Royal Roads University brings social media to the classroom

November 11, 2010
Goldstream News Gazette

Geoff Archer knows the risk of being a business professor and being on Facebook.

"It's the opposite of professional," he admits.

Graciously, he doesn't take himself too seriously. He's the type of prof who will wear a costume to class if he wants get into character for his lesson.

When he does, students inevitably pull out camera phones and post his image on the social networking site within moments of entering the classroom.

Realizing his students are continuously connected on the Web has changed the way Archer teaches - but not in a way that makes him more cautious about what he wears to class. He's started integrating social media into his lesson plans for an entrepreneurial management class at Royal Roads University.

"If they're using the sites anyway, I might as well encourage students to use them productively in a way that benefits their studies," he said.

Archer recently published an essay about his new teaching methods in an international journal aimed at business instructors called Cutting-edge Social Media Approaches to Business Education.

In it he explains how he encouraged students to use social networks, online video sharing and other free online services to share information and enrich their learning experience.

Initially Archer was drawn to social media for distance-education classes to mimic what happens naturally in the on-campus version of the same course.

"A big one (in the classroom) was the elevator pitch," he said. "I'd have students stand up in class and they'd have two minutes to sell something to their classmates. How do you do that online?"

The solution: have students create a video, put it on YouTube or a similar site and e-mail the link to their classmates for their feedback. Archer said this approach worked even better than the in-person assignment.

"Students gave more substantial feedback," he said. "They could watch the pitch more than once, and take their time responding. They weren't sitting there worried about when their turn would come up."

The video pitch was so successful Archer plans to use it for the classroom learners as well.

He also found a way to get distance students involved with the Venture Challenge, a long-standing tradition at RRU where groups of students are given $5 to start a business. On-campus students might bake dog biscuits and sell them in the parking lot. But for distance learners it was a challenge to facilitate with students living in different cities.

"It would be impossible for me to know if they actually went out and did something because I couldn't see it myself," Archer said.

Instead he had students create a website for an online business they would promote on networking sites including Facebook and LinkedIn.

"It's reasonably similar to walking up to people and asking them to buy something," Archer said. "And the profits are really easy to track."

He's considering giving classroom learners an option to have an online component to their venture next year.

"These online platforms are useful tools for business, they've changed everything we do and how we promote ourselves," he said. "It wouldn't make sense anymore to send business students out into the world without teaching them how to use this technology."