Students are using Social Media to choose a University, and most Universities are responding in a big way by communicating their values and successes on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn etc. But is that the end of the matter? Once students have joined us, we can follow on with social media in two key areas during their studies. Firstly, during teaching itself, facilitating knowledge-sharing, networking and using the systems to engage students in their tasks. Secondly, we (still) need to teach students how to make the best use of social media, to help them be more professional online and develop strong profile building as well as networking.

By Stephanie J Morgan
University of Aberdeen Business School

All Universities have been forced to move to online teaching and many have agreed to continue with at least a hybrid model, but it is uncertain how many faculty are using social media in their teaching. Certainly its use has increased substantially in the 8 years since Vladlena Benson and I first put out a call for papers and published a book focused on the topic [1]. There is also now an increasing amount of literature on the topic, and some great ideas and case studies. The purpose of this article is to highlight some of these ideas, and also outline the potential issues and ways to avoid.

As always, it will be important to firstly define ‘social media’. As always definitions vary, I would refer to any type of communication technology that enables shared learning and building of a ‘community’ (however small) so that would include well known applications such as Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Facebook (and all the equivalents across the world) but also other digital tools within a VLE such as Blackboard Collaborate, micro-blogs etc. This does not however include the use of something like a link to a YouTube video which students can passively watch. For the teaching aspect I would also not include the use of social media for a pure ‘social’ connection, not linked to any learning outcomes. The key here is the ability to communicate and develop a community but linked specifically to learning. Of course, the shift to online during Covid may mean that purely social communication using these technologies has increased between University staff and students, however students tend to prefer to keep the truly social aspects separate from their studies, and more research is needed to see whether social media can really help to engage students and help them feel a part of the community in these circumstances. I focus therefore on the teaching aspects.

Social Media in teaching – There have been some excellent uses of social media and thankfully many of these are available for free online [2]. The responses of faculty and students has also been investigated [3], and for faculty in particular, it is clear that support and training is essential to ensure they use the systems well to support learning. Many faculty and staff are still a bit wary of using social media in teaching. If you are not involved in teaching yourself, perhaps you can influence those supporting the lecturers.

Examples include using Twitter to encourage students to make short comments about news articles they have found linked to course concepts, and share these back in class, or asking students to prepare group videos on a concept and submit to YouTube (or a VLE version) and ask questions/comment on each other’s work. Many of these activities not only help to engage students but also increase their work-related digital skills that are valued in the workplace.

You can also encourage students to work more closely with your own research, for example a colleague of mine regularly updates her blog about her research and students are expected to read and comment. This makes it a very real and accessible way of communicating research to the students.

Although there are lots of positives, there are also some concerns about the use of social media generally and in education. Some of these are about mis-use, other concerns are about creating further anxiety in students, and there are known issues of trust.

There is evidence that people are more comfortable sharing ideas on social media with people they have met face to face, so as we move more towards ‘hybrid’ teaching post the worst of the Covid pandemic, it may be easier to create trust through initial face to face meetings. However, for teaching that is totally online, be aware of the need to develop a sense of community and some trust by setting guidelines and being very active yourself. One of the elements of relationship building normally is shared disclosure – as you get to know people better you give away more private information about yourself, and there is turn-taking as people build trust. With an online system people can become what has been termed ‘hyper-personal’ – they disclose more information than they would face to face to speed up the building of the relationship and develop trust with their social network ‘friends’. This is where the importance of setting boundaries becomes clear, and monitoring of the social media comments should look out for this (as well as the standard issues of online arguments, group-think etc.) Sometimes the shy students gain the most as they learn from others about what might be ‘good’ profiles and chats, and test themselves in a relatively safe environment.

It is also important to consider key issues such as being clear about boundaries, expectations (e.g. how quickly a response should be expected, respecting rest days for different cultures), and ensuring confidentiality. Bear in mind that student responses to the use of social media may vary by culture, prior experience and of course individual differences. Again being open to how the students feel, discussing what is happening and why it is useful, and being clear about what is expected. Include information about all of this in your module handbook.

Many of these concerns can be resolved with thought, and it is often a good idea to discuss openly with students (whilst offering a way to give feedback confidentially as well). For example, you can use a ‘safer’ version such as a ‘tweet’ inside the VLE, so that students do not have to concern themselves with the possibility of the public viewing their first attempts on a topic.

Covid may have led to students being even more receptive to social media use in their Education because they are missing all the other forms of social interaction they would have experienced. There is increasing evidence that it can help to engage students and make remote education, which we have been forced to develop, feel less ‘remote’ [4]. However I would suggest it is useful even when we are back to whatever the ‘new normal’ will look like, as long as it is carefully planned.

Career Focus – the second key use of social media in learning is the student’s own use of systems in their personal and professional lives. It is still vital to teach them the how to use these systems and apps correctly (our research still suggests that many students do not fully understand the implications of their ‘private’ posts or having a sensible user name), particularly the importance of being a responsible user, setting the systems properly for privacy, remaining professional on all sites (being caught out either from yesterdays ‘sick leave’ at a party, or years later for some strange comment).

I would suggest this should not only be something run by the Careers Service, but incorporated into personal development style modules. It is always interesting to suggest students take a check on their own profile on DuckDuckGo, the results can be quite an eye-opener. As many younger students are still developing their identity it can also be helpful to encourage them to develop their profiles and explore ‘authentic’ identities which have been shown to help their development and improve engagement in online courses [5].

It is also useful if you gain an understanding of some of the latest terminology used on social media, such as MOV (My Own View). It is a great way to keep learning yourself!

As with all technology, we need to think carefully about the purpose for teaching – as always technology is not an end to itself, but a great way to engage students and when carefully thought-through it can enhance their learning. If you want to expand your use, why don’t you use some social media to find out what others are doing – it can lead to some brilliant innovations!


1 Benson, V., and Morgan, S. (Eds.). (2014). Cutting-Edge Technologies and Social Media Use in Higher Education. IGI Global. http://doi:10.4018/978-1-4666-5174-6
2 Rowell, C. (Ed). (2019) Social Media in Higher Education: Case Studies, Reflections and Analysis. Open Book Publishers.
3 Piotrowski, C. (2015) Pedagogical Applications of Social Media in Business Education: Student and Faculty Perspectives. Journal of educational technology systems, 2015-03, Vol.43 (3), p.257-265.
4 Greenhow, C., and Galvin, S., (2020) Teaching with social media: evidence-based strategies for making remote higher education less remote. Information and Learning Sciences Vol. 121 No. 7/8, 2020 pp. 513-524
5 Richardson, J.C. and Swan, K. (2003), “Examining social presence in online courses in relation to students’ perceived learning and satisfaction”, Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks,Vol. 7 No. 1, pp. 68-88.


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