Students sitting in class typing away on their smartphones. The clicking of a keyboard echoing throughout a room in a lecture hall. There are no notebooks and pens in sight: only laptop computers and people staring at them. For many professors, these are the signs your students have tuned out.
Tonja Deegan, adjunct Professor of Journalism at Eastern Michigan University, has a very different view. She sees those same signs and knows her student are tuning in.
“Some teachers are like, ‘I know people are multi-tasking so they aren’t listening to me or maybe they’re talking about me.’ They want control of the classroom but it’s something they could open up and make their class that much stronger,” said Deegan.
In addition to teaching, Deegan is also the Digital and Social Media Manager for Airfoil Public Relations. As such, she sees a lot of applications for social media. What she sees for higher education students is a future where students get clarification to questions quickly, so they can focus on what she has to say.
“In education, social media has the power to connect people in the classroom and make them stronger students. You might be sitting in the lecture hall, and you don’t understand something. You might not want to elbow the person next to you and say, ‘Hey I don’t know you but can I get some help on this.’ Online, you can fling out a question and someone can send a link with some reference information,” she observed.
Which is why she decided to pull a panel together for the upcoming Detroit 140 Characters Conference. The panel will be focused on how social media impacts classroom learning. By collaborating with Mark W. Smith, who is an adjunct professor at Washtenaw Community College, and Derek Mehraban, who teaches at Michigan State University, the focus will be squarely on how students can use the social side of social media for the good of their studies.
Deegan practices what she teaches. Last winter she began teaching at EMU and found a chat on Twitter specifically for educators. While the focus has been on teachers integrating social media into their classrooms, she has also used the forum to pick up tips herself.
“I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met and connected with, not to mention new groups and conferences I’ve found out about. I’m connected with professors around the world and we’ve shared our syllabi with everyone. These aren’t resources I could find elsewhere,” Deegan mused.
So the next time you are at a seminar and wonder if people are really paying attention when they are staring at their computer, rest assured they are. Professor Deegan is making sure of that.