Ahead of the network

Thumbs are becoming important educational tools this semester, as instructors at Youngstown State University are using social media to communicate with their students.

R.J. Thompson, an assistant professor of art at YSU, uses social networking to not only convey messages, but as a way to show students how to use such tools to excel in their future careers.

Thompson has his students set up accounts on the Students of Design website. Prior to teaching at YSU, Thompson taught at Edinboro University in Pennsylvania, where he had a two-hour commute to and from school. Using the Students of Design website and other forms of social media allowed him to still communicate with students.

Students of Design also allows his students to post their projects, and he includes links to his courses’ Twitter accounts, where he posts resources for class.

He also created the site as a response to students posting unfinished work online.

“Being that I know a lot of professional people, a lot of my students would post their unfinished work on Facebook and tag me in it. These guys would then see the work and think it’s terrible because it’s unfinished,” Thompson said.

Now, the students have a place to post their work for feedback before turning in a final product.

“I want to create the center for graphic and interactive design groups to go and interact with each other and share resources,” Thompson said.

The site allows him to get feedback on what lectures students need clarification on, based on the hits the lecture gets on the website.

“I know the information was either understood or not interesting at all depending on how many students revisited the notes. Either way, it helps me improve,” Thompson said.

Some YSU professors have been using social networking as a teaching tool for a while.

Mark C. Vopat, an assistant professor of philosophy and religious studies at YSU, began using Twitter in 2006 when he caught wind of the website during a technology convention.

“I was an early adaptor in Twitter when there was nothing to tweet and no one to follow. Then, the next year, it took off,” Vopat said.

He now uses the social network to convey messages to his students. In the beginning, he was essentially introducing them to the website, and now, more students are familiar with it.

“I have separate Twitter accounts for each class,” Vopat said. “I obviously use email, and I could have set up a Facebook account, but I like Twitter for two reasons. One, I can easily set up a bunch of different accounts, as opposed to setting up six Facebook pages. I also don’t have to go through the tedious email of, ‘What did I miss in class today?’ The students can just check the Twitter.”

He said Twitter was also convenient because even students who do not have an account can still view the page by typing in the Web link.

“Students even now aren’t carrying laptops; if so, they’re ultra-light laptops. But they generally do carry their cellphones. So, for me, Twitter was perfect because all I want to do is basically say, ‘Here is what we covered in class, here is what we’re covering tomorrow, [and] here is a reminder about that quiz coming up,’” Vopat said.

He also posts links to slides, and posts if there is a class cancelation.

Dani Burkhart, a senior business major at YSU, said it’s helpful that Vopat uses Twitter in the classroom.

“What I like about Twitter is it gives you a glimpse and so it’s more private,” Burkhart said.

She said more teachers should incorporate a Twitter account into classrooms.

“It’s a good move because if you miss class, instead of finding someone else who has the class or emailing the teacher, you can check Twitter instead,” Burkhart said.

She also uses her Twitter account to follow celebrities and friends.

Rebecca McAndrew, a freshman business major, does not have a Twitter account. She prefers to get the homework from the teacher rather than checking Twitter.

“I just don’t want to know every little thing that is going on in someone’s life,” McAndrew said.

However, she said that if more teachers were to use Twitter, she would consider getting an account for academic purposes.

He also uses Slideshare, which is a PowerPoint- and presentation-sharing website, in the classroom.

“I use Blackboard, but I don’t always like it as a means of posting information for students to download. Sometimes, I just want something quicker and easier. For instance I’ll post something on Slideshare, and then tweet out the link,” Vopat said.

He also uses Vimeo for video lectures.

Thompson said he believes social networking is important to use because more jobs are becoming available that require knowledge on social media.

“The social media market is just that: It’s marketing. It’s purposeful, strategic and it’s important,” Thompson said.