A recent joint study of 4,000 college faculty members by the Babson Survey Research Group and Pearson found that faculty attitudes toward the use of social media inside the classroom are gradually changing, with more professors using it as a learning tool and ditching previous assumptions that it takes too much time to learn or distracts from useful class time.

Almost every university has official Facebook groups and Twitter accounts to connect to future and current students, but what is really changing here (and has the potential to even more) are the use of these networks by professors during and after class time.

In an article article written by Bridgewater State University professor Dave Copeland, he makes the case for using Twitter inside the classroom as a non-mandatory, but potentially useful way, for students to add to their academic experience. After implementing a class hashtag, #COMM240, he saw students increasingly having great discussions with each other on the channel, and those who chose not to participate found themselves falling behind.

Harvard has been paving the way in digital communication, excelling at social media and various other online tools. Just look at the college’s “Computer Science 50” course, known best as “CS50.” Professor David Malan uses the website cs50.net as the nerve center of the class. On it you can find videotaped lectures, class handouts and practice sets. Malan also utilizes tablet computers for grading, as well as providing online office hours and live discussion chats with TAs for anyone who needs extra help.

Yet, for anyone who doesn’t attend Harvard but wants in, they can follow along with the course on cs50.tv, in which they can access videotaped lectures, handouts, quizzes and even a class Google Group for discussions. As a result, the class has expanded dramatically over the years, and remains a favorite among many who take it.

These are wonderful examples of how social media and online tools can be used to enrich the learning experience. It also fosters enthusiasm for the course, as social learning can be exciting and more rewarding.

At my school, Boston University, I have never encountered any professors who have been reluctant to use social media or have rejected it as a tool for students. All of my professors have used video and/or pulled up examples on the Internet during class to serve as lecture add-ons, and people always respond positively.

I’m currently taking a journalism course in which my professor has required us all to create a blog to post every single one of our assignments—first drafts of stories, final drafts, notes, etcetera. Not only does this foster complete transparency, which is great, it also allows all of us to access each others’ work and see how we are all doing. I personally love how I can read my peers’ work, especially because we are all doing the same assignments. It gives me a better sense of who I’m learning with and also teaches me things about my own writing.

Schools increasingly are realizing that the standard classroom model—in which a lecturer stands at the front of the class behind a podium and speaks for 90 minutes straight with students taking notes with pens on paper—may not be the most effective way to do things in 2012. Shifts are occurring, and I believe they will continue to do so in the future.

It is great that the traditional classroom is changing. Adapting to the life and times of students is key in getting them actively engaged and participating.

Photo Courtesy of the Reinert Center for Transformative Teaching & Learning