Editorial Record: Original draft submitted to the AEJMC-PRD Paper Competition by April 1, 2017. Selected as a Top Teaching Paper. Submitted to JPRE on August 18, 2017. Final revisions completed on May 12, 2018. First published online on May 21, 2018.
Ai Zhang, Stockton University
Karen Freberg, University of Louisville
Social media research, and particularly social media pedagogy, has increased substantially as a domain in public relations research. Yet, along with this increased focus on social media pedagogy, educators and other higher education professionals are under pressure from industry, professional communities, and university administrations to keep their classes updated and relevant for their students. To better understand the current state and rising expectations facing educators teaching social media, we interviewed 31 social media professors to explore the trials and tribulations of their journey and to identify best practices for social media as a pedagogical tool. The study also suggests a blueprint for implementing social media pedagogy in the classroom. Future implications for both research and practice are discussed.
Keywords: Social Media, Social Media Pedagogy, Educators, Public Relations
Developing a Blueprint for Social Media Pedagogy: Trials, Tribulations, and Best Practices
Social media research, along with social pedagogy, has increased substantially as a domain in public relations research (Duhé, 2015). Along with this increased focus on social media pedagogy, educators and other higher education professionals teaching social media classes struggle to keep up with the latest trends, tools, and practices to incorporate relevant digital tools into their classes.
In addition, most of the research on social media pedagogy has focused on specific social media assignments (Anderson, Swenson, & Kinsella, 2014; Anderson & Swenson, 2013; Gallicano, Ekachai, & Freberg, 2014; Kinsky, Freberg, Kim, Kushin, & Ward, 2016), opportunities for experiential learning (Fraustino, Briones, & Janoske, 2015; Madden, Winkler, Fraustino, & Janoske, 2016), addressing students’ perceptions of professors who use social media in their classes as pedagogical tools (Johnson, 2011; Merle & Freberg, 2016), or what qualities are needed to teach social media (Kim & Freberg, 2016). There has been little research exploring the roles, stories, and practices of educators themselves. To fill this void, the present study examines in greater detail the background of these educators, their trials and tribulations in teaching social media and adopting social media pedagogy, and best practices to implement social media pedagogy in the classroom. Future research and implications for social media pedagogy are discussed.
Fundamentals in Teaching Social Media
Universities nationwide are offering an increasing number of social media classes. Educators are also adding more components of social media into class assignments and lectures. An important reason behind this curricular focus on social media is that the current student body is comprised of active social media users. They use social media platforms extensively to communicate with their peer and family networks (Alt, 2015). Likewise, industry professionals are increasingly utilizing social media as a key strategic tool to cultivate relationships and communicate their key messages with target audiences (Carpenter & Lertpratchya, 2016). Within this context, it is important that students develop the necessary skill sets to succeed in today’s digitized workplace.
In response to professional demand for social media literacy and skills, educators have taken a number of initiatives to bridge the gap between practice and higher education (Lipschultz, 2015). One way is embracing the role of “social connector,” which requires an educator to be “active on social media networks, both professionally and personally” (Remund & Freberg, 2013, p. 3). Remund and Freberg (2013) believe that being a social connector on social media for students requires establishing a new mindset that involves strong leadership, a sense of community, patience, and persistence in curating and creating relevant professional-focused course content. Indeed, there are professors who are actively using social and digital platforms to promote their research and scholarly work and to cultivate their own academic identities online (Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2016).
Another way to connect academia and industry is through innovative pedagogical approaches to teaching and learning, such as social media pedagogy. Over the past several years, social media pedagogy research has grown substantially. Some researchers in social media pedagogy have focused primarily on a specific area within social media, like writing (Carroll, 2014), while others have focused on specific tactics that are created and used in the field, like crisis communication simulations on social media (Anderson et al., 2014), blogging opportunities (Anderson & Swenson, 2013), creation of visual images and infographics (Gallicano et al., 2014), and participating in established professional certification programs in social media (Kinsky et al., 2016). Platforms like Twitter (Anderson & Swenson, 2013; DeGroot, Young, & VanSlette, 2015; Fraustino et al., 2015) and Facebook (McCorkindale, DiStaso, & Fussell Sisco, 2013) have historically been the most frequently used social media pedagogical platforms. LinkedIn has also been used (Edministon, 2014; Peterson & Dover, 2014) for the purpose of teaching students professional business communication and etiquette.
Besides this specific tool-focused stream of research, partnering with practicing professionals or institutions for class projects is another method for educators to connect theory and practice in the classroom (Childers & Levenshus, 2016; Melton & Hicks, 2011). For example, several professors have taken advantage of the power of Twitter to connect students from multiple institutions. One group of professors developed a cross-institutional Twitter chat to expose students to remote learning and collaborations with students that they had never met in person (Fraustino et al., 2015; Madden et al., 2016). This activity helped students develop necessary skills before heading to the workplace (Madden et al., 2016). Another group of scholars illustrated how cross-institutional Twitter activities can be used to create authentic learning communities for undergraduate public relations students (Zhang & Yoo, 2016). In essence, social media has benefits to both students and professors, which raises the need for more exploration and discussion on the overall impact that social media pedagogy has on professors and students.
A Unified Theory of Social Media Pedagogy
Unfortunately, outside of the aforementioned examinations of specific tools or use-cases, the biggest challenge for social media usage in the classroom is that, compared to the public relations curricula as outlined by the Commission on Public Relations Education, there is no unified model for how to teach social media or what to expect from a professor teaching social media (Brodock, 2012). Educators must be able to determine which aspects of social media, if any, need to be incorporated in all public relations classes versus topic-specific classes (Merle & Freberg, 2016). Kim and Freberg (2016) conducted an initial investigation on what an ideal social media curriculum would look like. However, one shortcoming of their study was that it did not include the voices of full-time, tenure-track professors teaching social media. Exploring how educators perceive their roles as social media professors is one of the fundamental questions for the current study.
Challenges for Professors Teaching Social Media
Professors face challenges when implementing social media as a pedagogical tool. They must have sufficient motivation, self-efficacy, experience, and familiarity with these tools to address the growing knowledge gap between practice and education sectors (Correa, 2016). Educators must also be able to balance current constraints from students and administrations with the desire to use emerging technology platforms in the classroom (Fryer & Bovee, 2016). For example, Manca and Ranieri (2016) found that faculty members felt social media did not fit within “pre-existing instructional practices” and if it were to be integrated into the classroom, it would take extra time and investment on behalf of the professor when they could be spending this time on research and other professionally established opportunities valued by their academic institutions.
Another challenge educators face when implementing social media into their classes is how they are perceived by their students and whether this impacts their credibility. DeGroot et al. (2015) addressed in their Twitter study that the professor’s use did impact the students’ perception of the professor (DeGroot et al., 2015). Essentially, students who gained information from the professor (e.g., links to articles), along with personal interaction with the professor, viewed them as more credible on social media (Johnson, 2011).
To date, little research has examined the best activities educators can undertake to enhance their teaching of social media (Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2016), especially when it comes to interacting with students and gaining institutional support. Most of the social media pedagogy research until now has explored student attitudes towards social media assignments and specific applications of social media in and out of the classroom. More research is needed to explore professors’ perspectives on teaching and incorporating social media in their classes. Within this context, this study hopes to answer the following questions:
RQ1: How do professors perceive their role in teaching social media compared to other courses?
RQ2: How do professors effectively implement social media pedagogy in the classroom?
To address these research questions, the researchers conducted 31 in-depth interviews with professors who are incorporating social media platforms as pedagogical tools. The research participants represented a wide range of academic institutions, including tenured, tenure-track, and adjunct professors from public relations, marketing, and communications programs, with ages ranging from 30 to 50 years old. The researchers stopped recruiting participants when they achieved a saturation point. All the participants were from the U.S. The study was IRB approved and no real names were used in the transcript or analysis to protect the identity of the participants.
All the interviews were conducted over the phone and via Google+ Hangouts based on each participant’s availability and geographic location. The researchers used a semi-structured interview protocol that covered questions about the educator’s social media journey, challenges and benefits of teaching social media, and specific pedagogical practices such as assignments, social media platforms, books, and resources that they used for their classes. Each interview lasted one to two hours. All the interviews were transcribed by the researchers.
Once all of the interviews were conducted and transcribed, the researchers independently coded the transcripts to identify prominent themes and used the constant comparitive method recommended by Glaser and Strauss (1967), an approach used for research that has limited existing constructs. Next, researchers used an open-coding procedure to refine the initial themes and verify support for the themes based on quotes from the transcripts (Lindlof & Taylor, 2002). Finally, the researchers discussed any inconsistencies in the coding to ensure validity and reliability of the categories, finishing with a coding scheme.
According to the interview results with the 31 leading social media professors, several themes emerged based on the two proposed research questions.
RQ1: How do professors perceive their role in teaching social media compared to other courses?
The most labor-intensive and rewarding course to teach. Participants agreed that social media is the most labor-intensive and most rewarding course to teach. The most labor-intensive part highlights the ever-changing nature of social media. It challenges and requires professors to stay updated with the latest trends and tools in the industry in order to identify the most effective ways to integrate them into the classroom as pedagogical tools. For example, one senior professor shared, “I’ve taught 8 to 12 classes in my field now. Social media is by far the most time consuming one in terms of prep work. It doubles the amount of prep time of a traditional lecture class.”
In addition, grading and returning students’ social media assignments in a timely manner is another major undertaking for social media professors. Participants felt overwhelmed by the amount of time it takes to grade and to keep up with tweets, blogs, pictures, snaps, etc. As a result, some professors had to reduce the frequency of tweets, for example, that they required their students to do to make grading more manageable. As one professor shared, “Instead of requiring my students to tweet throughout the semester, I now ask them to tweet only for the duration of four to five weeks.” Otherwise, as one professor noted, “grading that amount would be a nightmare.”
Nevertheless, in spite of the challenges and difficulties involved in teaching social media, participants all agreed that it was the most rewarding course to teach. Professors said it was rewarding because they could immediately see the results of students applying what they learned in the classroom. As one senior professor shared, “I truly feel that the extra time that I spend preparing for class … all gets paid back when I hear from students who are getting jobs and internships based on their experience in the class.” It is not uncommon to hear that students receive jobs or internships “from things they posted or through people they have met through their social media class on Twitter,” as one professor shared.
Resistance from students. To integrate social media as a pedagogical tool, participants encountered various degrees of resistance from students, manifested at two levels. First, students resisted using social media platforms to do professional- and business-oriented activities and assignments. Based on the interviews, several professors mentioned that their students resisted when they were asked to conduct professional activities and demonstrate professional demeanors on these platforms. For example, one professor shared how he failed at requiring students to build their personal brands on various social channels. “Students refused to do the assignment,” the professor stated. This professor reasoned that, “Asking students to present in a professional manner on social media violates their personal space and use of the platforms.” Similarly, another professor shared, “When I told my students that they had to participate in Twitter chats and use a class hashtag, they got frustrated. And they lose points for not spelling the class hashtag correctly, which irritates them.”
Second, there were students who feel reluctant to share personal opinions in public via social media. Some, in one professor’s terms, were “anti-social media.” Given that Twitter is a frequently used pedagogical tool, almost all of the participants had students in their classes who refused to use Twitter, either because they didn’t have a Twitter account or had a private account. As one professor noted, “nearly 60% to 70% of the class didn’t do the weekly tweets. They just don’t do it. They have opinions but don’t want to share. They don’t feel comfortable tweeting.” A main reason that students didn’t want to share their opinions with the public is because they fear that their writing and opinions are not good enough. As one professor commented, “They don’t even want to share their blogs with friends and family. They don’t want their friends and family [to] know that they have a blog. They don’t think it’s good enough.”
Lack of real-life opportunities that align well with class goals and objectives. Professors are constantly searching for real-life opportunities for students to practice what they learn in the classroom and to gain hands-on experience with some of the necessary digital skills that are hard to learn from books. Unfortunately, there are not always such hands-on opportunities. This lack of real-life context is especially problematic for professors at smaller institutions where they “don’t have access to the financial resources or relationships or reputation that larger programs” have to attract industry partners, as one professor commented.
In addition, when professors collaborate with local organizations to offer their students service-learning experiences, it is difficult for them to find clients that meet class goals and objectives. One professor shared that many of his local organizations have such a basic understanding of social media that the collaboration is not likely to be mutually beneficial from the student perspective. As he shared, “It is hard to find that middle ground of an organization that our class can partner with and feel like we are helping the organization to learn and be creating content and analyzing their content for them.”
Lack of peer and institutional support. Although a few professors mentioned that their social media endeavors are well supported by their peers, departments, and institutions, the majority experienced much less supportive environments. For example, one professor shared how she created a Twitter handle for professors at her department, but the university rejected it because the department needed to seek permission first and the handle’s content needed to be monitored and regulated. Likewise, another professor shared how she encountered pushback from her school when she was trying to do consulting in public relations and social media. As she shared:
[M]any universities, mine included, don’t encourage consulting by professors. It is not encouraged. It is discouraged. You have to ask for permission. You have to apply for the right to do it. A great portion of my academic development – more than 50% – needs to be professional networking, professional engagement, and consulting helps me immensely. For me to say, gosh, can I please beg my university to do this? Why don’t they encourage me? If they see all these positive outcomes, I don’t understand why it is not encouraged across the board by many universities.
Unfortunately, professional endeavors were not deemed as reputable and as impactful as traditional research. That is why, as one professor pinpointed, “Many professors out there are independent of the professional network… they see a scholarly interaction as more important than a professional interaction.” Sometimes, the curriculum also reflects this lack of buy-in from administrations. An adjunct professor stated that he was shocked to see how many educators were not active users of social media for professional reasons. He attributed this inactive state of professors on social media to the lack of support from the administration and leadership team at universities. As he shared:
Universities, in my opinion, do not take social networking seriously. That’s where I think education is failing as far as really teaching social networks. They view it as “students will learn it in this or that class.” No, they are not. At my current university, they were not planning to teach social networking until they brought me on board. I pitched them social media analytics. They weren’t going to do it. That’s scary to me, especially at a major university. But if you are not teaching it, how do we really expect our students to understand it?
Parallel to the aforementioned lack of institutional support, participants expressed frustrations over the lack of peer support, especially among colleagues. One senior professor pointed out, “I had some colleagues saying that social is just a trend versus a main thing. They don’t see the true value or the fundamental changes that social media has brought to the area of communication.” Participants agreed that this perception is problematic and hinders what they teach in the classroom. As the senior professor further noted:
I can talk about social media and preach it all day long in my class but when students go to another class and we’re told that Twitter is going to go away or just be a trend. That makes what I talk about in my class very difficult in terms of getting buy-in from students.
Having experienced a lot of what the professor described above, another seasoned professional and adjunct professor bluntly stated, “You know who really needs social media education? The professors. They need lots of help.”
Professor-student divide. The majority of the interviewed professors believed sharing their personal lives via social media has helped personalize who they are as professors and has brought them closer to their students. For example, one professor shared how he made himself accessible by sharing his phone number, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter information with his students. As he noted, “social media is the most efficient way to communicate with my students, the 18 to 24 demographic, because they pay more attention to these social media platforms than to emails.” This closer relationship has also shrunk the power distance between professors and students. As he further stated:
When I speak their language [social media and emojis], the students think, “this professor gets us.” When I let them follow me on Instagram and Twitter, they… look up my prior content. They see my personality, and that trust and rapport-building, and the power gap is shortened.
On the other hand, some professors shared that crossing the teacher-student divide has brought them unexpected and negative consequences. One professor shared how tweeting out messages related to politics and her baby during her maternity leave affected her teaching evaluations. As her students wrote in the evaluations, “We didn’t appreciate you talking about democratic politics. We didn’t appreciate you talking so much about your kids. It was boring.” She concluded, unfortunately, that “students don’t want to know that you have a life,” but instead “they’d like to pretend that your world stops when they stop seeing you or interacting with you. They don’t want to see us as a three-dimensional human being, but as teaching robots.”
The myth that digital natives are digitally savvy. One of the biggest assumptions that social media professors encountered on a daily basis was that digital natives are digitally savvy. Students, the so-called digital natives, assumed that they were the experts on social media and they knew everything about social media. However, this was far from true, in the participants’ opinions. As one professor stated, “just because they are digital natives, it doesn’t mean that they are digital experts.” As the participants unanimously pointed out, there was a big difference between using social media for personal reasons as opposed to professional and business purposes. As one professor argued, “Students know how to use social media for fun,” but they “have no clue how to use these tools as professionals would use them for clients.”
RQ2: How do professors effectively implement social media pedagogy in the classroom?
Lead by example. Participants shared that the most effective way to implement social media pedagogy was professors’ active presence on and usage of the platforms that they were incorporating into the class. An important question grounding this perspective is: Can professors teach social media or apply social media pedagogy effectively without being on these platforms themselves?
The answer seems to be no based on the participants’ responses. The biggest problem was a “credibility gap” if professors were not on these platforms. As one adjunct argued:
If we [professors] are incorporating certain platforms and channels into the classroom, we absolutely have to be there, to be full, to be knowledgeable, and to be interacting with the students and professionals. Otherwise, there will be “credibility gaps” or you are going to have a bunch of students saying, “That’s not fair. We all have to be here and we all have to do this. Where are you?”
Many participants agreed that when it comes to teaching social media and applying social media pedagogy, nothing is more important than “practicing what we preach.” As one adjunct shared, “Unless we as educators embrace digital platforms, we are not going to influence our students.” As a result, when professors were actively engaging on social media sites such as Twitter or Instagram, it showed that “professors have basic competencies on these platforms, which will make students listen and believe us more,” circling back to the issue of credibility. One professor shared how she was learning Google Analytics with her students. As she stated, “to create buy-in from students, I am doing it with my students… This is to show students that you are learning along with them. They appreciate that.”
On the other hand, on certain platforms with which professors did not have personal experience, especially with some newer apps like Snapchat, they felt a lack of confidence in incorporating these tools into the classroom. As one professor shared:
My lack of use of Snapchat has put me in a disadvantage. I have to rely on my students to make sure that I am well acquainted with the culture of the platform and with what we are doing, whereas [with] the other social media platforms, like blogs and Twitter, I consider myself to be pretty versed on all of them.
In situations where teachers don’t feel comfortable consulting their students regarding the dos and don’ts of certain platforms, they choose to not incorporate them as pedagogical tools at all.
Incentivize social-media related assignments. Participants shared several examples students lacking the motivation to complete social media assignments when these assignments were given as optional, especially on platforms that they were not personally fond of or active users of, such as Twitter. Class hashtags on Twitter were a common pedagogical tool mentioned by many professors that didn’t result in broad participation without incentives.
However, when incentives were given, students were more likely to participate in and complete the tasks. As one professor noted based on experience, if social media sites were to be employed as pedagogical tools, they had to “be tied to some evaluative component, an assignment that they will be graded on and assessed in some way.” To address this challenge, professors shared several creative ways to engage students on Twitter via class hashtags. For example, one professor developed quiz questions based on the articles that students posted to Twitter, while another professor used Twitter chats to conduct exam reviews. Participants reported that students responded extremely well to these activities, as one professor noted, “Even students who don’t use Twitter for their personal purposes typically signed up and created an account so that they can review the review sessions.”
Furthermore, some professors had success with some newer platforms like Snapchat and Instagram. One professor developed a Snapchat scavenger hunt assignment for her students to participate in, and another professor asked her graduating class to take pictures of their campus that would resonate the most with them by using a common hashtag.
Use social media to bridge the gap between classroom learning and industry practice. Participants shared a number of examples of how they used social media as a pedagogical tool to connect students to the outside world, including being in charge of the department’s social media accounts; following local businesses on social media, interacting with them (one class ended up getting free pizza from Dominos), and identifying strengths and weaknesses of these businesses’ social presence (one student got hired as a result); and following influencers on social media in specific fields of interest to the students.
Besides social media activities, requiring students to earn certifications was another way to bridge the two worlds. Certifications such as Hootsuite Platform Certification, HubSpot’s Inbound Certification, and Google Analytics were popular recommendations. One professor shared how one of his students got an internship because of the skills he mastered through these certifications.
Professors as social connectors. An essential aspect to using social media as a bridge was that professors themselves served as a bridge as well. According to participants, professors needed to become social connectors themselves, interlinking education and practice and sharing resources. One professor shared how her role as a social connector had benefited her teaching. As she said:
I see professors as connectors. Our job is to connect our students from the academic world to the professional world. We are going to be the bridge from academic to professional. If you don’t have professional connections and if you don’t reach out to the professional community, and make sure that they trust you as an educator, and they trust you to send them smart students who know how to use these digital and social media tools, then I don’t know if you would be a good teacher.
For professors who did not have an extensive professional background, they believed that having an active online presence or personal brand helped them achieve similar results as social connectors. One professor who had a strong personal brand via blogging shared how his digital presence had helped him serve as “conduit,” connecting the two sides:
My blog is primarily talking to educators. It helps me establish credibility by showing what I am doing and showing that I am halfway between student and professional world, kind of see myself as a conduit. My online presence has opened doors to get guest speakers and so forth. Organizations and companies contact me saying, “We heard about the things that you are doing with your students. Would you be interested in taking on our nonprofit org as a client?” Being online and interacting and engaging has a ripple effect because people see your presence as credible and keep you salient in their mind.
Furthermore, a natural byproduct of professors serving as social connectors was that they were creating a class community. Participants shared that social media pedagogy was an effective way to build relationships and to create such a community. One professor noted, “Interacting with [my students] helps me build relationships with [them]. It is rewarding to have this kind of relationship with students.” In participants’ opinions, this could be accomplished on any social media platform. As another experienced professional and adjunct shared:
Social media allows you to have emotional connection with your students. You can use social media to build your own community and voice together and feel comfortable as a community. When that happens, the learning increases. Collaboration is increasing. Students are also innovating.
Mentorship. As participants expressed, having mentors who were relatively more experienced with social media pedagogy was critical to anyone embarking on this journey. Although everyone expressed a need for mentors regardless of their levels, participants suggested that mentorship was particularly valuable for two groups of people. One group includes those who do not have any professional background. Therefore, being mentored by other professors who were experienced in teaching social media and adopting social media pedagogy was crucial. For example, one professor who had no professional experience shared that, “I really have a couple of people who were a little bit ahead of me to thank for the initial introduction to social media pedagogy.”
The second group of people that benefited from mentorship included junior faculty members who had just joined the workforce. As one junior faculty member mentioned, “My social media pedagogy success has a lot to do with the outstanding connections that I have who are colleagues and research partners – the mentorship and guidance of people who are graduate colleagues and friends.”
Research findings of the present study revealed how professors perceived their role as social media educators. The following section discusses the findings in more detail and suggests a blueprint for implementing social media pedagogy in the classroom.
Teaching Social Media: Trials and Tribulations.
Many of the challenges in teaching social media suggested in the literature occurred throughout the present study, such as the need to possess sufficient self-efficacy, motivation, familiarity of the social media tools, and balancing constraints from students and administrators. Participants shared that many of their peers still treat social media dismissively, as “a trend” or “a fad.” Generally, participants felt that they lacked support and recognition from leaders in their administrations and departments with respect to the time and effort, often doubled, that they invested in teaching social media classes. This is especially concerning for junior faculty members who are pursuing tenure and promotion. Just as there is no unified method to teach social media (Brodock, 2012), there are no clear standards guiding how social media activities and pedagogical innovations contribute to professors’ career development. While most schools have the end goal of preparing students for jobs, they have not sufficiently aligned the necessary resources to achieve that goal. As one professor argued, “Goals without resources are failures.”
Another salient point that emerged was an apparent paradigm shift in the student-teacher relationship when teaching social media classes. Participants frequently mentioned that the old model of learning and teaching no longer works in today’s digitized classroom environment. It is time to move away from information dissemination to a co-creation paradigm where the relationship between professors and students is fluid and dynamic. Unfortunately, many professors, as one participant critiqued, “are used to their old teaching philosophy. They are stuck in their same old way to teach things. Maybe they are tenured, no incentives to innovate.”
Best Practices of Social Media Pedagogy: A Blueprint.
The importance of buy-in from professors, students, professionals, and institutions emerged as indispensable factors to successfully implementing social media pedagogy in the classroom. Among all, professors may hold the ultimate influence to create buy-in from students. When professors are using social media effectively and strategically to build their personal brands, bridge the gap between classroom learning, and open professional networking opportunities, they are perceived by students as being more credible, trustworthy, and relatable. As Manca and Ranieri’s (2016) recent study suggested, professors in general are most likely to use social media for personal use. Likewise, students are also accustomed to using social media as personal and entertainment tools, as the present study has suggested. Within this context, unless educators make a conscious effort to change their perceptions and use of social media, they will not gain the necessary buy-in from students to practice social media as strategic communication tools. Classroom learning is the last stop before students graduate. Thus, teachers’ guidance and training are essential to help students obtain and internalize the necessary social media skills. When students have professors who are active and excited about social media and share stories about how it has benefited themselves professionally, students resonate with that strongly and learning increases substantially.
However, educators’ efforts alone are not sufficient to successfully implement social media pedagogy. Additional support from both professionals and institutions is crucial. The following graph (Figure 1) attempts to paint a blueprint for implementing social media pedagogy in the classroom, capturing the insights gained from RQ1 and RQ2.
A blueprint for implementing social media pedagogy in the classroom.
The solid lines on the figure describe existing relationships, whereas dotted lines indicate non-existing ones. Double-direction arrows refer to two-way relationships and one-way arrows refer to one-way relationships. There are four solid lines numbered as 1, 2, 3, and 4, and five dotted lines numbered as 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9. Specifically, the first solid two-way arrow (Number 1) describes the fluid relationship and power dynamic between professors and students, as well as a co-creation process of class content and the learning experience. The solid two-way arrow between professionals and professors (Number 2) reiterates the role that professors play as social connectors, interlinking education and practice. The solid two-way arrow (Number 3) between professionals and students highlights an important responsibility that practicing professionals hold in terms of giving back to the academic community and sharing with the students the latest tools and skills that industry demands. The solid two-way arrow (Number 4) describes ongoing communication between professors and administrators to inform each other of the latest updates and challenges so that those higher-up can offer educators the necessary support and recognition they deserve, and educators can train competent students to boost employment rates.
In terms of the dotted lines, the dotted one-way arrows of Numbers 5, 6, and 7 on top of the figure call for a co-advocacy partnership between professionals and professors to collaborate and advocate for themselves and to communicate to the administrators about the positive impact that they have created in the class as a result of their social media class and digital pedagogy. The dotted two-way arrow (Number 8) indicates the possibility of collaborations between professionals and administrators to share resources. For example, some participants in the study shared that their schools hired professionals from the industry to offer summer workshops to teach professors the ins and outs of social media. Professors benefited substantially from these workshops not just in terms of learning how to use specific platforms, but also thinking more strategically about integrating social media into the classroom as well. The last dotted two-way arrow (Number 9) indicates a missing link between students and administrators. Participants in the present study reiterated times that universities need to communicate to students that social media is irreplaceable in today’s business world, and it is important for them to have at least basic digital skills. In general, these dotted lines reveal missing links in our existing social media pedagogy in public relations classes.
CONCLUSION AND FUTURE RESEARCH
This study suggests several areas for future research. First, future scholars can examine to what extent and in what aspects professors’ self-disclosure via social media is conducive to classroom teaching and learning. Whereas the majority of the participants shared that social media interactions with students brought them closer to their students and broke down the teacher-student hierarchy, others experienced negative consequences as a result of being personal online.
Second, future studies can examine students’ and professionals’ perceptions of professors’ credibility between those who have an active online presence and those who do not, and what social cues can make professors more credible to students and professionals. The present study suggested the importance of leading by example and argued that professors need to be active, or at least moderate, users of the social media platforms that they incorporate into the classroom. Otherwise, there will be credibility gaps.
Third, research on social media pedagogy can start to examine the applications and ramifications of some of the newer social platforms as pedagogical tools such as Snapchat and Instagram, as well as channels that have been under-utilized such as Reddit, BuzzFeed, and Facebook Live.
Lastly, scholars can conduct longitudinal studies to investigate to what extent and in what aspects taking a social media class will help students continue many of the social media behaviors they did in the class, such as building a personal brand, participating in Twitter chats, and interacting with professionals in the industry. Will they continue to use these platforms after the semester is over?
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