A paper by the three Black Hills State University professors is being presented at the fifth annual International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation held Nov.19-21 in Madrid, Spain.  The paper, titled Practices and Outcomes: Teaching and Learning with the Tools of Social Media, discusses the benefit of integrating social media into the classroom to enhance learning. Pictured left to right, Dr. Barbara Looney, assistant professor of management, David Henry, BHSU senior finance and economics major, Dr. Mary Caton-Rosser, assistant professor of mass communications, and Gina Gibson, assistant professor of digital media. Henry helped with research for the paper.  

With 98 percent of 18-24-year-olds utilizing some sort of social media wouldn’t it be beneficial to integrate those tools into higher education learning? That question is one among many that three Black Hills State University professors have set out to answer.  Their cutting edge research on social media use in the classroom has been selected for an international conference.

Dr. Mary Caton-Rosser, assistant professor of mass communications, Gina Gibson, assistant professor of digital media, and Barbara Looney, assistant professor of management, have been studying the benefits of integrating social media into classroom instruction to enhance learning. David Henry, BHSU senior finance and economics major, also helped with the research.

The trio’s paper has been selected to be presented at the fifth annual International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation held Nov. 19-21 in Madrid, Spain. The conference is an international forum to present and share experiences in the fields of education, research and innovation. For the three-day conference, their virtual paper, along with others, will be available online to all attendees.

“Due to global time differences, papers remain open for comment throughout the conference period,” according to Looney. Those at the conference in Madrid expect to use conference access to view virtual papers. The professors will be online at varying times throughout the conference to communicate with participants via email. The group will use the conference access to discuss their paper as well as comment on papers in their session, Web 2.0 and Social Networking, and other virtual sessions.

 “We hope to meet and network with colleagues around the globe who have teaching interests similar to our own. Through our sharing, we anticipate gaining new ideas and directions, ” according to Looney.

A total of 411 virtual papers will be available during the three-day conference. The Web 2.0 and Social Networking session includes 10 papers.

“It really says something when there is global interest in social media in the classroom,” Gibson said of the paper receiving international attention.

The professors, who are all early adopters of technology and social media, connected after Dr.Rodney Custer, BHSU vice president of academic affairs and provost, requested they do a presentation for faculty members on the best practices of integrating social media into the classroom.  All three, who call themselves the Digital Divas, have already introduced different social media tools into their courses.   

The project grew from there. 

The study is a work-in-progress aimed to delineate for the University’s faculty a variety of instructional methods, sharing of best practices, and development of policy that might be applied in the classroom. The primary goal of their research is to create awareness of social media as a classroom tool, coupled with improved learning and professionalism as outcomes for students.

Caton-Rosser has been researching social media’s relationship with communication for more than a decade, and much of her classroom instruction integrates social media tools.

There is a shift in classroom instruction from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0, Caton-Rosser said. Instead of a top/down approach where the course is mainly lecture-based, instruction is more horizontal where the students are interacting in the classroom discussion, she said.

The professors began their study by researching best practices at other academic institutions to see how they were meeting current social media trends, technological advances and student needs, and evaluate where BHSU landed on the social media spectrum, Caton-Rosser said.

The research revealed each university with a diverse set of policies; however, all had a common goal of acknowledging the trend of effective communication through social media use in and outside of the classroom.

“Textbooks can’t keep up with what is going on with social media,” Caton-Rosser said.  

The group presented a faculty in-service where they summarized evidence on the power of social media, and the growing national interest at other institutions.  During the workshop, Henry provided a student perspective on the benefits of social media. Henry has already applied some of the ideas to a blog for business students and a new campus events Facebook page.

Through the workshop and a campus-wide survey, the professors gained better understanding of how to help BHSU faculty apply social media for greater teaching benefits.

Gibson noted that social media is another way to engage students.  She has a Facebook page for each of her classes so students can critique each other’s work – throughout the entire process of their designs.  She has found that the social media site prompts more participation especially from students who might not otherwise speak up. As the semester progresses, the students, are now participating in the classroom discussions.

All three professors said social media can be a double-edge sword. Instructors must educate students on how to use social media responsibly and professionally. For social media to be effective as a learning tool, it must be applicable to the lesson, it cannot solely be a voice for the students, Caton-Rosser said.

The use of social media in the classroom also provides students with advanced knowledge giving them an edge when entering the career field. Looney said in addition to implementing social media into the curriculum, she is also placing an emphasis on showing students how widely used social media is in their career field and ensuring students are fully versed in its utilization so they will be prepared to meet the needs of employers.

Looney tries to introduce a new, useful social media tool into each of her courses.

One of Looney’s students recently interviewed for an internship where she was asked if she used Twitter. The student, who used Twitter in one of Looney’s courses, explained her classroom use of microblogging service and she earned the internship.

While the group has done months of research, much more work lies ahead.  The professors plan to form a larger committee to look at how social media fits into the curriculum and create guidelines for its use.

The professors agree that with new technology and social media emerging every day, it is imperative that higher education institutions keep up with the latest tools, not only to keep their tech-savvy students engaged but also to prepare them for life outside the classroom.