If you are thinking about using social media in your classroom, before you even set up an account, have a goal in mind. Successful and productive social media activity can be a solution to a problem. Do you want to have more connection with the students in your classes? Google+ could help you do that. Are you looking to get timely information specific to your course subject matter from relevant sources? Twitter could be a good option. Or are you just trying to get students more engaged in class by having them use visuals? Then Pinterest might be a good fit. My point is, don’t just decide to jump into the latest social network because it’s new and flashy and everyone’s doing it. Think about what problems you have in your classroom, and figure out if social media might be a new way to tackle those issues.

Let’s take a look at the capabilities of some of the social networks to help get you started:

Twitter – Much of what drives usability on Twitter is the idea of a hashtag: using the “#” sign before a word. By searching for a particular hashtag, such as #HigherEd, on Twitter, you can see what people all over the world are talking about on the subject and find links to relevant articles. You might even consider a unique hashtag for one of your courses or classes. You can use your course code and section number as a hashtag and create a running stream with your students.

Facebook – Facebook’s pages let you connect directly with products, brands, and professional organizations such as the American Library Association or the Chronicle of Higher Education. You can read news, learn about new trends, and hear what other like-minded educators are saying. You might even take away new ideas to employ in your own courses, or find content that you deem worth sharing with your class.

Google+ – Although this is arguably one of the lesser-used social networks, it does offer some unique features. You can create circles that will allow you to share content (web links, documents, photos) among a select group of people — your department, or perhaps a group of adjuncts or teaching assistants you work with on a particular course, for instance. It also allows a virtual “hangout” where any group of people can meet face to face using their computer or mobile device’s webcam.

Pinterest – This social networking site is all about visuals. Do you want students to find photos or images from around the web and group them into a certain category? This would be the place to do it. You can create virtual bulletin boards that other people can see and comment on.

Once you determine the appropriate social network, you’ll want to lay out a plan. Decide in advance how often you are going to post content. You can even use a social media scheduling tool such as HootSuite so that you can enter a term’s worth of content all at once and have it automatically post every week. Make it clear to the others in your social network what part you want them to play, whether you want them to add content or simply interact with what you’ve posted. Consider making the assignments part of the grade to ensure you get maximum participation. And in the end, don’t forget to have fun with it! Social networking is about connecting with other people, and that should put a smile on anyone’s face.

What classroom problems are you solving with social media? Share them in our comments section below.

Cynthia Barnes is the social media program manager at Cengage Learning.
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