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Social Media and Distance Education
Joanna (Xuan) Zhang
Instructional Support Specialist Center for Support of Instruction
Published: January-February 2010

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Category: » Online-pedagogy » Emergingtechnologies

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"Social media" is probably not a new term to you if you are a distance educator. To me, I heard of social media, social networking technologies, social learning, and other similar terms at various educator's conferences, educational technology Webinars, Web 2.0 training sessions, and more.  Presenters normally name some examples when talking about social media—such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Google Docs. However, I found that my understanding of the concept of social media was still vague. This article attempts to clarify the concept and help you gain ideas on how you can use social media tools to enhance your online teaching. 

What Is Social Media?
"Social" refers to the interactions among people, and "media" refers to the Web-based technologies that store and transfer electronic data or information. Combined together, social media can be defined as Web-based technologies that facilitate information sharing and user interaction. Web-based technologies have been developing and growing for years, and they are becoming more mature. It is the social element that differentiates social media from conventional media technologies. Social media efficiently bridges connections among users.  It offers platforms for online users to find others who share the same interests and build virtual communities based on those shared interests. Users no longer review content in a passive or isolated way. Instead, they can easily create, share, and publish content, and they can review and comment on other users' products. With the prevalence of social media technologies and services, content sharing and user interaction has become relatively easy and efficient.

3.Wikipedia. and even modify other user-created content. Blogging/micro-blogging .Blogger. comment. The open atmosphere greatly encourages content sharing and allows users to get feedback on content they have created. Web conferencing . and more . Online collaboration becomes much easier when it is facilitated by social media technologies. users can stay focused on relevant content and topics that everyone is interested in. In a user group community. Features of Social Media Social media services encourage user contributions and participation. Students in the same study group can co-draft documents.Delicious. Multimedia sharing . users easily share information. 2. faculty can design creative online learning activities by asking students to use one or more tools to work on their learning tasks and achieve their learning objectives. Implications for Learning When appropriately integrated into the online classroom. WordPress. Qik 6. spreadsheets. DimDim Most people connected to the Internet today have used or come across a social media tool or service.Facebook. With social media services. and with the connections to other users. All of these features not only benefit professionals and computer geeks. With the prevalence of various social media tools. Twitter Social networking . they can easily keep up on what is happening in a particular field.Flickr. LinkedIn. Compared to traditional media. and the services are more user oriented instead of content oriented. Social media tools take various forms. presentation slides.Typical Social Media Tools There are hundreds of social media tools on the Web. students can collaborate on team project documents. social media promotes two-way communication among users. such as blogging. 4. YouTube.WebEx. The services allow users to participate in online activities in a proactive way. Zoho Office Suite 5. MySpace. social networking. Here are some of the most popular and well-known examples of social media tools: 1. Google Docs. social bookmarking and multimedia sharing. Diggo Collaborative authoring . Ning Social bookmarking . Social media also facilitates community building for users of similar interests. but they are also valuable to distance educators and learners. For instance. social media can offer innovative learning experiences and enhanced learner engagement. vote. GoToMeeting. and more are emerging every day.

it is not uncommon for faculty to use blogs as additional teaching/learning resources.with Google Docs. For instance. leading them to easily share and locate more resources that are relevant to their research topics. Some faculty have even used Twitter to remind students of homework. upcoming events. In particular. Current . As a result. and other important items. In addition to online teaching. Many professors teaching graduate-level classes found that Diggo. Discussions can become an extension of learning in the online classroom. With creative integration of social media tools in a class like this. Each study group can also create a presentation through a Web conferencing tool such as Wimba. students can participate more and be more engaged in the learning process. pictures. make weekly postings on blogs. tweet lecture topics for discussion. Students can review and respond to the reading notes from their classmates and the instructor.  It can also be a good idea to use more than one social media tools in a class. Diggo also allows students to build or join communities to connect with people who share the same academic interests. and comment on each other's work. The professor asked students to watch relevant video clips. online reading becomes much easier. many universities use social media to showcase their educational projects. Stanford University showcases faculty and student projects on its Facebook page by publishing videos. and other relevant information. Academic research can also benefit from using social media tools. is an attractive tool to assist students with their own research projects. Students can immediately receive these reminders through their mobile phones if they have the correct setup in their Twitter accounts. Many professors use Twitter to have students "tweet" all their academic-related activities. a research tool and knowledge-sharing community. reflective thinking and collaborative learning are highly encouraged with this tool. By using the highlighting and sticky notes features of Diggo. Faculty may publish academic journals or articles on his/her own blog and students may post discussion comments on them in the threaded comments area. At Duke University. With the popularity of blogging and micro-blogging. social bookmarking is extremely useful for literature reviews and collaborative research. The word limits in micro-blogging help students stay focused on a topic in a concise way when they are tweeting. a professor incorporated a few social media tools into his online teaching of an introductory film class. and they can help students keep up with what is happening in the real world.

edu/2009/04/16/twitter-in-theclassroom/. access. (2008). Michigan State University Center for Teaching and June 12). Message posted to http://ctt. and they can be more connected to each other than ever before.blogspot. Summary In summary. Message posted to http://web20teach. from http://www. distance education will continuously evolve with the trend. online teachers and learners can experience new and better types of communication and interaction. . A. Mayfield. Social media. technology. If you are thinking of implementing any of these tools into your course. check with your academic administrator for suitability. With social media services. (2009. Resources Best Online Universities LLC. 13 enlightening case studies of social media in the classroom. or company. What is social media? Retrieved December 20. August 11). Social media tools help online learners feel less isolated. (2009. These references should not be taken as an endorsement of any particular tool. e-learning development. NOTE: This article mentions only a few examples of social media technologies. Social media in the classroom. from http://onlineanddistancelearning.msu. and training. With social media technologies advancing.educ. there are clear advantages to using social media in distance education. (2009. where she helps faculty and students use a variety of computer-based and Web-based applications to enhance their distance teaching and learning. About the Author(s) Joanna Zhang is an Instructional Support Specialist in the Center for Support of Instruction. CSI team members are available for consultation on the use of some of these tools if you have questions or concerns. and gain inspiration from these posted projects for their own work. Rating: Not yet rated . Her professional background focuses on instructional design.html.students can search. April 16).com/socialmedia. quality assurance. Retrieved December 23.

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