It is not uncommon for USC students to spend more time surfing social media sites like Facebook and Twitter than paying attention to lectures, professors are finding, ways to use those sites as teaching tools with the classroom.
A recent study by the Babson Survey Research Group and Pearson found more than 80 percent of college faculty are incorporating some form of social media in their teaching.
Twitter in particular has found its way into USC classrooms because it allows for a constant, ongoing conversation between students, teachers and the rest of the world.
Social media tools like Twitter can enhance learning because they provide the ability to interact with anyone with an account, according to Robert Hernandez, assistant professor of professional practice in the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism.
“It’s a perfect place for a learning environment because people are constantly sharing knowledge,” Hernandez said. “It’s a different way of thinking that everyone in the room has different experiences and we can all learn from each other.”
According to the study, more than 40 percent of college faculty have students view or read information on social media as part of the classroom assignments, and 20 percent of teachers require students to interact on social media sites.
Ken Sereno, a professor of communication at USC, said he tried using Twitter as a way for students to respond to certain assignments, and a way to monitor feedback from students during his lectures, but said the trial wasn’t very successful.
Sereno said he is not opposed to the idea of adopting social media in the future, but he first wants to see significant research demonstrating the usefulness of such tools in the classroom.
Even Facebook can be a learning tool, especially during those moments when students have trouble finding information for a class.
YouTube is also often used in the classroom to show videos, but the terms of fair use associated with Viacom, the leading global entertainment content company, have made it more difficult, said Virginia Kuhn, associate director of the Institute for Multimedia Literacy and a cinematic practice professor.
According to Kuhn, YouTube has disabled videos and issued takedown notices on behalf of media conglomerates like Viacom who, for instance, owns The Daily Show and the Colbert Report.
If a student was to do a project for a class using clips from those shows and then post it on YouTube, it likely would be taken down, because companies like Viacom don’t see YouTube as a learning environment, Kuhn said.
Spanish professor Charles Paus, however, said YouTube has nonetheless been a great tool for his classes.
“I use YouTube as a resource for movies in Spanish,” Paus said. “It’s a great resource for material for teaching foreign language because I can find clips from TV shows in Spanish.”
Though some classes and students have found a way to take advantage of social media, it is not necessarily useful in every classroom.
“I’m only in science classes, so there never is a purpose to use social media,” said Chase Turner, a sophomore majoring in biology.
Elinor Accampo, a USC history professor, said she isn’t looking for a way to incorporate social media into her classroom because students seem resistant to interacting with teachers on such a personal level.
“I don’t think there’s a need for bringing Facebook into teaching because students use it for personal reasons,” Accampo said. “Recently the subject of Twitter came up in class and students were appalled at the fact that I could be communicating with them through Twitter.”
Other members of the USC faculty agree with Accampo and believe privacy issues are a concern when using social media sites in classrooms.
“When students have Facebook as kind of their social space and then you try and sort of intrude with the classroom onto that space, it can get a little creepy, it’s like watching your mother try out for cheerleading,” Kuhn said.
Though it might be difficult to implement social media in the classroom, some students said they enjoy when teachers do.
“Social media in the classroom is a phenomenal thing and it’s under-utilized,” said Christen Lazarcheck, a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. “It creates so many windows of opportunities, and it’s a huge compilation of knowledge.”
Lazarcheck said social media can be used as a teaching tool to stay current with the news and provide an easy opportunity for students and teachers to connect with others about timely topics.