The SoTL Advocate

Supporting efforts to make public the reflection and study of teaching and learning at Illinois State University and beyond…

Using Social Media in Higher Education: An Opportunity for SoTL Inquiry

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Written by Jen Friberg, SoTL Scholar-Mentor at Illinois State University

Last fall, in response to intense student interest, I created a private Facebook group for a graduate course I was teaching in my department. I invited all students to join and 100% did, much to my surprise. Initially, my intent in using this Facebook group was to post course information (duplicated from our institutionally-sponsored course management site); however I found myself sharing links to disciplinary news, information related to our course, and other sources that I thought might be of interest to my students. These were all things that I might not have had the chance to cover in class in a traditional sense; Facebook afforded me easy, convenient access to my students. At the end of the semester, open-ended student evaluation comments indicated that due to our Facebook group, students felt more connected to their instructor, learned information about our discipline that they wouldn’t have looked into independently, and extended their learning by searching for additional information based on links I had shared. At the start of the semester, I would never have anticipated this outcome.

I would imagine that most faculty would agree that social media (e.g., blogs, wikis, social networking sites, video sharing sites) is something students and faculty seem to be increasingly aware of and (perhaps) increasingly adept at using. There may even be an expectation on the part of some students that such technologies be a part of their undergraduate and/or graduate experience. Dabbah & Kitsantas (2012) and a report that a large number of students are currently using social media to create personal learning environments (PLEs) as part of the learning process (33% currently use wikis and 50% use social networking sites). These numbers are expected to rise.

Based on my experience with the course Facebook trial described above, coupled with the growing use of social media in the higher education classroom, I wanted to investigate the impact of social media on student learning as (admittedly) I was a bit skeptical of its potential impact. A bit of searching yielded some interested outcomes:

While it seems that there have been some positive gains in student engagement and learning that can be attributed to the use of social media in the higher education classroom, I found the following caveat that seems appropriate to share:

…successful integration of social media interventions may stand or fall on the basis of a complex interaction between a number of factors, including timing of content delivery, the integration of social media content with course assessment, and the students’ own perceptions of using social media for academic purposes (Dyson, Vickers, Turtle, Cowan & Tassone, 2015, p. 303).

I would argue that from my preliminary review, there is work yet to be done to study the impact of social media as a pedagogical tool. The quote above provides direction in terms of important variables to consider. Currently, much of what we know about the impact of social media on student learning is reported incidentally in blogs and other online communications. While this is a start, carefully-planned studies investigating the impact of social media on student learning are needed. With that in mind, I would urge any reader of this blog planning to use social media to support student engagement or learning in a class this coming academic year to study the implementation of the social media in a systematic way and share your findings with others in and beyond your institution. This is a huge opportunity for SoTL work across and within disciplines. To those of you who have studied the impact of social media on your students’ learning, we would love to hear from you here! If you’re planning a study, we’d love to hear from you, as well. Please comment below and share your experiences!

Blog references:

Blessing, S., Blessing, J., & Fleck, B. (2012). Using twitter to reinforce classroom concepts. Teaching of Psychology, 39(4), 268-271.

Dabbagh, N. & Kitsantas, A. (2012). Personal learning environments, social media, and self-regulated learning: A natural formauls for connecting formal and informal learning. The Internet and Higher Education, 15(1), 3-8.

Dyson, B., Vickers, K., Turtle, J., Cowan, S., & Tassone, A. (2015). Evaluating the use of Facebook to increase student engagement and understanding in a lecture-based class. Higher Education, 69(2), 303-313.

Harrison, D. (2011). Can blogging make a difference? Campus Technology. Downloaded from

Lampe, C., Wohn, D., Vitak, J., Ellison, N., Walsh, R. (2011). Student use of Facebook for organizing collaborative classroom activities. International Journal of Computers to Support Collaborative Learning, 6(3), 329-347.

Skiba, D. J. (2008). Nursing education 2.0: Twitter and tweets. Nursing Education Perspectives, 29(2), 110-112.


One thought on “Using Social Media in Higher Education: An Opportunity for SoTL Inquiry

  1. Pingback: 21st century Doctoral Education: Apprenticeship on SoTLoids & Researcher Apprenticeship in Crucibles | Fabrication Nation

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