Published: May 24, 2016

Generic tumblr clip art. Contributed by albyantoniazzi at Flickr Creative Commons.

Generic tumblr clip art. Contributed by albyantoniazzi at Flickr Creative Commons.

Contributed by albyantoniazzi at Flickr Creative Commons.

Dr. Jessica Martin wants to hear what her students think.  Martin, CU Boulder Instructor of International Affairs, creates class Tumblr and Facebook pages for her students to build community and discuss current events relating to their courses--whether post-Cold War politics, the September 11 attacks, or the Arab Spring.  Students' posts and comments on these online spaces contribute to their participation grades, and Martin has found that these online forums encourage more students to participate in class.  "I notice, by the middle of the semester that more students are talking...It's helped to create a better dynamic," Martin says.  She may ask a student to speak in class about their latest post to the class Facebook Group or Tumblr Page.  "Where did you find that article?" Martin may ask a student in class; or, "What does this article tell us about the news event?"

Students appreciated Martin's effective class discussions and nominated her for an ASSETT Teaching with Technology Award in the Spring of 2013.  One student wrote about Martin's Post-Cold War World course:

Dr. Jessica Martin is an amazing professor with an incredible talent to lead thoughtful engagement and discussion with little more than provoking and skillful questioning...her online discussion through Tumblr was unique and fun to use.  This was my first class that used Tumblr as a medium for sharing and discussion outside the classroom.  We were encouraged to post pictures, articles, journals etc. to our class Tumblr page in order to share ideas and information about the Arab Spring to our classmates and professor.  While we received participation credit for our posts, the Tumblr page was a fun outlet to communicate on and introduced me to new sources and stories that I wouldn't have found without it.  Dr. Martin was always trying to find ways to engage her students and her Tumblr page was a smart and creative way to encourage participation and learning.

Not only have the online forums engaged students, but they also serve as effective avenues for building critical thinking skills.  Martin challenges students to search online to find evidence for their arguments, and then take a step further to examine the articles that they find for the writers' perspectives and opinions.  "We try to have students find different arguments in the information they find...We really want to get as many perspectives as possible," she says, and, ultimately, "I hope they get better at analyzing information," she says.  Martin says that her 9/11 class's Facebook group page serves as an extensive archive of media about that topic that seniors can refer back to when finding evidence for their final research papers.

Martin has encountered a few challenges with using these online forums for class discussion.  Sometimes, students hesitate to create Tumblr accounts if they are not already registered at Tumblr.  Also, since students' Tumblr usernames often differ from their real names, she must keep track of which aliases belong to which students in order to give students proper credit for their participation in online discussion.  When it comes to the class Facebook pages, Martin tells students that she only views the students' participation on the class Facebook Group page--she does not Friend students, or visit their Facebook profiles.

Martin has found that online communities build connections among students.  She has seen students make new friendships, sometimes just beginning with a post to the class Facebook page.  "It's a good way for students to get know each other," she says.  The communities formed during the semester seem to last long after the classes end.

Martin considers trying, "... a class blog where students could post," for future classes.  Most importantly, when using social media in class, "Students had fun with it!" she says.