Did you ever think the day would come when professors asked students to pull out their phones for a quick tweet in the middle of a lecture? Well it might not be too far from the truth.

Texas Tech released this story earlier this month describing how some of their classrooms are embracing the social media network as a part of their instruction. Of special interest to the Agriculture community is the highlight of assistant professor Courtney Meyers.

In her summer class for Utilizing Emerging Media in Agricultural Communications, she had her students tweet at least three times a week with the class’ hash tag and something relevant to the course, such as sharing resources, answering another student’s tweet or retweeting a relevant story.

“I started using Twitter in summer of 2010 when we taught the course for the first time,” Meyers said. “It was really kind of our experiment to see what this fuss with Twitter was all about. Students are only going to get credit when they tweet about information that is valuable to the course. I’m trying to get them to move past where they had their cup of coffee in the morning and into sharing an article.”

Meyers required students to participate in Ag Chat on Tuesdays, where participants use Twitter like a chat room. Students experience how professional communicators, professionals in the agriculture world and interested parties use Twitter to keep up to date on issues in different parts of the country.

Meyers says it is important to utilize current media in the classroom but realizes Social Media is not a “be-all end-all” method of communication with students.

This story reminded me of a former college classmate, Crystal Ahrens (@CrystalAhrens) who now uses Social Media networking when teaching courses in Animal Science at Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas. I caught up with her this past weekend to ask her input on Social Media use in the classroom.

Ryan Goodman: In what courses have you used Social Media?

Crystal Ahrens: I used Twitter in the Intro to Animal Science Lab last fall. Using social media in an Animal Science type setting is not exactly of the norm, especially in a school of Tarleton State’s size.

RG: How did you incorporate Social Media into the classroom?

CA: I made a Twitter account for the class and offered the opportunity for students to follow and tweet with me throughout the semester. It was not required but I tried to make it beneficial for the students so that they would at least try it out. I would post updates on current ag issues, fun ag facts, quiz question hints and would make practice problems and study guides to post from Google docs as well!

RG: What was the response from students?

CA: It was quite a hit for a while. The student enjoyed it and would tag the class and myself in many tweets. As the semester progressed, I was not able to keep up with Twitter like it needed and student interest declined until about finals time. Around that time, the students suggested that I make a Facebook group for them as well. I made the Facebook group and it was a HUGE hit. I wished I had set it up earlier. I used it for the same use as Twitter, but since Facebook is more popular than Twitter in this area, the number of students I could reach more than tripled.

RG: What suggestions do you have for trying it again?

CA: I will definitely continue to use social media with my classes because I think it is a great way to get the students to start networking and using as many resources as possible to make the learning fun! I am still working on a few new ways to make it a better tool for the Animal Science classroom and look forward to trying them out this upcoming Spring semester. I believe with a little more time spent every day making sure that I am updating and encouraging students to participate the response will be even better than last semester!

RG: Does Tarleton have a campus system like Blackboard? If so, did you use Social Media as a supplement to it?

CA: We do have Blackboard but it seems to be new to the school, or at least the Animal Science professors. I tried having it set up for me to use with lab last semester but I could not get it going. I am trying again for the Spring, but most of the professors use their own faculty websites to post notes and whatnot.

RG: Did you try to encourage any agriculture advocacy via Social Media, blogs, twitter? I thought it would be a great way to incorporate more learning by teaching students how to use the facts they are learning instead of only memorization. However, it may be a bit much for a general class schedule.

CA: I do encourage advocacy a lot but really just to peak their interest. I show many of the fun fact YouTube videos that Merck and other companies put out. With the drought and wildfires, I spoke about the importance of being aware and helping out whenever it is possible. I try my best to show the true passion that I have for production agriculture, especially animal agriculture and hope to reach them though that as well!
It is important to me as an instructor to make the students aware of the true importance of agriculture; the big picture that we are all in it together. Being that I instruct an intro class, I pick up students from other majors and with that, I believe it is my responsibility to educate them on the FACTS.
I was lucky enough in my last semester that I gave an evaluation of the class to the students and got back a majority of them that mentioned a new respect for farmers and ranchers. As well as that through seeing my passion in the classroom, they have become quite passionate themselves.
So in short yes, I do encourage it as much as possible!!!

I want to thank Crystal for the interview and for sharing thoughts on her use of Social Media in the classroom.

Today’s world of technology changes daily and it is important that agriculture keep pace and stay in touch with consumers. We are not in our parent’s world anymore and it is great to see our teachers incorporating Social Media when training tomorrow’s leaders.

Have you utilized Social Media in the classroom? What are your opinions?