Social Media for Teaching and Learning

Nearly 8,000 professors were surveyed about their own social media habits, their use of social media as an instructional tool, and their perceptions about the way their students use social media. Pearson* and the Babson Survey Research Group conducted the survey, and Edudemic has posted the results and the infographic below.

Looking the results and thinking about my own experiences, I have a couple of questions.

First, I’d love to know more about how professors are using social media, not just which forms of social media are being used most frequently. In particular, I’m wondering about the intensity of use. Sure, Facebook can be a teaching tool if you accept friend requests from your students; but if you’re holding Facebook chat hours and supervising a class Facebook page where your students are also posting, well, then, you’re really using Facebook as a teaching tool.

As an aside, I’ll share that I recently ran into a professor who joined LinkedIn primarily to connect with alumni of her current institution. Her goal was to find participants for a career panel in order to demonstrate how her department’s major can lead to a variety of exciting careers. Social media: it’s not just for teaching, it’s also for mentoring.

Second, regarding students and social media, this survey hits on something that I’ve been mulling over lately: the tension between the benefit of having students write for a larger audience and the cost in terms of a loss of privacy for the students. It does strike me as reasonable that if we are asking students to wrestle with big ideas, we ought to also allow for the protections that privacy affords as students refine their thoughts. And yet, research demonstrates that writing for an audience beyond the classroom has clear advantages. I’m interested in hearing what others think about this issue.

(click to enlarge)

social media statistics - faculty us climbing, conerns about privacy remain.Source:

*While Pearson is the company behind LearningStudio (which we use here at TCU), there’s no larger connection between Pearson and this blog post.


We’ve mentioned infographics before and we share them with you quite frequently, but we haven’t yet devoted a separate post to the process by which one can make an infographic. As the revelry of fall fades away, Thanksgiving seems ever-distant, and the reading keeps coming, why not mix things up with an infographic?

Infographics are visual representations of data built around a theme. In telling their story, infographics usually have a mix of several small pictographs, a fair amount of data presented in chart/graph form, and a few short paragraphs and key sentences.

Consider my favorite (meta-) example:

Edudemic has a nice summary of the background and educational theory of infographics in their Ultimate Guide to Infographics. They’ve also gathered an informative assortment of education infographics. While the story each infographic tells is interesting, the ways in which the creators have used color, data, images, fonts, and manipulated the size of different design elements provide great examples for those of us thinking about making our own infographics.

You can use the resources below to create one (or multiple) infographics to start discussion with your students. What a great way to illustrate different perspectives, time frames, or sub-topics in a quick and engaging format.

Alternately, it seems to me that creating infographics could be an intriguing exercise for students. Derek Bruff, Director of the Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching, has a nice two-part blog post in which he lays out the logic behind an infographic assignment he gave his statistics students in the spring, the ways in which he prepared his students to look critically at visual presentations of data / information, how he created and refined the grading rubric, what tools his students used, and the terrific infographics they produced (post one and post two).

Without further ado, the infographic tools: lets you easily create your own infographics. Using their simple interface and templates, you can upload your own data (in Excel or csv format), add video if you’d like, and then share your product on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, the web, or grab the embed code provided underneath your finished infographic and put your design anywhere you’d like. If, for example, you’d like to place your infographic in your Pearson LearningStudio course shell, you can do so by pasting the embed code into the HTML view in the visual editor, as our documentation illustrates. is another infographic generator. Although it may not be as user-friendly as other options, is specifically designed to help create comparison-based infographics. You can use their provided templates and then enter a pair of Twitter or Facebook accounts, hashtags, or webpages about which you’d like to produce attractive statistics. I think the comparison feature is a nice angle, and certainly a real aid in framing a data-driven visual story.

For a bit of navel-gazing, or perhaps as part of a larger project about society or self, Intel’s What About Me? infographic engine offers to create an infographic based on your Twitter, YouTube, or Facebook profiles (or a combination of all three).

If the options above aren’t quite meeting your needs, you might take a peek at this list of 20 Web 2.0 Tools for Creating Infographics. If you’re still searching – either for theory, examples, data sources, or infographic tools / tutorials – Daily Tekk has a list of 100 Incredible Infographic Tools (these are broken into separate topics, thankfully!)

Last, if you’re using infographics in your course or considering doing so, we’d love to hear from you!

Smart Suggestions for Using Google in Teaching and Research

First, here’s a lovely graphic all about the suite of Google tools and their potential use in the classroom and beyond:

More concretely, here are some more detailed ways to use Google tools to boost productivity and student engagement:

1. You can use Google Forms to create all sort of questions (we’ve previously written about about Google forms and student self-reflection). For our purposes, though, you can also use Google forms to collect quick homework / reading check answers, poll students on their technology experience or ownership as a set-up for class activities, or ask students to briefly share their understandings of or questions about key concepts. If you create a question on your form that asks for the student’s name, there’s no need for your students to have their own Google accounts to complete the form (you can set up your form as a public or public with link form and allow anonymous submissions). This is a great primer on the benefits of using Google Forms for online surveys.

2. The way in which Google displays search results has changed recently; Google has added a Knowledge Graph panel to the right of the returned search results. This panel leverages Google’s powerful analytics about what information users are usually seeking when they search for a given term and which pages they generally end up reading. While perhaps shepherding users toward easy and common information, the Knowledge Graph is also helpful by providing ready-made contextualization of information. If one doesn’t know a particular term or personage provided in the Knowledge Graph, discovering the meaning or relationship is but a click away. This is a nice piece about Knowledge Graph and Deeper Searching.

3. Are you a Google Scholar user? Did you know that Google Scholar can integrate with the catalog of your local library, telling you whether material you’ve found is available nearby? Likewise, when paired with your work in Google Docs, Google Scholar will actually locate and then format your references in APA, Chicago, or MLA  format. this approach is a little clunkier and not as robust as one of the paid citation / reference programs, but, hey, the price is right! Last, Google scholar can tell you not only the number of citations a certain piece has, but also produce a list of them. Read all about these tricks in this post about Three Things You Probably Didn’t Know about Google Scholar.

4. If you’re using (or considering using) Google+ as a social networking or video conferencing option in your class, this post has some suggestions about how Google+ can help you get the most out of virtual office hours.

Also, writing about Google products is nothing new around here. Here is a list of past Google-related topics.

Last, if you have a favorite way to use Google or a favorite Google tool that helps your research or teaching, we’d love to hear about it in the comments!

IFTTT: A Useful Web Aggregator

First, IFTTT stands for if-this-then-that. This is one of the bedrock formulations of both logical thought and computer programing. And how does one even say that? According to the IFTTT website, it’s pronounced like “lift” without the “L”.

Basically, IFTTT allows you to integrate actions across different websites. As the website explains, “recipes” (think of them like formulas or orders) are broken down into “triggers” (the precipitating action) and “results” (what will actually happen). You can either create your own recipes or use recipes from the larger IFTTT user community. These recipes are then sorted by channels, allowing you to quickly find recipes for interacting with popular websites. So, for example, you can find an IFTTT recipe stating “if I place a file in a designated folder in my Dropbox account, [then] email my friend,” “if I upload a picture to Facebook, [then] upload it to Flickr,” or “if I post a tweet, [then] save it as .txt in my Dropbox folder.”

You can find recipes for Blogger, Delicious, Dropbox, Evernote, Facebook, Facebook Pages, Google Reader, Storify, WordPress and YouTube, among many others. Some of the recipes repeat functions found in the websites themselves. I don’t see a need for an IFTTT recipe for “if I have an appointment, [then] text me” if you’re a Google calendar user since Google calendar already has that feature. However, some recipes seem very useful – if you’re using Twitter in the classroom this is one way to create an archive or re-tweet important items. Or, if your students are completing a group project, there some great file sharing and communications recipes that might facilitate cooperation.

IFTTT recipes don’t stop with websites – you can also find recipes related to phone calls and text messages. I’m a real fan of things like “if the forecast in my city changes to rain, [then] text me.”  I’m still waiting for the recipe that says “If it’s a day that ends in -y, [then] order a cupcake to be delivered to my office.” Alas.

If you’re like to read more about IFTTT, you can check out Inside Higher Ed or ProfHacker (The Chronicle of Higher Education).

Learnist & Instructables

We’ve written about ShowMe and Snapguide, two different tutorial-making tools that allow you to provide brief, visual how-to information for a subject of your choice. Lab procedures? Candy making? Deciphering an address in a foreign language? You got it!

There are two other tutorial sites that are getting some press in the world of educational technology: Learnist and Instructables. Both have a Pinterest-like feel, in that there is an exceedingly friendly visual pin-board layout, coupled with the ability to sort tutorials by category.

Learnist is in closed beta form, although you can request an an invite. Although there is a robust education area (including contributions from college professors), the site also includes how-to information on wide variety of topics.

Instructables identifies as more of a DIY resource; there’s no education category per se, although you can find tutorials on lasers, science, websites, relationships, and solar items.

How might you use these with your students? You could, of course, create your own tutorials about course concepts. You could also select or ask your students to select tutorials for discussion: is there a tutorial that illustrates a course concept or one where more specialized knowledge might have improved the outcome? You might even consider having students share their knowledge by making a tutorial in the style of one these sites.

Last, if you’re interested in something like this for your course, but tutorials don’t quite fit the bill, we’ve compiled quite the list of multimedia and teaching tools and internet streaming video resources on our website. If you’re using something exciting, let us know!

Students, Technology, and Crunch Time

A recent study finds that:

[While] students are tech-savvy and have plenty of gizmos, they may not be as distracted by these technologies as some may think . . . Results showed that students take a “less is more” approach when exam pressure starts bearing down. Students use technology to help them study and to communicate with others, the report found. And students are using the library less for its traditional resources — books, journals, etc. — and more as a place to get away from the hectic world around them.

Interestingly, the researchers also found that “65 percent [of students interviewed] said they used social media sites, like Facebook and Twitter, to coordinate study sessions or group work.”

Social media isn’t just a coordination tool for students, it can also be a study tool: “nearly two-thirds of the respondents said they had used social media for coursework. One student said he was having trouble understanding concepts in his physics class, so he researched lessons on YouTube, which helped him catch up with the coursework.”

Have you noticed students leveraging social media for learning purposes in your courses?

Last, here’s hoping that – however the studying happened – this is a successful exam week for all parties!

ShowMe and Snapguide

ShowMe and Snapguide are both apps that allow you to create and record your own instructional content, upload it, and get it to your students quickly.

ShowMe is iPad-only. It’s a free whiteboard app that also also captures audio; you can sketch out concepts or processes and record and pause your commentary as you go along. The focus is definitely on handwritten notes and sketches in multiple colors, not on animation. However, you can drag and drop images from your photo library and then write over and around them. There is also a real-time feature, in which users can see text as it is being written on the iPad; this seems like could be very useful for offering quick corrections to math or chemistry equations, for example. There is also a crowdsourcing element in which you can search the uploaded lessons / screencaptures and narrations of others (upon uploading, you have the choice whether or not to share your content publicly).

Below is ShowMe’s promo video. The video itself has more of a K-12 focus, but it does give you a sense of ShowMe’s potential.

Unlike ShowMe, whose focus is explicitly educational, but restricted to iPad users, Snapguide bills itself as a more versatile how-to resource. To that end, it is designed for iPhones, iPod Touch, and the iPad. Snapguide is free. You can take pictures or record videos; captions can be added by directly typing them in or using Snapguide’s voice-to-text feature. You can then share your guide on Facebook, Pinterest, Google Plus; in addition, others are able to search for your guide when they’re looking for relevant expertise.

The image below is a link to a sample Snapguide tutorial. Check it out!
 Image that is hot link to snapguide on solving a Rubik's cube

The genius of these apps is that learners can seek out the information exactly when they need it – when they’re stuck, when they realize they have misunderstood something, or when they’re just about to take the next, complicated step: the knowledge is relevant and the learner is interested. Alternately, as the instructor, you can quickly snap a few pictures or record a quick video about proper apparel for an off-site meeting, mixing a chemical solution, or pronouncing a tricky word, or engaging in a culturally appropriate greeting – all enabling you to head off problems before they occur.


Digital flashcards are an easy way for your students to study on the go, mix up their studying strategies while in front of their computers, and study collaboratively. As the season of studying for final exams approaches, this post reviews flashcard resources you can share with your students.

All the options below are free, and allow for online and mobile flashcard use. In all instances, users can create and share their own flashcard sets or use existing sets found on the site. Additionally, all of these sites will count right and wrong answers and provide that data to the student.

Quizlet: Quizlet bills itself as the largest quiz / flashcard / study games site, so if students are looking for ready-made flashcards, this is probably the most promising avenue. Quizlet uses audio in type-what-you-hear exercises; in addition, there are several study games into which Quizlet will plug your desired content. There is an optional Facebook integration that will let you share flashcard sets with friends and see sets they have created. Quizlet has iPhone, iPad, Kindle, Nook, Windows Phone, and Android apps.

StudyStack: StudyStack really shines in the game department. If you – or your students – are looking to do something different with matched pairs of data, StudyStack has the game for you: matching, crosswords, hangman, scrambled words, etc. This site, however, also features some pretty distracting, busy ads on the top and right-hand side of the screen. Mobile apps for StudyStack (for Android, iPhone, iTouch, Windows Phone, and Blackberry) are all third-party apps into which you place exported StudyStack data – this is an additional step to make StudyStack flashcards mobile, but not a difficult one.

StudyBlue: StudyBlue flashcards also support audio files. There is also a suggestion wizard that will associate the terms in cards you create with the 30 other most relevant cards on the topic. Cards are mapped visually to related terms and ranked by usefulness. Students also have the ability to compare the answers on multiple similar flashcards. StudyBlue has flashcards for non-Latin alphabets. StudyBlue is available in iPhone / iPad / iTouch, Android, and Kindle versions.

Memrise: Memrise has a pretty slick site, although the site does note that it is still in beta / development, and has a published bug list. The focus of existing content is foreign languages. Memrise is a little gimmicky: learning is framed around a garden metaphor, in which your decision to start learning (create / enter a course and focus on specific content) is “planting the seed”, practicing the content is growing / watering the plants, and when knowledge is secure and strong, plants are then moved to “the garden”.  The Memrise concept markets itself as being built on neuroscience; for this reason, users attach a “mem” to each character / word / concept they are trying to learn, a technique designed to enhance content retention. I was only able to find Memrise apps for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch.

Anki: Anki’s key feature is format freedom, meaning that you are able to input information in any way you wish, rather than relying on predefined styles. Anki will also allow large decks of cards (up to 10,000 cards). Users note that it can handle non-Latin alphabets with ease. Additionally, Anki claims to be optimized for low bandwith access. Anki is open-source; It will run on Windows, Mac, and Linux machines, any smartphone, several game systems, iPod Touch, and iPad; it will not work with Palm devices or ereaders from what I can discern.

For those who live life in the Google cloud or for those less inclined toward bells and whistles, there’s gFlash (for idevices, Android, and Blackberry), which will make mobile-friendly, shareable flashcards from the data in a Google Spreadsheet. GFlash is also a content partner of some of the above quiz sites; for an upgrade fee, you can have access to their ready-made flashcard databases.

Last, I want to mention Mnemosyne. This is a flashcard program plus an ongoing memory research project. This means that Mnemosyne will anonymize, track, store, and then submit your success rate in recalling information back to the creators of the program; they then use this to improve the algorithm that generates how frequently you see which cards. There is a high degree of transparency: you can review the log that will be sent, the software is open-source, and the data generated is publicly available. I think it’s a pretty, elegant cool idea.Your data is assigned an untraceable random number, but if participating in the on-going research makes you uncomfortable, you can also use Mnemosyne without opting to share your use pattern. There is support for images, audio files, scientific and mathematical notations, and non-Latin alphabets. You can also make a “three-sided card”: associating a word, its translation, and its pronunciation. Mnemosyne is also available in several languages. Mnemosyne is a program you download; it’s primarily aimed at computer users, although there is a plugin that will allow you to use it on Android, Blackberry, and other phones/devices that support Java.



Pinterest is a cloud-based social bookmarking site. Once you join the site and start bookmarking (or “pinning”) pages on the web through their portal or browser add-on, your online friends who have also signed up with Pinterest can see the links (“pins”) that you’ve deemed significant, noteworthy, tasty, etc. Individuals in your network (called “followers”) then have the option to re-bookmark your link, meaning they will now share your item – now their new link – with all the people in their network of followers. From your perspective, you have the ability to save and organize your bookmarks and found web links however you see fit, grouping them into thematic categories (or “boards”). Continue reading