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Social Media 101 — Should Colleges Add Social Media to the Classroom?

Posted At: March 24, 2010 1:32 PM
by Rachel Davis

Social media is not a trend. It has changed the way public relations practitioners think about communicating. Many entry-level communications jobs require social media knowledge to be hired, and employers are increasingly expecting social media-savvy college graduates.

College graduates are expected to understand, implement and express a thorough knowledge of social media to enter the job market. Students with an established online presence in social media can better promote themselves in a competitive job market. However, when do students learn it? Is social media something that should be implemented in degree coursework? How are teachers making sure the students know social media before they graduate?

Social media for public relations professionals is much more than tweeting what was for breakfast. It is about creating a voice through a new medium. Social media allows students to engage with public relations professionals without leaving their campus. It encourages conversations and the exchange of ideas. It requires students entering the social media networks to create an identity online.

Colleges and universities are beginning to understand the possible benefit of adding social media to their curricula. If college courses engage students in social media, even in subjects outside the communications realm, it will benefit the student’s marketability after graduation.

Social media added to education benefits both the student and future employer. If students are taught the correct way to use the tools to engage others and promote their ideas in a professional manner, they can avoid some rookie mistakes before they make them. The growth of social media in the public relations field requires that students understand its power.

In the classroom

Kristie Aylett, APR, a former Internet Public Relations professor at Tulane University, said her course “included blogging, tweeting and analyzing ways organizations use social media in their communications.”

“A university should teach students about today’s communications tools and how to use them effectively,” Aylett said. “Else, their graduates will know how to do things from the ‘good ole days.’”

Aylett said her class used social media in a final project in which students developed proposals for local businesses that incorporated social media into its communications plans.

Teachers who are adding social media aspects to their classes’ curricula are not necessarily limited to only communications-related fields. In an article on by Greg Fernstein, Dr. Monica Rankin at the University of Texas at Dallas said she uses Twitter to engage her class. The class is a U.S. history class, but she uses Twitter to ask questions and see students’ responses.

The article “Twitter 101: Social Media’s Move to College Classrooms” by Frances Tobin on highlights other college courses offering social media, including the possibility of earning a master’s degree in social media at Birmingham City University in England.

“My generation has grown up with the Internet, and while most social media users probably think they’re proficient, do we fully grasp the full extent of their function and value?” Tobin said. “Pitfalls and uncertainty seem to be the impetus for social media education.”

A recent article in the University of Oregon’s blog, Inside Oregon, highlights different teachers’ use of social media throughout the university. The post titled “Professors use social media in the classroom” by Jenica Cassidy discusses teachers from all different disciplines of study at UO using social media. For example, Scott Huette’s online class incorporates the use of individual blogs. He requires each student to create his or her own blog at the beginning of each semester.

“My views are just one perspective. Their voices are just as valid to be heard as mine. By the end of the term my voice is seen less and less,” said Scott Huette.

Learning it on your own

Social media can be learned without ever taking a course for college credit. It is a social experiment, and students are able to teach themselves. They can use a trial by fire approach and navigate the medium for themselves.

“As a recent college grad, I was not taught how to use social media as a PR tool,” said Kristina Gorr, a student affairs counselor at The MINI University and account administrator for Automatik Education. She argues part of the value of social media is that she learned from personal experience.

“Students can take any one of the dozen of webinars out there if they are truly wanting a teacher for social media. Learning from experience instead of in the classroom is very crucial for this type of media,” Gorr said.

Some examples of webinars students might be interested in are Writing for Social Media from the PRSA Web site, Engaging Social Media on the Cision Web site and Getting Found Online: Social Media from Hubspot.

Many will have their own opinions about using social media as a subject in the classroom versus an experience one learns on their own. However, many schools are adjusting their curricula to adapt to new social media tools. Public relations students who will be entering the job market should learn social media tools whether in a classroom or through personal experience.

What is your opinion or experiences with social media in the classroom?

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