It’s always comforting to know that you’re part of the “in-crowd.” That’s how I felt when I read the results of How Today’s Higher Education Faculty Use Social Media, the 2012 Pearson and Babson Survey Research Group survey of nearly 4000 faculty members at the nation’s higher education institutions. [Read the full report and view an infographic here.] Like me, other college instructors have embraced social media with greater frequency over the past year—but not for teaching. Instead, most instructors use social media in their personal lives, while only 33.8% use it in their courses.
Other major findings of the survey include:
- 11% of faculty members under age 35 use social media in teaching, compared to faculty members age 55 and over, of whom only 30% incorporate it into their teaching.
- Instructors in the Math and Science fields use social media much less often than faculty in Humanities, Liberal Arts, and Professional fields of instruction.
- Blogs and wikis are more popular than social sites such as Facebook and Linked In, which are used for social and professional networking rather than teaching.
- Video is the big winner, as 88% of faculty members across the board have incorporated it into their teaching.
I fit right into those demographics. I access social media every single day of my life. I read the news, engage in commentary with friends and colleagues (most noticeably during the past month of presidential debates), and conduct research. But I don’t use it in teaching very often. For example, I require students in my courses to follow a special Twitter account that I created just for them, where I post important announcements, such as “Study guides have been posted on Blackboard” or “Class is cancelled due to an advanced case of ennui.” (I’m kidding, of course, but I think all educators will understand that urge.) As crucial as these announcements are, my students still resist joining and following me on Twitter. So I don’t bother seeking out more ways to use social media.
I have uncovered a number of reasons why my students are reluctant to engage on Twitter — reasons that faculty around the country may be able to identify with. First, they dislike what they see as an additional responsibility. Second, they live in mortal fear that I will post a comment to their Twitter feed that will embarrass them among their friends, which betrays a real confusion among students about just how Twitter works. Even though I have told them that all I will use Twitter for is to post announcements, that I will not follow them in return, and they never have to tweet back to me, they still do not take that step.
Finally, many students are really not as tech-savvy as we like to think. Sure, they know how to text message each other, but when it comes to using new applications, they often don’t have much experience with them. This corresponds to recent studies that have revealed that we may have been overestimating the comfort level and ease with which today’s students use all kinds of technologies. As technology expert and adjunct professor Brian Proffitt noted this summer,
“Even as millennials (those born and raised around the turn of the century) enter college with far more exposure to computer and mobile technology than their parents ever did, professors are increasingly finding that their students’ comfort zone is often limited to social media and Internet apps that don’t do much in the way of productivity…Instead, most Millennials use technology for fun and games.”
It’s very possible that faculty who do not use social media in their teaching just can’t use it, because their students lack the skills or desire to engage in that way, rather than any perceived laziness or lack of motivation on the part of the faculty members. I know that has been my experience: as my students rolled into class for the midterm exam last week, at least 25% of them had not gotten my update about the study guide because they had not joined Twitter.
Surprises in the Mix
There were also some surprises in the survey results. As noted by Inside Higher Ed,
“Use of video was fairly consistent across disciplines except for mathematics and computer science, where only 66 percent of professors reported using video to help teach — an outlier that might come as a surprise to fans of Khan Academy and the major MOOC providers, all of whom rely heavily on video as a medium for teaching math and computer science concepts.”
This is definitely accurate in my personal experience. Some faculty use video well, as a supplement or illustration of course content; others use it badly, as a substitute for actually teaching. But all of the faculty members I know in my subject areas (Humanities and Social Sciences) use it, while video is less common among my Math and Science colleagues. Part of the reason for this, I have gathered from my colleagues, is that many courses in those fields are more work-shop or project- and problem-based learning, with students in labs or working on problems in class.
The study also discovered that one of the biggest obstacles to more faculty engagement in social media in the past has actually lessened. Only 32.2% of faculty in 2012 believed that institutional support for social media use was important, compared to a much higher number last year. Faculty, it seems, have become more independent as they have discovered the benefits of social media and struck out on their own.
If these results indicate anything, it’s that next year’s study may continue to reveal the increasing use of all kinds of social media in the classroom, as faculty members continue to learn about and take advantage of any new developments in the use of social media for effective instruction.