those little smart phones. I found the student contact was much greater this semester than in previous semesters where the contact information was on the syllabus but where I did not directly encourage it to be added (that moment, in class) to their mobile devices.Was it this new move or simply the increased use of social networking that led to more student contact? Did increased communication foster the stronger class connections felt this semester?

 Can social networking in your class help you craft that sense of "connectedness" or community? One benefit I have noticed my students mention when they have the option to connect with me via Twitter, Facebook, or Instant Messaging is that they feel "closer" to me as an instructor. I value this connection and offer a comment one student noted on our end of semester evaluations last week, "Dr. Lora is so available to her students. She's the only professor who offered Twitter & I [could] get her from my phone. I loved reading her updates about class and about her regular live [sic (life)]." Another student wrote, "I found Dr. Lora on fb [Facebook] and it was right on my phone. It was easy and her pictures made me now [sic, (know)] her better." I believe it is important that the students (and especially those online students) find this availability and connection with professors so they feel comfortable asking questions.

These comments fueled my interest in social networking in classes and that relationship with the professor and other classmates. I am continuing my research on this interesting issue and in the mean time I am reading everything I can get my hands on and reflecting on my personal practices. For example, I put my IM and Twitter handles on the syllabus (and connect IM and Twitter right to our BlackBoard site), but I never put my Facebook or LinkedIn information on the contact area. However, if students find me and "friend" me or "connect" with me, then they initiated the computer-mediated connection and I will respond to them via Facebook/LinkedIn if they ask questions or make comments. Working with the students' preferred contact option (not just via on-ground office hours) makes me feel more available and truly allows me to assist students who were not coming to office hours...and yes, we've all sat in our office during office hours waiting for a student to show up, knowing he needs help, and wondering why on earth he doesn't come. Now, that student with schedule conflicts, transportation issues, or preference to communicate without face-to-face interactions has alternatives.

I found students tweeted and "followed" one another, answered each others questions in IM chats, and responded as a tight-knit group in most of my classes this semester. I wonder about the positives of social networking and computer-mediated communication, positives that can often be overlooked by my colleagues who don't want to  learn something new or have legitimate concerns about privacy (both their own and the students' privacy).

If you're interested in that "sense of community" that is so important in our classes, consider what impact both online and face-to-face social networking might have on your students. I can offer the article, "A study of the relationship between student social networks and sense of community" by Shane Dawson, 2008, in Educational Technology & Society as one option for further reading. Consider also the book edited by Charles Wankel (2011), Teaching arts and science with the new social media (cutting edge technologies in higher education).

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Graduation glee and groans

As a student, I gloried in the black robe and anticipation of walking across the stage. I had the giddy glee of knowing a long journey was coming to a successful close.

 As a faculty member, I eagerly await the announcement of the graduation speaker knowing that the ceremonies can seem long if you don't have an energetic or engaging speaker. I may bemoan the loss of a Saturday wearing hot robes in Louisiana weather, but what a big day for the students! Some of my colleagues responded to the requirement to attend graduation with outright groans, "not again" and "why should I be there?"
Magazine reading at graduation
or "I don't think I will attend" were mumbled around. I have heard similar comments every spring semester and every spring I notice that some faculty members simply don't attend, others attend and complain, and some mirror the smiling faces of their students. There are about half of us who attend and seem to really love to see the excitement of the students and their families. This year I noticed something new from both the students and the faculty. People were NOT PRESENT. Physically they were there, but mentally they were checked out with their cell phones in their laps and their heads looking down. I was so surprised! I've seen professors pull out grading, magazines, novels, crossword puzzles, and even playing games on cell phones during graduation ceremonies which has me cringing. It might not always be the most exciting afternoon, but I love to scan the students and smile and cheer for those who cross the stage. I love the exuberant hugs people throw at you and the introductions to glowing family members. I can't imagine reading a magazine or book through it all...
...but if the STUDENTS seemed also to be only partially present, then why should we expect anything different from the faculty members? 

Because we should lead by example. Because even though I love texting, social networking, blogging and working via my mobile devices I should stay in the moment---especially such a powerful moment! It made me sad to see so many folks absorbed in texting about graduation and updating social media status boxes without (seemingly) being fully present in what was going on. I realize some of us can process fully while texting and navigating mobile devices, but it just wouldn't seem or feel the same to me---and I felt bad, as a fellow communicator at public events, for our speaker to look out and see heads down! So, I kept my hands off my cell phone, I tucked myself into the extremely uncomfortable folding chair in my sweltering black robe and settled in for a nice, long procession of names while marveling in the family cheers, the fist pumps of graduates as they walked across the stage and the amazing feeling that I was lucky enough to be a very small part of that student's academic journey.

Friday, May 6, 2011

ConnectYard: Higher education communication evolves...again

After the post earlier this week, I have received a few comments via email noting a concern for student privacy if we "require" students to communicate via social networking sites. I never require my students to use social networking as a means to communication, but I do offer options for communication and occasional assignments exploring social media (after all, we study communication).

My last post reported on the high number of professors using social media as a tool to communicate with students. There are a variety of thoughts about connecting both formally and informally via facebook, twitter, or other media sites. While the benefits include a fast response time from and for students, increased comfort with professors, and accessibility, there are many concerns about privacy. Due to these concerns, many institutions (including mine) are looking at options that allow students and professors to feel their privacy is protected BUT to also take advantage of their social networking connections.

In the upcoming fall semester, my university will pilot  ConnectYard. What does it do? ConnectYard is a platform that integrates Facebook, Twitter and the students' most used communication: text messaging. This platform integrates nicely with Blackboard and can improve connections with students. It organizes via "yards" (which can be classes or groups). The students can access the yards/groups through their phones, video, text, or via their social networks like Facebook and Twitter. There are several great informative videos including a CY demo on their website here (or others such as this one on youtube).

I am new to the use and possibilities of ConnectYard, but I am looking forward to our pilot of the platform this fall and eager to see how the students respond. As a newbie, I welcome your thoughts or comments. Of course, you can also follow ConnectYard on Twitter: @ConnectYard to learn more.

Privacy image from this site. ConnectYard image from the ConnectYard site.

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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Social media, educators, and YOU!?

Recently, my eyes lit up as the Faculty Focus in my in-box noted that "80% of faculty use social media in their teaching" -- I was then forwarded the article by three faculty members who have worked with me on social networking or other research articles. Since this marries nicely with the idea of work and travel as academics, I wanted to link everyone to the article and to the other teaching resources mentioned.

The survey (access can be gained to the research and report here) noted that "social media" includes Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn, SlideShare, Flickr, blogs, wikis, video and podcasts.

Most surprising to me was the report that  90% of faculty use social media for some type of professional reason in their classes (though frequency of use varies).

Most interestingly was the age/experience of faculty members and their likely use of the media. It seems that those faculty members with more than 20 years of experience teaching are less likely to visit and post on social media than their counterparts with 5 years or fewer experience.

Almost two-thirds of faculty used social media in during their courses or as part of an assignment.
Online teachers are more likely to use social media as part of their course or as part of an assignment.

The last line of the Faculty Focus report noted, "However, despite the broad awareness and varied use of social media, many faculty are unconvinced it has a place in the college classroom and have concerns regarding its instructional value, privacy, and the time commitment." This mirrors my experience completely where I chat with my colleagues and note my use of social media in class and in communicating with my students (both online and on-campus) and face a myriad of concerns.

When reading the article, survey, and watching a linked video about Twitter in the English Composition classroom, I thought about my use of social media. I began to critique--was I using social media purposefully, professionally, with the privacy of students in mind? I found myself doodling the ORID model -- a model used to help students move toward more analysis in their work. ORID, as many readers know, stands for Objective, Reflective (positive and negative), Interpretive, and Decisional where we first examine what we know/observe, move into positive and negative reactions, transition to what sense we make of this data, and then finally end up with the opportunity to enact informed decisions based on the process. This process helped me to examine my own social media use.

As you examine the increasingly ubiquitous nature of social media as a means for communication, research, and study within higher education, consider what rules, uses, and preconceptions you might have about the use of social media.

Read Clive Thompson's Wired article, "How Twitter creates a social sixth sense."

* ORID graphic: found at this website.