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Staying Current in Social Media Education

The following article by Dr. John McArthur, Associate Professor of Communication and Director of Undergraduate Programs at Queens University of Charlotte, appeared on the Social Media Club’s national Social Media Education blog on February 19, 2013.

As a professor who studies digital media, many people often ask me how I stay current in the field. Studying social media and digital media can be a tricky business in that new things are always being added to the market and new strategies proliferate for employing tools that exist.

In my practice, staying current is about three different components: Keeping up with the newest developments, experimenting with digital tools, and innovating in the classroom.

Keeping up with the latest tools
Keeping up with the latest tools is about finding a tool that will curate information so that I can most easily access and process it. You might be surprised that, for me, this tool is the (relatively old) standby, RSS. RSS, or real simple syndication, was developed to deliver information from the web to people who subscribe to that information. For example, most blog sites are equipped with RSS feeds which allow a user to subscribe to the blog and have the blog material delivered in a variety of formats.

I use the RSS reader in Feedly to manage my subscriptions so that I am staying up to date with the most current research and trends in digital media. For me, though there's a catch. I find the process of logging to access the content to be a little clumsy on my mobile devices. Instead, I need a more convenient way to digest this information on the go. I found two tools that make that simple. First, I often read blogs in between other things that I'm doing during my day when I have my phone available. On the iPhone, the Feeddler app became a great resource for me to manage the blogs and podcasts that I plan to read or listen to. The app alerts me when there's new posts to read and I can quickly scan through the titles of the posts to see which ones capture my interest or relate to my learning. Second, sometimes I prefer to read posts in a more magazine-like style, especially on my iPad. In that case, I turn to Flipboard. Flipboard takes the RSS information puts it into a visual display like a magazine that you can scroll through by turning pages and clicking on articles to read the most recent updates.

I also find it valuable to be able to share an article using Feeddler or Flipboard through Twitter, email, or other vehicles that allow me to connect these articles to my students and colleagues.

Experimenting with digital tools
When I read about a new digital tool that looks interesting, I usually try it. Often, this classifies me as an "early adopter" of technology among my colleagues. But through this willingness to experiment, I've tried out a variety of social media tools (as well as other digital media tools) in the classroom. My students have experimented with Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Pinterest, Storify, MindMeister, Goanimate, Audacity, and a variety of iPad and iPhone apps, to name a few, that allow them to connect to me and to each other in the classroom setting.

Innovating in the classroom
For me the leap from experimenting in the classroom to innovating in the classroom comes at a point of confidence with the digital tool that I'm using. In a classroom experiment, I'll try out the digital tool to see what might work what might happen and how students respond to the tool and its uses. Then, innovating with the tool in the classroom is about taking a tool and applying it to the course work in a way that generates learning for students. This is a widely unstudied body of knowledge in research literature mainly because the tools and practices are so new. As we move forward into an age of digital teaching and learning, researchers of instructional design should be able to consider the ways that innovations in digital technology can shape classroom learning. In our graduate program in communication at Queens University of Charlotte for example, our faculty are innovating with the ways that media technologies can be used in the graduate classroom. Sometimes our students knew more than the professors about these technologies but other times the professors are introducing students to technologies being used in ways that they had not envisioned. And students are constantly making the connections between the major theories and concepts presented in the program, and the application of digital tools to that concept. This is the kind of work that will enhance and create opportunities for better and more sophisticated research into technology innovation in a variety of settings.

These three strategies are my way of keeping current with the changes in digital media technology and the ways they affect my classroom. We are all learners and, as a mutual learner with you, I'd love to hear about the ways that you stay current. You can contact me by leaving a comment here, by tweeting me at @JAMcArthur, or by going to my website and contacting me through one of the other channels there.

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