Innovative learning leaders have long advocated using social media to connect with students in our courses. These tools can help instructors be more present and relatable in the stream of students’ everyday activities and can help to continue conversations beyond the classroom or learning management system. But if communication on social media is primarily related to courses currently in session, the connection is likely to wear out its welcome once the course is over.
How can you create a more enduring relationship with students and entice them to get excited about the full scope of your field? Many faculty members are creating websites that serve as portals to established and emerging work. They are curating a wide range of resources and activities in an area of particular interest and showcasing those materials in a way that draws people in. A blog, Twitter feed, or Facebook page can further engage people in conversation about mutual interests.
Through a web presence, you can demonstrate your own enthusiasm for the field, sharing as much as you like about what intrigues you and about what others are currently researching and discussing. Students appreciate that because it helps them see possibilities beyond coursework and imagine how they, too, might have longer-term interests in a field, as either a career or an ongoing area of interest. There is another advantage: A website and broad social media presence showcase your interests to a wider audience, potentially attracting other students, professionals, and fellow academics to your work, establishing a line of communication that is more open than typical publishing channels.
Here are a few strategies to consider:
A personal interests site. Create a website that highlights your own research interests and publications. You also can use it to curate supplemental resources or material for courses you teach. Here you have the opportunity to not only link to your published work, but also provide a synthesis that brings various strands together and incorporates them with other work in the field. An ongoing blog can allow you to share reactions to emerging research and seek input for your own nascent ideas.
A department website. Use your department’s webpages to showcase the strength of your program, highlighting how courses are tied together and the competencies students develop through your curriculum. Showcase the faculty’s academic and professional work, and provide students with links to professional organizations, ongoing research, and events that might interest them. Your department blog might contain a mix of thought-provoking ruminations on relevant topics, news about ongoing course activities, reports of new research, and announcements about industry events. Giving students a voice on the blog might generate even deeper interest.
A collaborative site. Join up with other faculty members inside and outside your institution to build a site that focuses on a particular research thread or theoretical base. The site could collate published articles on a topic and provide a broad overview of models and recommendations based on that research. Collaborators might use blogging and commenting features to exchange ideas and demonstrate how ideas are debated and refined.
I have described the process of building such sites as learning environment design. The process includes envisioning your goals and strategy, finding relevant resources, curating the resources and activities that you want to recommend, assembling everything for easy access, and continuously cultivating the site to keep it fresh and to develop a community. Website-building tools available through WordPress, Google Sites, and other providers make creating these kinds of sites easier than ever before.
If you aspire to incite students’ imaginations about the full scope of a field and encourage them to dig deeper even after grades are finalized, creating something of more enduring reach may be an important strategy.