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Distraction no more: Social media encourages discussion outside classroom

Professors use social media platforms Twitter and Facebook to take lessons outside classroom

For students enrolled in POLS 0010: “Introduction to the American Political Process” this semester, class began well before the syllabus was handed out and continues each week beyond the walls of their lecture hall. 

Wendy Schiller, associate professor of political science and public policy, communicates with students in her course via Twitter.

“Attn: Brown students. Teaching POLS 0010 IntroAmerpolprocess nxt semester let’s start the conversation now using #introamerican,” Schiller tweeted Nov. 4, nearly three months before the course was slated to begin.

Leading up to the course, Schiller connected students to articles on topics ranging from the Affordable Care Act rollout to the federal debt ceiling through Twitter, and she continued interacting on the online platform once the semester began. Schiller said Twitter enables her to communicate with students more effectively than either email or Canvas, the University’s online course management platform.

All tweets related to the course are organized by the hashtag “introamerican.”

“It’s a really great way of continuing the conversation outside of class,” Schiller said. “I feel that I have another way of communicating with and introducing them to other voices that don’t come from me.”

Schiller has been active on Twitter since 2010 but only decided to bring the social media network to the classroom after a discussion with Catherine Zabriskie, director of academic technology services.

Schiller plans to continue using Twitter for future classes of POLS 0010 as well as POLS 1130: “The American Presidency” in the fall.

Twitter is “great in large lectures to interact with the professor and interact with other students,” said Meghan Wilson GS, who is a teaching assistant for POLS 0010.

During the president’s State of the Union address Jan. 28, students were asked to complete the thought, “the state of the union is” in the form of a tweet, Wilson said.

Though students are encouraged to tweet their responses to topics raised in discussion, they are not graded on whether they participate on Twitter, Wilson said.

“It allows for other students (who are not enrolled) to be involved in the discussions we’re having in class,” she added.

Kota Mizutani ’17 said the use of Twitter in the POLS 0010 was a “quick and easy way to access material in the class,” but he has not participated in the online discussions.

“I like how the (teaching assistants) are able to put up Twitter stuff. I think it links the course material to what is relevant to us now,” Mizutani said.

POLS 0010 is not the only course at the University to incorporate social media into teaching. Assistant Professor of Anthropology Adia Benton created a Facebook page for students in ANTH 0110: “Anthropology and Global Social Problems: Health, Development and Security.”

“I noticed that students would use the page to communicate with each other about class assignments or to think through how particular social issues are handled in the mainstream media,” Benton wrote in an email to The Herald.

Students were not graded on their participation in the Facebook group, but Benton wrote that it was an opportunity to hear the voices of students who do not speak in class.

“Students are already using Facebook, so it’s a helpful tool in the sense that it fosters communication amongst students in ways that might not otherwise be possible,” she wrote.



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