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To Post or Not to Post That is the Question
This Just Tweeted Social Networking Can Be a Terrific Teaching Tool

 To Post or Not to Post? That is the Question

By Michael Rubino

To the uninitiated, it may appear that using social media in the classroom is fraught with pitfalls. But Michele Payn-Knoper, a social media strategist, professional speaker, author and agriculture expert, says the real risk is for ag teachers and advisors to dismiss community-building technology altogether out of fear or ignorance.

“I know some people may be intimidated,” says Payn-Knoper, “but it’s not rocket science and it’s not difficult, I promise. Facebook, Twitter, any kind of interactive, community-driven technology that falls under the umbrella of Web 2.0—these can be amazing tools. And as a parent, I see no reason why students shouldn’t be using them within a controlled environment. Think of the reality: Students are already using these things and love them. Why not find a way to use these as a resource and education mechanism?”

Payn-Knoper’s company, Cause Matters Corp., “focuses on agricultural advocacy, social media strategy, grassroots marketing and corporate sponsorship development.” She recommends using the aforementioned Facebook and Twitter, along with YouTube and Linkedin in the classroom to engage and enrich students in a similar fashion.

The key in working with students, she says, is setting parameters. The first step is for teachers and advisors who already take part in some of these online communities to examine their own personal policies and practices.

On Facebook, Payn-Knoper asks, “who do you friend? Do you want to be friends with your students? Do you want students to see your photos and what others write on your wall? If so, that’s up to you, the individual teacher. It’s just important that you be responsible and are familiar with Facebook’s privacy settings.”

And if you’re not already on Facebook for fear you’re too old, don’t worry: Payn-Knoper says 66 percent of the site’s more than 350 million users are “beyond college age.”

With Facebook, Payn-Knoper suggests creating a “group” for a class or chapter so you can control who joins. “For example,” she says, “if I taught a basic horticulture class I could create a group and post links to interesting articles and videos. I could post assignments, questions, encourage discussion and interact with my students. I could post links to research, classroom notes, and connect with other pages and groups that would be of value to them.”

She says Facebook “pages” are a great way to promote a cause and can be a touch-point for your chapter. Similar to Web pages, Payn-Knoper says these can be used to connect with the community outside your immediate circle, like area business people, local media, or alums of a particular FFA chapter. “Plus, one of the neat things about using these tools is that it teaches kids to write things in short, concise sound bites. They are learning writing, editing and marketing.”

Similarly, YouTube, a video sharing site, allows students to become producers and enables them to share a chapter or classroom’s message visually. YouTube can be used in conjunction with several other social media technologies.

Payn-Knoper compares Twitter to an online “coffee shop” with rooms filled with interesting discussions in the form of tweets—a lone Twitter message of 140 characters or less. She says the agriculture community has a significant presence on Twitter, which provides students a great opportunity to eavesdrop and participate in important discussions.

“I think creating a classroom or chapter account could be a good research tool,” she says. “These are the discussions that people in the field are having now, both positive and negative.”

She says 27 million tweets are sent daily, and although some estimate 40 percent of those are simply white noise, there’s still plenty of value to be found.

Payn-Knoper takes part in a moderated ag chat every Tuesday (a different topic is selected by the members each week) with 120 others for two hours. The conversation is fast-paced and can get cantankerous, but she says the issues are important. “This can show students what people in the industry are talking about, and, more importantly, how we can work through tough topics through having an intelligent discussion.”

She recommends that teachers and advisors use Twitter for older or more advanced students and using a social media browser called TweetDeck so you can monitor who students follow.

Payn-Knoper also has high praise for Linkedin, a mixer for would-be professionals and old pros. Students can upload resumes there and make contacts with business professionals, preparing them for life outside the classroom.

“These days employers check your Facebook page,” she said. “They see what you write on Twitter.” Payn-Knoper says having a Web 2.0 footprint is an opportunity to teach students accountability as well as self-promotion.

Though these worlds may be unfamiliar, she says they are simply an extension of the classroom, another opportunity for parents, teachers and mentors to help young people make good decisions.

“I do friend a lot of teenagers,” says Payn-Knoper. “I want to make sure they are okay and know what they are thinking. Teachers and parents, we have a responsibility to help our young people. We need to make sure they are making the right choices. The students are already in these communities; we need to be there, too, and help them understand the rules.”

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