Introduction

Social media, one of the hallmarks of early twenty-first century technological innovation, creates a number of open questions about the way people communicate, the speed at which ideas travel, and the future of internet-connected networks. Social media websites are redefining the limits of where one’s virtual “presence” coincides or sometimes conflicts with one’s “real” life. One of the more interesting divides in social media is that of users’ attitude. There are some, like novelist Jonathan Franzen, who question the merits of social media in general. In a recent interview, he delivered a nuanced, yet rather scathing critique:

It takes a while for artistic media to mature—I take that point—but I don’t know anyone who thinks that social media is an artistic medium. It’s more like another phone, home movies, email, whatever. It’s like a better version of the way people socially interacted in the past, a more technologically advanced version. But if you use your Facebook page to publish chapters of a novel, what you get is a novel, not Facebook. It’s a struggle to imagine what value is added by the technology itself (Lerner 2015, para. 41).

Yet, within education, some find value. Prominent researcher Reynol Junco demonstrates through controlled studies “evidence to suggest that students and faculty were both highly engaged in the learning process through communication and connections on Twitter” (Junco et al. 2011). Similar results are found with Facebook’s use, but like Twitter, the platform must be used “...in ways that are advantageous to students” (Junco 2012).

Beyond reshaping society’s norms and values, social media has tangible effects seen in everyday life, including the lives of today’s college students. Today’s students bring to class more than just a notebook and pencil. Many wield an assortment of digital tools, such as smart phones, tablets, netbooks, and notebooks that connect them to resources around the globe. These tools also enable students to engage in powerful social media networks, such as Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Purdue University, a leading research institution, examined how faculty members use social media for academic, professional, and personal purposes. Purdue’s division of Information Technology sought to understand faculty members’ comfort in and rationale for using the tools in their teaching practice. This study also included social media tools that were developed internally for teaching and learning. For example, Mixable and Hotseat are tools designed at Purdue to enhance student engagement by facilitating social learning with course instructors and fellow students in various academic contexts.

Using social media is now easier than ever before with a multitude of mobile apps, high-speed internet availability, and most importantly, almost always free access. Measuring the impact of social media, especially across a large university where professors and students may reflect a wide range of attitudes toward academic, personal, and career use, is a difficult task. Several questions guided the development of a survey, including: How do instructors seize the opportunity to reach students through social media? What are the academic and administrative opportunities and challenges to integrating social media into teaching and learning? How can educational technologists address instructors’ concerns and diffuse social media effectively for teaching and learning?

 
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