Supporting Faculty Use of Social Media and Cloud-Based Technologies in the Classroom

In our most recent edition of Higher Ed Impact: Monthly Diagnostic, we offered examples of how some faculty have successfully leveraged social media technologies to help them address specific challenges in teaching and learning –- you can find these examples in our article “In and Out of the Classroom: Using Social Media in Ways that Matter.” This week, we’d like to provide you with practical tips for how faculty developers and instructional technologists can assist faculty in identifying these high-potential opportunities.

To learn more, we turned to faculty development veterans Alisa Cooper, assistant chair and e-courses coordinator for the English department at Glendale Community College, and Kimberly Eke, senior manager of the Teaching and Learning Interactive division at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Cooper and Eke offer their advice for what support faculty developers can provide at multiple stages of social media adoption:

  • Resources and training not just on the tools themselves but on the tools’ pedagogical affordances
  • One-on-one coaching
  • Cultivating a community of practice among faculty

Provide Training on the Tools and their Affordances

Besides providing “how to” tutorials or seminars on common tools, foster conversations about pedagogical affordances and walk faculty through scenarios demonstrating how particular uses of social media might be employed in support of a course strategy. Cooper both structures and promotes her workshops around a series of pedagogical challenges (“Have you ever wished you could get students discussing the text synchronously outside the classroom?” or “Have you ever wished you could get each student in your back row to participate in discussion?”).

This approach not only serves to attract the attention of faculty who would not otherwise be early adopters, but also invites faculty to open the conversation by thinking not about the flashiness of a new tool but rather about applying the tool to solving specific teaching and learning challenges they and their students face.

Here are examples of low-cost ways to provide resources beyond a traditional faculty development workshop:

  • Scout YouTube for video tutorials on uses of social media and other cloud-based technologies for teaching and learning
  • Invite faculty and faculty developers from other institutions to participate in the workshop and share ideas via Twitter, Skype, or other tools
  • Maintain a blog or online forum where either your faculty developers or your faculty themselves collect and respond to tutorial videos, peer-reviewed articles, and other relevant resources

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill maintains a faculty development blog that posts, once a month, a “faculty spotlight” feature consisting of an online video in which one faculty member discusses their use of a specific social media tool in a class and the reasons for it.

Kimberly Eke suggests that you can take this resource one step further by:

  • Ensuring that the online videos are structured in a problem-and-solution format (for example, perhaps one instructor wanted to proactively identify, prior to each class session, what points in the assigned reading were unclear to the students, and used a polling app or Twitter to solicit this information from the class)
  • Inviting other faculty to a synchronous discussion of the spotlighted example

"Rather than overwhelm faculty by offering 20 examples of social media tools they could integrate into their classes, showcase one really effective use of social media to address a specific challenge."
Kimberly Eke, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Depending on the resources available to you, you can move beyond offering faculty development workshops and central catalogs of useful resources and examples by either (or both):

  • Offering one-on-one coaching for faculty adopting social media
  • Cultivating a faculty community of practice, in which faculty actively coach and support each another


For a close look at the affordances of one popular social media tool, read this March 2011 article, in which we interviewed Ray Schroeder, professor emeritus and director of the Center for Online Learning, Research, and Service (COLRS, formerly OTEL) at the University of Illinois Springfield, and surveyed pilot projects at an array of institutions to assemble some key examples of effective uses of Twitter for teaching and learning.

One-on-One Coaching

If your teaching and learning center or your faculty development office already offers one-on-one consulting on course design, integrating coaching on social media use will be an easy step. Even if not, if one or more of your faculty developers have expertise –- or are cultivating expertise –- in the affordances of social media platforms and apps, consider making these staff available for coaching.

Invite faculty to come prepared with specific learning outcomes or course objectives, and encourage them to identify a specific pedagogical or learning need, rather than just identify an innovative use of a new tool. “Ask them what they want to see happen in the classroom,” Cooper suggests. “Then explore different scenarios and opportunities for how they could use various tools to assist in meeting the need they’ve identified.”


Pepperdine University recently undertook a three-term iPad Research Initiative to identify uses of the iPad for teaching and learning and to determine the kind of support faculty would need to make effective use of the tablet device and the apps available to its users. Many of the initial findings related to faculty support apply also to faculty adoption of other cloud-based applications.

Hong Kha, the project manager for the pilot study, suggests that the best way to support faculty is to provide a faculty developer or instructional designer who can:

  • Work with faculty to clarify the learning outcomes for the course
  • Get to know the faculty member's teaching style (are they a lecturer? A facilitator? Are they used to interactive group discussions?) and, rather than attempt to change the instructor's style to fit the new technology, help them choose apps that will support their existing pedagogy
  • Go over a sample lesson plan with the instructor
  • Search for the right apps

To learn more, read these two articles covering key takeaways from Pepperdine University’s pilot project:

Piloting the iPad (January 2011)
Lessons Learned from Piloting the iPad – Part 2 (August 2011)

Cultivating a Community of Practice

Given scarce resources, Eke notes, cultivating a thriving social media or e-learning community of practice among your faculty will be far more effective (in terms of both cost and efficacy) than ramping up the amount of coaching available. “Foster a community of faculty adopters who are providing resources, tools, ideas, and attested solutions to each other,” she suggests. “And resist the urge to think of this as just an interdepartmental community. It can be inter-institutional. Use social media to invite contributions from faculty elsewhere in the world, via Twitter, Skype, or blogging.”

If your campus doesn’t currently have an e-learning community of practice, an easy way to initiate one is to hold a faculty charette, at which:

  • Several faculty provide examples of innovative pedagogical strategies they have tried that were enabled by social media tools
  • Faculty brainstorm (perhaps at round tables or in small groups) ways to integrate these strategies into their own classes, additional strategies to try, alternatives, or next steps

Via a blog or online video, the results of the charette can be made available online to the larger group of the institution’s faculty.


Our recent edition of Higher Ed Impact: Monthly Diagnostic takes an institution-wide look at how to leverage social media to take what you are already doing well and do it even better -– whether in teaching and learning, student recruitment, or alumni and donor relations. Click here to read the edition.