By Dr. David L. Doerfert and Alyx Shultz
The world has changed. You may have heard people talking about it in terms that seem like a Scrabble game gone bad. LiveJournal, Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Second Life, YouTube, and Flickr are just a few new terms that have not only become part of everyday vocabulary but are how people are connecting and business is being conducted. Maybe you have even dabbled in it yourself or maybe you have only heard your students talk about it. If you’re like most people, you have some reservations about the educational value of this “social media” craze and what these new forms of communicating mean to agriculture and the industry’s future.
At its core, social media is an umbrella term that defines the various activities that integrate technology, social interaction and the construction of words and pictures. Unlike the traditional media of newspaper, broadcast and film, social media are relatively inexpensive and very accessible tools that enable anyone to publish or access information. Through its many forms, social media applications facilitate communication, collaboration, media sharing and entertainment in ways that place participants on an equal yet dynamic playing field. The pace of change in this new information world is astonishing to say the least.
So where to begin? First, realize that being a “newbie” (beginner) is ok. You may break some unwritten social media rules and even get flamed (a negative response to something you said or did). Like everything else, this will pass as you learn how to use these new tools.
Second, seek to understand what is possible. With the current availability of high-speed Internet and smart phones that can access the web on the go, more people than ever are accessing and posting to social media sites. This includes crop farmers who “tweet” from the tractor cab; dairy farmers who post videos to help explain their business to others; agriculture professionals who discuss current agriculture-related issues via Twitter every Tuesday evening; and agriculture literacy groups that update their followers through Facebook on the latest agriculture legislation and upcoming events. You may be surprised just how many individuals and groups are already using social media to promote agriculture as well as conduct business.
Finally, focus on being needs-driven and identify those things you want to achieve in your individual classes and local program. Educators are using blogs to develop writing and critical thinking skills as well as foster creativity. They are accessing images, videos, and PowerPoint presentations to enrich their daily classroom and laboratory content. They also use Twitter and Facebook to keep students, parents and alumni up to date on upcoming events and activities as well as connect with other teachers across the United States and throughout the world. Opportunities exist and possibilities are endless.
Social media has changed our world and arguably for the better. It provides opportunities for agriculture and education that can connect us to others in ways never before imagined. So what are you waiting for? Connect, share and become part of this community of learners.
Dr. David L. Doerfert is a professor of Agricultural Communications at Texas Tech University. Alyx Shultz is a doctoral candidate in Agricultural Education at Texas Tech University.