Social media communication tools have become prevalent in online and blended teaching and learning. In addition to using social media applications for content development, you can harness the power of social media to build and establish learning communities.

Key terms

Social media: Communication media which allow for the...

The ability to share information in these collaborative environments has become much easier, along with the ability to comment and communicate within teaching and learning networks. Blogs allow you and your students not only to post content, but also to reflect, comment, and share dialogue on related topics. Established social media tools, such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn (a social networking website for building professional connections), can be integrated into teaching your online class, to build community and support collaboration. Naturally, you will need to check your institution's social media policies before working any specific applications into your teaching.

Take some time to reflect on a few well-established social media applications and approaches, using the next activity to consider how you might integrate them into your teaching toolkit.

Take some time to reflect on a few well-established social media applications and approaches. The following questions will help you to consider how you might integrate them into your teaching toolkit.

In the following activity, consider each question and make a note of your response in the space provided, then click the 'View feedback' button to see our thoughts. Use the 'Next' button to move to the next question. You can click the 'View summary' button to access a printable summary.
Consider each of the following questions. You may wish to make a note of your responses. Then, continue on to reflect on our thoughts.

Useful links

Mashable (useful source of technology and social media news): www.mash...

Useful links

You may find these links useful when considering using social media to...

PROGRAMME | Teaching Online
COURSE | Using technology tools for teaching online
UNIT | 3 : Facilitating communication and interaction
PAGE TITLE | Social media and community building

Question 1 of 5:

How would you use blogs for online community building and support?

Our thoughts:

Commenting on blog posts lets students share reflections and offer perspectives on published narratives. Communities can be formed around these narratives, with student engagement centred on discipline-specific content related to your course. Consider posting on current events, and ask students to comment (and even post)!

Question 2 of 5:

How would you use Facebook for online community building and support?

Our thoughts:

Facebook can be used to generate informal conversation about course and programme-related topics. Consider creating a Facebook page for your course where students can post links to related content, and share their opinions in a more open environment. Think about Facebook as the virtual 'hallway' for your online classroom, and encourage conversations on topics related to your course focus. Check with your students first, as they may already have created a Facebook page for your class!

Question 3 of 5:

How would you use Twitter for online community building and support?

Our thoughts:

Twitter can be used to establish a communication channel between your classroom and the world – connecting your students to an array of subject area expertise. Creating a hashtag or topic of study for your course enables that wider connection, and having your students follow other hashtags fosters their connection to other related teaching and learning discipline-specific communities.

Question 4 of 5:

How would you use LinkedIn for online community building and support?

Our thoughts:

Encourage your students to network with peers and other professionals in their field of choice through LinkedIn. Creating a class group can help build a community of common interest, and bolster student focus on employment possibilities, and the understanding of career options.

Question 5 of 5:

How would you use YouTube for online community building and support?

Our thoughts:

Informative videos can be consolidated into a YouTube playlist and shared with your students. Consider creating a YouTube channel for each of your classes and post related videos on a regular basis. You can even create a playlist that your students can post to and comment on.

Directing interaction and learning outcomes

Video interview

In the first of these interviews, Professor Ray Schroeder, Associate Vice...

Social media applications are an excellent tool for fostering interaction with your students and peers. As with all technology tools, it is critical to determine what your desired learning outcome is before integrating these tools into your online teaching. Your students are probably well versed in social media applications, but they still need direction – clearly stating learning outcomes and interaction guidelines will help shape the use of social media technology tools for interaction and community building.

In most cases, social media applications are public unless you take the time and care to make them private. It is good practice to establish a closed community for your students and colleagues within a social media environment.

Having considered some of the key tools and approaches to help build a learning community for your online course, take a moment now to review which social media tools you are currently using in your online teaching, and which tools you would like to use in the future, in comparison with those that your peers are using/thinking about using.

In the following activity, consider each question, select the response(s) which best reflect(s) your opinion, and then click 'Vote' to register your choice. How do your answers compare to those of your peers?

Consider the following questions and decide which of the responses best reflect(s) your opinion. How do you think your answers would compare with those of your colleagues? Then, continue on to reflect on our thoughts.

Question 1 of 2:

Which social media application do you currently use in your teaching?

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • YouTube
  • LinkedIn
  • Blog
  • Other.

Question 2 of 2:

Which social media applications would you like to incorporate into your teaching in the future?

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • YouTube
  • LinkedIn
  • Blog
  • Other.


Check in with your peers on a regular basis to see what social media applications they are using, and to see how they are being integrated into online teaching and learning at your institution and across the globe. Also, remember to check with your students to see what they are using, and how they think social media applications might enhance their online learning experiences.

A note of caution

It is important to weigh up the benefits and risks of using social media applications before you integrate them into your online teaching and learning. See the section on 'Social media and user-generated content' in the unit on 'Developing, delivering, and curating content' for more information on concerns about using social media for teaching and learning, and possible strategies to mitigate them.

Key terms

Social media: Communication media which allow for the creation of online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, etc. Social media is used in online learning as a virtual 'hallway' for interaction to foster collaborative learning. Examples include Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest.

Wiki: A collaborative website where people can add, edit, and delete shared content. Typically, wikis allow you to track changes and upload supplementary resources.

Blog: A web journal where people can post entries, and comment on existing posts.

Microblog: A web-based service where users are only able to post short entries, which often contain links to associated resources.

Useful links

Useful links


In the first of these interviews, Professor Ray Schroeder, Associate Vice Chancellor for Online Learning at the University of Illinois Springfield, discusses his Semester Without End model. In the second interview, practitioners discuss how they integrate and accommodate social media in the classroom.

What is the Semester Without End?

Professor Ray Schroeder
Associate Vice Chancellor for Online Learning, University of Illinois Springfield

Some years ago, actually I have to say some decades ago, I was teaching a graduate seminar in emerging technologies in the electronic media. And, one of the challenges I found in the course was to encourage the students to identify quality research articles for which they would submit critiques. I began with a Listserv, and then back, gosh, I guess it was right around the year 2000, I moved to a blog format. And I would blog articles that were important in the field of emerging technologies. And the students really reacted very well to that.

The interesting phenomenon, I noticed, was students would graduate, go on to doctoral programmes, and some of them to become professors and into the industry, and they continued to read the blog. And then they continued to respond to the postings so that new students in that course were seeing observations from students who had taken the course years ago and had moved forward. So that extended the semester. The opportunity for me to provide learning materials and observations not just to the students in the class that term but also to all of those who had previously taken the course. So that's how this really came about.

What role do the student contributions play?

The students contribute enormously to the product of this semester without end. That is, they provide comments to the blog, which puts in perspective the material that I'm sharing but also, oftentimes, they'll suggest items that then I will quickly blog to the current students and students who have previously taken the class.

What technologies do you use to support the Semester Without End?

The Semester Without End began initially as a Listserv, and then it evolved into, a blog hosted by Blogger, and then ultimately I shifted over to WordPress because it gave me certain options that I didn't have previously. So it's evolved over time, and yet the concept is the same – to post links, to research articles to new technologies, new approaches, that are of value to students and former students.

What advice can you give to someone who wants to implement the Semester Without End?

I encourage other faculty members to begin to identify areas within their courses, or areas of interest or professional expertise, which they can blog, and it doesn't really necessarily have to be original postings. It can be a kind of curated reading list where they link to articles and resources available on the web. And I think that these faculties will find it's enormously popular and highly valued by the students. You see, when the students are employed then they can use that information to share with their boss, to share with their dean, to share with university administration.

How do you integrate social media into the online classroom?

Professor Steve Wheeler
Associate Professor of Learning Technology, Plymouth University

Gosh, there are so many different ways you can do it. I'll give you some of the current ways I'm using it. One of the things I do is I set up a Twitter war. And, I ask all my students to enrol on Twitter and to create an account and then follow each other and follow me of course. And then what we do is we create a hash tag for that lesson, or for the course if we're running a ten-week module. And, I ask them to put that hash tag on everything they tweet. Then if they want to make an observation during a lesson or ask a question or just, you know, make a comment of anything that's related to the lesson, I ask them to do that, and then if I see it I will retweet it and amplify it out to the people that are following me. What happens next is quite interesting, because then you'll see people who are actually outside of the classroom, maybe in other countries, coming back in and engaging with the students, talking to them about what the issues are, talking to them about what the question is, giving them more information, maybe sending a hyperlink or an image of something which they find useful. And they'll engage with me as well, of course, and so certainly, the walls of the classroom don't exist anymore.

Another thing I do is I ask the students to blog regularly, to create a blog and to keep notes, if you like. Some of them actually live-blog, which is even better because they're blogging while I'm talking in the room, while we're having discussions or while we're doing our activities. Then, the live blogs go out, and they get commented on as well, especially if they're released through Twitter as a kind of hyperlink. So, again, you're engaging people from outside the classroom, and I think that's really exciting.

How has social media enhanced the learning experience?

Dr. Michael Wilmore
Senior Lecturer in Media, University of Adelaide

Students' learning experience has been, I think, significantly enhanced through the use of social media, because students have taken the skills that they've developed through their informal use of social media, skills in creating digital media objects and then sharing them. Whether they're photographs or text or audio and video materials, they've taken those skills and they're actually now applying them in the classroom. So they're creating objects within their own learning here at university, and they're very comfortable with the idea of sharing those objects with fellow students. And obviously then benefitting from all of the advantages that peer advice and evaluation and help in assessment actually provides using these kinds of social media platforms.

How do you ensure that students use social media in a focused way?

Dr. Norm Vaughan
Professor, Department of Education and Schooling, Mount Royal University

I've got two teenage boys that use social media extensively. And I'm learning as a parent, if I tell them to do something they'll do exactly the opposite. So what I'm slowly learning, and I'm learning this in my own courses, is how important it is for me to model the behaviour I want in my students. So I blog extensively, I use Facebook extensively, but I'm modelling the type of behaviour that I want my students to use these tools for in the course. Again, focusing on academic learning spaces, not social spaces.

Dr. Michael Wilmore: So, here in universities and within individual degree programmes it's very, very important that we don't neglect the provision of information around social media to our students. So we need to think about, do we have a very clear and explicitly stated policy around the use of social media? Do students understand that? Do they know where to go if they've got any questions or they need guidance around the use of social media? So we can create an environment where students can be hopefully, successful users of these technologies. They can avoid some of the pitfalls that may lie in their pathway when they're using these social media here at university for their learning, but as a consequence when they graduate, they actually graduate as very confident and adept users of these social media. They'll be welcomed with open arms by employers, I'm sure, when they graduate, because of these skills.