Why I use social media in teaching

I used social media a lot while I was working on my PhD. I visited blogs dedicated to the joys and pains of thesis writing (such as The Thesis Whisperer), used the Twitter chat channel #PhDchat to connect with others working off-campus most of the time like I was, and surfed YouTube channels looking for interesting videos related to anthropology. I came across a short video called A vision of students today by cultural anthropologist Michael Wesch which revolutionised the way I thought about social media and why I should use it as a teacher.

I sought Wesch out on other social media platforms and was struck by his approach to new media and philosophy of anti-teaching:

“Anti-teaching is about inspiring good questions. Since all good thinking begins with a good question, it struck me that if we are ultimately trying to create “active lifelong learners” with “critical thinking skills” and an ability to “think outside the box” it might be best to start by getting students to ask better questions.”

Wesch goes on to note that many students – especially those in large introductory classes – rarely ask ‘good’ questions and instead ask questions like ‘what do I need to know for this test?’ I have heard this a lot and it always makes my heart sink a little. I know studying is hard, especially when you have to juggle full-time study with work and family committments, but to me this question feels like another way of saying ‘I want to make sure I don’t accidentally learn too much so please tell me exactly what you want to see in my work.’ Wesch’s strategies for encouraging ‘good’ questions – especially his World Simulation for first year cultural anthropology students – resonated with my own teaching philosophy, which is based on educationalist Paulo Freire’s approach.

Today social media is an important part of my teaching practice. I use social media as a pedagogical tool to take learning beyond the classroom, teach transferable skills, encourage reflexivity and critical thinking (by having them look at how and why they use platforms like Facebook), and to model how anthropologists can use social media. (I’ll talk about how I use social media in another post.)

I also use social media for my own professional development. It is a great way to learn about what other anthropologists are doing in the classroom, to source new ideas and teaching materials, and to engage in online conversations about teaching anthropology. It is particularly good for networking and I have had conversations with Mike Wesch about adapting his World Simulation for the large first-year cultural anthropology class I teach at Victoria University.

I am curious about the reasons why others use social media in teaching. Why do you use it? Why don’t you use it? I’m sure I could learn a lot from your practices!

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