Social Media OptionsHave you been thinking that using social media in your teaching might be a good idea but have no idea how to start with so many options? That’s the way I’ve felt too: Should I tweet on Twitter, post on Facebook, blog on WordPress, or Tumblr or Pinterest or Instagram, or, well, whatever on whatever? Doing a Google search on using “social media in the college classroom” gives far, far too many choices for my liking.

In days not terribly too long in the past, most professors would see their students two or three times per week, and that was about it. Students were expected attend lectures and work on readings or homework assignments in between times.

In contrast, the vast majority of today’s students are able to receive information 24-hours per day and 7-days per week. With so much information flowing through the air, students are naturally inclined to pay attention only to what is in front of them at that particular instant. This means that “if your class’ learning goal is out of sight, then it is probably also out of mind.”

College professors use social media with the purpose of extending learning beyond the traditional 50- or 75-minute class period and provide students with a stream of information. Professors can provide students with reminders about upcoming assignments, pushing information about current news events, or adding additional information to help student complete homework tasks. All of this effort to keep information flowing in the service of providing a nearly continuous learning experience.

TryItIf you would like to get your feet wet and try something that works consistently but isn’t risky nor takes a lot of ramp up time to learn, I recommend using a free text-messaging service called allows you to easily send text-messages directly to students’ mobile phones with complete privacy. Students sign up to receive text messages—or emails if they prefer—and never have reveal their personal cell phone number to the professor or each other. Perhaps more importantly, professors do not need to reveal their own cell phone numbers as everything is handled over the Internet with no private information being shared.

You can send text messages to your students either from a computer or from your own cell phone. Text messages can remind students that they have a homework assignment due the next day, inform them that grades have been posted, provide an updated reading assignment, or alert students to current news events. For example, when I teach astronomy, I can send out evening messages on clear nights to let students know that they should step outside and see the full Moon visible in the East, or that the brightly shining star in the west is actually the planet Venus.

You can also pre-writeText Messaging all of your text messages and schedule them to go out automatically. At the beginning of each term, I go ahead and schedule text messages to go out for the entire semester reminding students two days before particular assignments are due. And, when something unexpected comes up, like all labs sections are canceled because of an electricity outage, I can quickly inform students. If you would like to see an example of how this works, please feel free to sign up to get text messages on your own cell phone when this blog is updated by sending the phrase @SCSTblog to the number 81010. Of course, you can stop the messages at anytime.

TRY IT: Text @SCSTblog to the number 81010 to receive a text message when the SCST Blog is updated.

One could, of course, use any social media platform for sending updates to students. However, students already get tons of email from the University, Facebook updates unrelated to school events, and updates from their friends through a variety of programs. I’m sure there are other programs that do the same thing, but I suggest using as a first step because of all the ways students share information, text-messages seem to get the most attention from students because text messages appear immediately on their screen and students seem to be on ready alert for text messages, which is exactly what I desire when I’m sharing information with my students to extend their learning experience.

Tim Slater, University of Wyoming,

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