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Digital Pedagogy: Social Media


Like classroom assignments that result in publicly posted web content, social media assignments provide an opportunity to reflect with students on responsible media use, building online communities, and other aspects of digital citizenship. Many social media assignments involve role playing and thus have the potential to build empathy as well as to increase awareness of the ways in which we all perform our own identities, particularly when we use social media.



Using social media in the classroom creates many opportunities to talk about digital citizenship on multiple levels. Try going beyond tying digital citizenship to assignment objectives and make it a part of your course learning outcomes. You can also connect your assignment or course expectations with your campus code of conduct, providing an opportunity to discuss what it means to be a citizen of the community at your university. In turn, you can link that to being a productive member of your particular class as well as of a larger online community.

Establish clear guidelines for appropriate social media language and interaction and be prepared to address inappropriate or offensive student use of social media. Recognize, too, that some students may have valid reasons for avoiding public media. Make provisions for those students in your assignments (anonymity, pseudonyms) and/or create alternative assignments.

Sample In-Class Role Playing Activity (Texting, Twitter, and an alternative for non-social media/tech users)


Students in the class will be divided into partners, who will take on the personas of two characters who experience communication issues or antagonisms of some sort (or people in history, social theorists, philosophers, types of elementary school behavior challenges, psychological case studies, etc. With sufficient course contextualization, instructors could also ask students to take on the role of any perceived “other”). Partners will then be divided into three groups--texters, tweeters, and letter writers. Partners will communicate with each other via the assigned method as their chosen character. A candle, sealing wax, and seal will be provided for the letter writers (my historical context is late eighteenth-/early nineteenth-century Britain). A particular scene, scenario, or issue can be provided to direct students if necessary or students can be given free rein to choose the situation or the context if you believe they are prepared to proceed without any prompting.


Assignment Objectives:

  • To explore how different forms of written communication produce different forms of meaning.
  • (For literature) To deeply understand characterization and then move beyond it to grasp themes. In other contexts, understanding identity formation may be more appropriate, or political motives, or individual behaviors, etc.
  • To understand and reflect upon perspective and audience.
  • To consider what it takes to be an effective and responsible communicator.


Assignment Guidelines and Instructions:

1) Per your group’s assigned method, text, tweet, or hand write letters to each other as your characters (eg., Elinor and Marianne in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility) for 15-20 minutes.

2) Write an individual reflection (at least 5 sentences). A prompt will be provided to consider purpose, audience, medium, and the themes of the novel brought to bear on the exercise. (15 minutes)

3) Be prepared to participate in a large group discussion, reflecting on current technology versus historical conditions and conventions. (20-30 minutes).


Some possible questions for the prompt: Consider the purpose of your communication, the audience, the medium or means by which you communicated, and the themes of the novel you think you brought to bear on this exercise. Some questions to ponder to get you going include: Who is the intended audience for your given form of communication and is the intended audience always also the actual audience? Explain. Did your method of communication increase or decrease intimacy between the characters? Why or why not? Did it create obstacles or hostilities or build bridges? Why? How? Did the characters reveal more or less of themselves with your format and audience considerations? Explain. What happens to your discourse when you communicate in a method to which you are accustomed or unaccustomed, as the case may be? Do factors such as age, race, class, and gender affect your method of communication? Why or why not?


Grading and Rubric:

            This is designed as an ungraded in-class activity to be followed up by brief individual reflection and large-group in-class discussion but could easily be adapted to include graded content by establishing a course-specific hash tag or back channel on Twitter, requiring screen shots of texts or photos of letters, and/or including a more substantial written reflective element. (See links to more formal assignments under Tools).

Here's a .pdf of the assignment guidelines I give to students:

Skill Level and Tools

Most social media applications in the classroom are beginner or intermediate, depending on the ubiquity of the social media tool among your student population and your own familiarity with it. While some instructors have students create Facebook pages or, like Mark C. Marino and Adeline Koh, engage in activities such as exploring the meaning of “the selfie", the most commonly used form of social media in the classroom seems to be Twitter. Role playing via Twitter, such as tweeting as a character or a person or organization, is a popular assignment or in-class activity. English professor Shawna Ross also has a more traditional personal essay assignment that incorporates social media. Jesse Stommel has created extensive online resources for using Twitter in the classroom. Start here with his Storify on Teaching with Twitter and you will find links to other essays and assignments. You can also read about Bianca Murillo's use of Tumblr in the classroom to create a digital historical archive for her Gender, Race & Empire course here.