"I think social media tools need to be structured in such a way that the teacher is creating opportunities for students to talk to each other outside of the classroom." - Christopher Sessums, Phd., M.Ed, Professor in Educational Technology at UF.

A Professor's Perspective

One professor at the University of Florida is using social networking tools in a unique way to bolster learning in his classes.

"One of the things I like about social media is the fact that it can really enhance what you do in a classroom already." Dr. Chris Sessums, a professor at the University of Florida College of Education, said.

"For me, social media enhances the ability to share things, our ability to communicate, our ability to collaborate, as well as act in more formal ways."

Group Work and Grades

Dr. Sessums is aware that group work is stressful to students. He's come up with a unique way of dealing with that. "To alleviate student's worry about whether they succeed or fail using these tools, I like to just tell them that they all have an A, and not to worry about grades," Dr. Sessums said.

"That way, they just use the tools to experiment and take risks. They're not so worried about whether they're going to succeed or fail. The idea is for them to share with me what they think about the whole process, in how they're engaging with it, and how they're learning along the way."

The Not-Face-to-Face Art Show Plan

Dr. Sessums conducted an experiment with social media tools and learning. "I asked students in one of my classes to put on an art show, and they had to organize the entire process by using social media tools," Dr. Sessums said.

The students in the class were instructed not to talk about the project in class, and were encouraged to organize the project through whatever social media tools were available to them, such as Facebook, Twitter, and the course wiki.

While teaching with social media is a relatively new thing, Dr. Sessums is hopeful that it will catch on in more universities.

"This kind of use of social media is still on the fringes." Dr. Sessums said. "This use of social tools is a move the focus to a more student-centered project-based focus."

Student-Focused Learning

Dr. Sessums said that by taking more of the focus away from the lecture, and putting more emphasis on these social tools, it gets the students to be more engaged. He said that the idea is to get students to do more of the work and take a more active role in their learning.

"I think it's really critical that we give students the opportunity to do that. Because that's what they're going to face in the real world. I'll tell you, in academia, when I'm working with other professors, this is the same thing we do," Dr. Sessums said.

"We're talking, we're collaborating on research and we're collaborating on papers and projects. The social media tools, using wikis, using weblogs, using twitter, these really allow us to enhance what we're doing already."